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Overcome the top challenges facing finance departments in the New Year

Over the past few years, we’ve seen major changes to the workforce and the way people work. For finance professionals in particular, rapid acceleration of accounting and finance technology has redefined the status quo of both workflow and operations, as well as individual output. 

While some of these changes have been positive — such as the rise of remote and hybrid work and a greater focus on work-life balance — finance professionals are also facing new challenges. In particular, many are experiencing an overwhelming volume of manual work, an inability to pivot to new, increased responsibilities and, as a result of these two obstacles, an increase in burnout. 

Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome, and leadership — CFOs in particular — has a unique opportunity to influence change. As we head into 2023, it’s critical that steps are taken so employees feel more confident, supported, inspired and prepared. 

Challenges bringing down finance pros 

It’s no surprise that accountants, controllers and other finance professionals have a slew of mundane and repetitive tasks on their plate. A study from Smartsheet found that 40% of professionals are spending at least a quarter of their work week on repetitive tasks and some professions, like accounting, suffer even more, with up to 70% of their working hours spent on tedious tasks. This work proves to be so uninteresting and uninspiring that it often drives employees to feel uninspired and burnt out. 

Another challenge that finance professionals have been facing is a shift in their roles and responsibilities. While accountants are still fully responsible for monthly and yearly closes, external and internal pressures, as well as new innovative technologies, are changing this focus. As these new changes empower accounting and finance teams with new data insights, we’re seeing their value, as well as their contributions and influence on strategy, skyrocket. This increased leadership and responsibility is also pushing employees to contribute more to growth and success alongside the C-suite. However, this increase in responsibility and, in turn, workload, is leading accountants, controllers and the like to suffer from burnout. 

Burnout is one of the biggest issues for finance professionals, in part due to these two prominent challenges. FloQast’s recent Controller’s Guidebook survey found that nearly all (99%) accountants experience some level of burnout, with just over half (53%) reporting burnout at or above the average level and almost a quarter (24%) reporting extremely high levels of burnout. Burnout has also been shown to be a leading cause of attrition whereas automation can contribute greatly to retention

Overcoming these challenges

Fortunately, there are several steps leaders can take to lessen the volume of mundane tasks employees are facing, help them adjust to their new roles and responsibilities, and tackle burnout overarchingly. 

First and foremost, it’s critical to invest in the right technology — specifically, automation technology. This kind of technology can be an enabler to success, automating the manual processes that are bogging down employees and freeing up time for more purposeful and strategic tasks. 

For instance, recent research from Ventana found that 69% of companies that use automation workflows were able to close their quarter within six days. In comparison, just over a quarter (29%) of companies that are using little to no automation are working on the same timeline. 

Automation is a key driver to overcoming the challenges finance professionals are facing. When tedious processes like the monthly close are automated and shortened, employees are able to pivot away from the uninspiring tasks and, instead, can talk strategy and collaborate with other colleagues.  This allows them to take a more thoughtful and effective approach to the key operational decisions their new roles require. Automation also helps remedy the issue of burnout. When the technology is introduced, accountants report lower levels of burnout, FloQast’s survey found, dropping from above-average burnout scores to below-average.

In addition to investing in automation technology, it’s important that leaders put people at the center of their strategy and operations. Keeping morale high is critical to retention as well as overarching company success. Gallup found that when business leaders focus on creating a positive and productive work atmosphere, specifically by reducing burnout and boosting company culture, companies can not only potentially see up to 29% higher profits and 19% higher sales, but also a 72% lower attrition rate. 

While there are a plethora of ways to do this, I’ve found that the “right place, right time, right people” approach is the key to success. That means utilizing automation to get rid of the mundane tasks bogging down people’s time, establishing the right processes and timelines that avoid redoing work, and hiring talented people who drive growth going forward. This not only helps to combat many of the challenges accounting and finance professionals are experiencing today, but it also helps retain and develop talent — a key aspect of success. 

The future of finance departments in 2023

Professionals across industries have been through a lot in the past few years and the effects on the finance community are wide-ranging, and both positive and negative. Fortunately, there are two clear, tangible steps to improving finance operations and employee wellbeing: introducing automation and putting people first. 

CFOs are hopeful and eager too, with 78% saying in another survey that digital transformation, including automation, is a key way to remedy the challenges faced by finance professionals. As we head into 2023, it’s clear that investing in the right people and the right technology is essential to sustaining a successful finance department.

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