Closing the books: Four staffing considerations that make a difference
When it comes to developing an accurate and efficient financial and accounting close process, the factor that can have the most meaningful impact without incurring additional costs is choosing the right team. But, how does an organization go about making those choices? Consider:
- Company culture
- Team composition & expertise
- Staffing levels
- Interdepartmental relationships
These “people” factors are closely related, and each plays an important role in efficiently closing the books and producing world-class management reporting.
Organizational culture can have significant impacts on your ability to efficiently prepare accurate financial statements and provide management with actionable financial information. Here are some important considerations in achieving that culture “fit:”
- Value: Does your organization value the finance and accounting function?
- Resources: Does your organization provide adequate staffing and technology resources to produce financial statements that meet or exceed management’s requirements?
- Communication: Is open communication between departments encouraged?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, the chances of achieving a robust close process will be diminished. Conversely, if the answer to each question is “yes,” your organization has met the all-important first requirement and is on its way to an efficient financial and accounting close process.
Similar to a sports team, the finance and accounting team needs to have the right people with the right skills in the right role at the right time.
Team composition and expertise
Similar to a sports team, the finance and accounting team needs to have the right people with the right skills in the right role at the right time. Ask yourself these questions:
- Skills: Do the individuals on your team have the right knowledge and skills to perform their assigned tasks?
- Tools: Are team members using the proper tools to complete their assigned tasks?
- Adaptability: Are your team members capable and willing to adjust to new and changing circumstances that may affect their day-to-day responsibilities?
- Regulatory requirements: Does your industry require you to maintain a staff with specialized skill sets and knowledge? For example, is your organization subject to laws or regulations that include additional financial reporting requirements outside of GAAP?
- Outsourced resources: Does your department outsource tax or other special accounting matters?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, determine what can be done to mitigate the impact. It could be as simple as shifting the workload of key personnel, or it could mean adding more staff or bringing in third-party experts.
When considering team composition, also consider whether activities that don’t require specialized knowledge, experience, or expertise to perform can be passed to lower-level staff. For example, it’s likely not the best use of resources to have an experienced accountant, such as a controller, preparing and processing payroll, accounts payable, and accounts receivable while also being responsible for higher-level tasks such as the financial result review and analysis. Overloading key personnel can have a negative impact on their ability to perform an efficient and accurate close.
When considering staffing levels, your main objective should be to determine the type and location of the appropriate support you need.
You’ve determined that you have all the necessary skills on board to meet close and reporting requirements. But, do you have enough staff to handle the workload? Here are some questions to ask when evaluating staffing levels:
- Are higher-level accounting/finance staff spending more time performing tasks that are transactional in nature rather than performing quality review and analysis?
- What level of support do you need for your receivables function?
- Do you need dedicated resources to perform credit and collections activities?
- Do you have a high volume of payments that require a dedicated resource for cash applications?
- Can the group be centralized or outsourced?
- Is monitoring customer credit a high priority within your organization?
- What level of support do you need for your payables function?
- Do you have a high volume of vendor transactions that require dedicated resources to process invoices?
- Do you need certain resources to assist with managing vendor relationships?
- Can the group be centralized or outsourced?
When considering staffing levels, your main objective should be to determine the type and location of the appropriate support you need. As mentioned previously, while more experienced professionals have the ability to perform the detailed day-to-day tasks, those tasks are often time-consuming, and can get in the way of performing a quality review and analysis.
Last but not least, it’s important to consider interdepartmental relationships when evaluating your team. Good interdepartmental dynamics will improve the flow of information and can remove process bottlenecks. Here are some items that are frequently associated with first-rate interdepartmental dynamics:
- Ease of access to information and metrics that are critical to management decision-making
- Awareness of current and forecasted business issues that may influence the close and reporting process
- Ability to improve process efficiency throughout the organization
- Clear understanding of the organization’s general business environment
The foundation of every organization is its people. Combined with good leadership, a well-founded accounting and finance team can influence the organization’s culture — and bottom line — through an effective and well-organized close and reporting process.