The rise of the agile accountant

James Solomons
Apr 4, 2018 · 3 min read
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With a number of speaking commitments coming up over the next couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the role of a CFO and, indeed, the wider accounting profession.

During my presentations and panel discussions, I’ll be speaking to audiences from across the APAC accounting community about the tech trends that are going to shape the future of the industry.

These sessions will take a deep dive into the topics of:

  • building a finance tech stack,
  • leading a finance team in a listed company,
  • remaining relevant in an evolving industry,

But a common thread throughout the experience and lessons I’ll be sharing, is agility.

The data-driven finance department

I personally made a sideways move into the corporate arena a few years back and added Xref to my portfolio of roles. When joining a high-growth tech company, I was presented with the challenge of harnessing the technology trends I’d been advocating in the public practice space for many years.

I was quick to realise that while specific elements were different, the methodologies to leverage technology were and still are the same.

And, when you work for a high-growth tech company, there’s little room for inefficiencies.

Xref’s co-founders have instilled a mantra of, “If we touch it three times, we automate it.” We never allow a task that would usually be done manually to become a repetitive burden on our teams, we explore automated solutions to add reliability and efficiency.

We practice what we preach.

Our clients have come to expect a fast and reliable experience, not just from the platform itself, but also in the broader interactions they have with us. From my team’s perspective, this means being able to support the rest of the business in meeting clients expectations with a nimble finance function.

In this environment, the finance role has had to become data-driven and this will be the case across the industry in the not too distant future for both efficiency and security reasons.

Real-time accounting

In a publicly listed company, we are also expected to be able to share results and progress updates as and when needed.

Gone are the days when the CFO and their team reported to the c-suite on a monthly basis to then return to their back-office role for another 30 days. Today, the executives we work with are facing increasingly dynamic markets and they need the functions of their business to be adaptable enough to keep up.

This requires the right tools. While, as an industry, we’re yet to find one platform that fulfills all our finance needs, solutions like Xero and Futrli have transformed the way we report and the access we have to the information we need when we need it.

The ability to provide reports and data in real-time is critical for a fast paced, ever-evolving business like Xref.

But utilising tech isn’t just for small businesses or startups, larger or more mature businesses also need to be looking for the processes that could be improved using technology solutions. And they will benefit from prioritising a focus on it before they’re having to play catch up with the rest of the industry.

Like their smaller, more nimble counterparts, they should asking themselves:

  • What could we automate?
  • What extra reporting could we be offering the business?
  • How can maximise our time and remove admin-heavy tasks?
  • Is our finance function adding value?

Finance teams — the emerging data custodians

Technology is allowing finance teams to become data custodians, responsible for building data connections and centralising the insights derived for decision making

While it can be a battle to find the information you need, if you approach decision makers with data that has been collated and analysed for them, that’s when you will really get their attention. As a result, the finance team becomes much more heavily involved in strategic decision making for the business.

We just have to leverage the technology available to us to give us the agility we need.

In my next piece, I’ll be exploring the evolution of the CFO role — from ‘advisor’ to ‘front-man’. Keep an eye out for that and articles from my Xref leadership colleagues that we’ll be sharing as part of our “Exec Insights” series”

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