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How to tell if your Finance function is any good

By Andy Burrows

There are many different ways of looking at the performance of a Finance function.

But in this article, I want to start from first principles and definitions.

As with any question of performance, before you can tell how well you’re doing, you have to know “what good looks like”.

How can we tell if we’re doing a good job if we don’t know what the definition of “good” is?

But don’t, at this point, go straight into thinking about how you’d define a good job in Finance! If you do, you’re jumping the gun!

We need one more definition... the general definition of “doing a good job”.

The general definition of “doing a good job” is that you are meeting your objectives, which in turn is defined as making your anticipated progress towards your ultimate goals.

So, you have to know at the outset what your goals and objectives are.

Most people think that these are so obvious that they skip the...

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Don’t make this one mistake in your Finance Transformation

By Andy Burrows

Finance Transformation programmes will often include something like the following line in their business case: “Capacity created by automation and process efficiency will be reinvested in value-adding activity.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, as an aspiration, it’s got a lot going for it. The trouble is, no one really believes it and it hardly ever happens. In fact, the opposite often happens. The capacity created is turned into cost savings, which leave even less time for “value-adding” activity than before.

So, if you really want a value-adding Finance function, don’t let your Finance Transformation programme become all about cost savings. And be clearer on how Finance adds value.

Automation is a good thing

First, lest you misunderstand me, let me say that automation and process efficiency are good things.

When I look back on the revolution caused by computerisation 20-30 years ago,...

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It’s time to take an Amazonian approach to technology in Finance

By Andy Burrows

With all the scare stories about “robots taking our jobs”, it’s easy to get the impression that we’d rather have robots doing jobs because they’re better than us.

Recently, I had to do a 2-minute presentation on the subject of why Finance should pursue automation opportunities. And I was given a PowerPoint slide with 10 or so bullet points full of buzzwords, telling how automation can reduce cost, improve customer satisfaction, improve consistency and traceability, support strategic platform upgrades and accelerate innovation, amongst other things.

Even my own eyes glazed over as I started to talk it through, so I cut to the real point.

Forget the buzzwords!

Forget the buzzwords. Humans are better than robots!

Robots don’t have intelligence.

Robots don’t interpret anything.

Robots don’t take action on information.

Robots don’t make strategies.

Robots don’t care if they win or lose.

Robots do:

Do repeatable,...

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Thinking Strategically About Finance Transformation

By Andy Burrows

Finance Transformation should be thought of as a strategy. I get the impression that we don’t think of Finance Transformation like that. We tend to think that the business has a strategy, and functions like Finance just do “transformation” programmes.

I’ve argued in the past that, generally speaking, the CFO’s strategic blind spot is the Finance function itself. In another article, I suggested that CFOs are spending too much time business partnering, so that they don’t give enough strategic thought to the Finance function.

So, this article is all about how we can be strategic about Finance Transformation. In fact, as I said at the beginning, it’s more than that. We ought to think of Finance Transformation as the vehicle for Finance function strategy.

Thinking about strategy makes a difference

My definition of strategy is that, “strategy is a plan of action to achieve an aspiration or overcome a problem.” And...

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Please can we stop saying that the future of Finance is all about RPA and AI! It’s not!

By Andy Burrows

So much ink has been spilled about the impact of technology and automation in Finance – RPA and AI and the like - that it’s starting to get a bit tedious. From reading all this stuff, anyone would think that there’s a robot army lining up to make us all redundant! And it’s written as if it’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds in Finance.

On the ground, in the real world of Finance in real world business, it’s not like that!

And we all know deep down that it’s hype! Who sponsors the conferences and the accountancy publications and the webinars that are spouting this stuff? The software vendors!! There’s a vested interest in inflated claims and understated costs/risks.

And yet it feels like the whole Finance and Accounting industry looks down on you if you’ve never heard of RPA, haven’t got a cloud ERP project planned, or you’re not talking about analytics and predictive modelling.

What we need...

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The Future CFO – 4 Ingredients for CFO Success in the Modern Age

By Andy Burrows

[Published 23rd July 2018, edited 20th September 2018]

To be successful the future CFO will need to be all about mindsets and methodologies.

My presentation at the AICPA-CIMA Finance Transformation conference in London this year would have been entitled, “the DNA of the future CFO”

And since I now can't do the talk because I'm having cancer treatment, I'm letting you know my basic thesis, right here! 

But am I out of step?! I mean, surely the future CFO is going to be all about digital technology, automation and predictive analytics? Well the Finance Transformation conference is hearing plenty of perspectives on all those things from people more qualified than me!

Would you like to hear a different perspective? I knew you would! Here we go...

So, here’s what I mean by mindsets and methodologies. Four essential ingredients for being a successful CFO in the future. Four parts to the DNA of the future CFO.

1. The future CFO must...

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The Purpose-Driven CFO Part 8: What is a Purpose-Driven Finance Function?

By Andy Burrows

[First published 27th June 2017]

[This article is also on LinkedIn - why not "Follow+" Andy and give the article a "like"?]

To date in this series, I’ve been picking activities that we do in the Finance function, and looking into why we do them. That’s the essence of my purpose-driven approach. We’ve worked through some big ones, like budgetingstrategyreportingprojects and internal control (and others - the links to all previous parts in the series can be found at the end of the article).

What I’d like to do at this point in the series is to step back and take a look at the big picture. What does the Finance function exist for, if we were to sum it up? If we want to be “purpose-driven” in Finance, what does that mean? What is a purpose-driven Finance function?

Great Expectations

As a business grows, it employs Finance people in a variety of different capacities. Someone to do...

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Why the “Future CFO” Should Spend Less Time Business Partnering, Not More

By Andy Burrows

[First published 14 June 2018]

The title of this article may sound strange in an age where Finance business partnering is one of the megatrends in Finance. But bear with me. There’s a good reason why I’m going to argue that “the future CFO” should do less business partnering, and not more.

I’m going to start by arguing that, contrary to popular belief, the CFO’s role has already changed such that they are now seen as THE Finance Business Partner. There’s no need to berate them any more for being mere beancounters and scorekeepers. As a generalisation, especially in medium to large enterprises, most CFOs are seen as the CEO’s right hand, and it’s those two roles together that face the business owners.

But I’ll also argue that this has made CFOs so busy that they’ve become disconnected from the Finance function. They now almost look at Finance from the outside, as just an overhead to cut wherever...

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