CFOs on how to build your finance team for growth
How you organise your finance team is pivotal in driving the growth of your business.
But how should you approach this in practical terms?
This was the theme of our CFO Connect meetup #2 in London on October 24th 2018, an event that we organise to help finance departments tackle important issues.
At this meetup, we discussed the organisational aspects of finance teams with Dave McKenzie of Curve and Tom Libbrecht of Silverfin, two exciting - and rapidly growing - companies.
About our experts:
- Dave McKenzie, Head of Finance, Curve: Dave has extensive experience in the payment solutions sector, including taking on key roles for Prepay Solutions, Bankable, and, most recently, as Head of Finance for connected money app Curve.
- Tom Libbrecht, Finance Manager, Silverfin: Tom is an entrepreneurial consulting professional with experience working for PwC Belgium and InSites Consulting. Tom is currently working as Finance Manager for Silverfin, a real-time data financial datahub that automates all post-accounting workflows.
Organising your finance team - a critical task
For growing businesses, the finance team is the engine room. Every single team - and every single person - depends on the finance team to some extent. Organising your finance team for optimum performance involves tackling some key questions:
- What particular blend of experience and capability do you need in your team? And what is your team’s ideal area of focus?
- Which tasks are best kept in-house, and which can you safely outsource? And how should your finance team treat data, exactly?
For answers to these questions, let’s hear from our experts.
1. Recognise your team’s true potential
The expectations for finance teams are changing. Traditionally, many businesses thought of finance teams as mere bean-counters, keeping the accounts, forecasting performance, and processing payments. The dry stuff, in other words.
According to Dave, this kind of thinking can undervalue a finance team’s potential. “I like to think about what finance can do,” says Dave.
Finance should be an integrated service looking at how we can improve performance.
Tom is on the same page. “The finance team’s goal is the same as our mission statement: leveraging data to create new business opportunities. It’s much more than counting numbers.”
So how does this work in practice? Dave has a few handy pointers.
“You need to automate simple tasks and prevent information silos,” says Dave. “The heads of department can be too focused on operational details at times. Finance can help change this by looking at efficiencies across the business. This helps solve some of the hardest problems.”
2. Data connectivity is key
To help the business unlock efficiencies and solve hard problems, finance teams need access to robust, dependable data.
Connecting and leveraging data should be the real work of the finance team.
“Organising your team for greater connectivity and synergy must be a key focus,” adds Tom.
Ideally, your finance team can draw data together from across the whole business to chase efficiencies and improvements. According to Tom, this can involve some novel approaches to business metrics, such as combining sales information with finance data.
Unfortunately, finding the right people for such a crucial task can be challenging. A role like this involves budgeting, forecasting, familiarity with sales metrics, and even skills as a data scientist. “That combination is hard to find,” says Tom. “But that’s what we need.”
3. Be deliberate - and proactive - about growth
Scaling a team is always a challenge. This is particularly the case for finance teams, where ensuring the right mix of skills and capability is crucial for day-to-day business operations.
It never hurts to think about growth nice and early. For Tom, this has been a key lesson: “My first priority when coming on board was to get a grip on the company, on the processes and the numbers. It would have been better to think about building the team earlier.”
Dave can relate to that idea: “A lot of companies in their first years - especially those with a good product - will experience exponential growth. Every department needs to be able to scale with the business. This can be challenging from a finance perspective.”
Anticipating future staffing needs is always tough, especially when things are moving along at a cracking pace. That’s why Tom says: “You should always be thinking about what your team will need to look like in six months, or in a year or more.”
We’ve written about the challenges of scaling a finance team before. When you’re done here, be sure to take a look at our post on the topic.
4. Automate tasks to free up your people
Part of recognising your finance team’s true potential is knowing what they shouldn’t be doing, as well as what they should.
For Dave, automation is key. “Expenses and accounts payable can definitely be streamlined and automated,” says Dave. “It’s easy to fall into the habit of manually processing invoices, but we must always try to simplify this.”
As head of finance, everything I do is working towards removing friction or providing information.
“We try to automate as much as possible,” adds Dave.
Tom is also on board the automation express: “As we mature as a company, I’m looking for finance people who will take initiative and come to me with ideas and solutions. Automating tasks frees them up to do that kind of thinking.”
5. Outsourcing isn’t always the answer
For many businesses - particularly those in their formative years with limited resources - it can be tempting to outsource finance tasks. You may not always have the capacity to do everything, so why not call in the cavalry?
Well, sure. But according to Tom, outsourcing has its downsides. “We wanted to bring our accounting functions fully in-house,” says Tom. “An external accountant can never match the level of familiarity with detail. You need someone who understand the business.”
You want your finance team to know the business inside and out. Making finance connecting to the business is key to building this familiarity. “You need a team which can interpret and gain insights based on past data, to spark adjusting actions going forward” says Tom.
Dave agrees it takes someone with certain experience to identify these insights. “When hiring people for a finance role, look for someone who might have started their own business, or those with experience working in flexible teams.”
Of course, the extent to which you can keep tasks such as accounting in-house will differ according to your industry, size, and business model. Not all businesses have the resources necessary to appoint dedicated accountants, and many will need to rely on external help.
Conclusion: Get the most from your people with these handy tips
As a finance leader in a growing business, you need to structure your team for optimum performance.
In practice, this means:
- Recognising the role of finance in breaking down silos and improving performance
- Tasking your finance team to focus on connecting and leveraging data
- Proactively considering your growth and scaling needs
- Automating simple tasks to free up your people to think strategically
- Only outsourcing tasks when doing so won’t diminish institutional knowledge
- Hiring people with the proven ability to identify performance insights
While you’re at it, look out for our next invitation, and come and join in the conversation.