A CFO’s view: Finance automation is critical to productive hybrid working

Finance automation can help your business save on costs, time, and resources while building resilience in a challenging economy. As a data-driven and knowledge-based function, finance was pre-programmed for the hybrid workplace. In my role as CFO at Ricoh, I have experienced it first-hand. 


rachel stokes finance automation

For many finance teams, the last 18 months have provided an opportunity to create positive change with finance automation. Wherever your business is on the hybrid journey, your finance department is an excellent place to start scaling up operations. And if your finance team has already swapped some manual processes for digital solutions due to forced remote working, you might be halfway there. 

Finance teams adopting hybrid working need secure and flexible automation tools 

A recent survey showed 83% of 9000 surveyed finance professionals were keen to adopt hybrid working. So, what now? The primary task for any organisation looking to forge a hybrid working practice is finding the most appropriate technology for your accounting functions to run smoothly. 

Finance automation, which works to build seamless processes between business finances, suppliers and customers, is critical. These systems must afford finance professionals time, data security and flexibility, whether working from home or the office.

Automation in accounts payable is the first step  

Creating a thriving hybrid working model could be your top priority, but building back resilience is equally important in today’s climate. Automation in finance – specifically for accounts payable – can help with this too.

A study by the British Chamber of Commerce found three in every five of 2,000 surveyed businesses have seen their revenue fall in early 2021. A quarter also reported there were only three months of cash reserves left in their businesses. 

Some of the factors causing this decline will be challenging to mitigate. But by acting proactively rather than reactively, businesses can take back some control while rebuilding and safeguard their credit rating.

When you prioritise accounts payable, you have the opportunity to strengthen supplier and customer relationships and build profitability back into the business – even when the landscape appears bleak. If financial planning feels impossible, your accounts payable should give you the answers and help you work intuitively in challenging times. 

How does automated accounts payable work? 

Using process automation, accounts payable software makes it possible for employees to digitally receive and process invoices and purchase orders efficiently. The technology also allows everyone to access the exact version of the same document anytime and anywhere. This is a must for hybrid working. 

Critically, automated accounts payable also has precise reporting functions giving a full sight of cash visibility and putting you in a position to maximise the value of rebates and discounts. For example, If you notice a surplus, you can pay a supplier early, potentially obtaining a discount in the process. In this case, you can build profitability just by monitoring the health of a supplier account.

Having good cash visibility also means that your accounts team can mitigate problems before they land. Suppliers can be negotiated with regarding any late payments and extensions. Having these conversations upfront helps to foster positive and lasting supplier relationships. 

Integrating automated accounts payable with wider business operations 

As well as setting the standard for digital technology within your organisation, automated accounts payable solutions can be integrated into other areas of your accounting functions. These include accounts receivable and other areas of your business, like manufacturing and sales. When combined with sales, it has substantial potential for growth. From a hybrid working perspective, integration is also very advantageous. 

Additionally, within virtual auditing processes, automated accounts payable means auditors can pursue queries more efficiently. As a result, trust in the accuracy of the data they are working with, helping streamline the audit process on both sides. 

Advice for finance professionals exploring automation tools

  • Before you start solving the problem, you must work with your technology partner to understand what the problem is and its root. Any partner or supplier you select must listen to your needs and take time to understand your context. These are essential business processes; no one size fits all, and getting it wrong could prove costly.
  • Once you’ve worked together to define your needs, ensure your supplier or partner has the requirements to fulfil your need. Bespoke solutions might need to be built, which make sector and industry experience very important. 
  • Ensure your partner has a robust post-sales offering to make sure work is future-proofed and scalable. The last 18 months have taught us that circumstances can change extremely quickly. 

Make hybrid working and financial automation the future 

In our lived experience of hybrid, we have found that our finance people now have the time and the space to focus on the data. With the opportunity to connect with the necessary people more frequently, using more dynamic communication tools. 

Using our automated solutions, we’ve also noticed that our digital software has become less about managing a process and more about understanding how automation can streamline our function as a whole. Therefore helping us optimise and improve in several ways. 

In finance, we have an incredible opportunity to make our industry more robust and businesses more intelligent by replacing paper tasks with secure digital tools which can truly safeguard finances. I hope more organisations will follow suit and start to explore digital transformation.

The UK workforce has moved from forced remote working to hybrid working at a rapid speed. So much so that talking about what’s changed has become a cliche in the space of 18 months. Your people are looking for action and strategies, not words. Be proactive. 

Rachel Stokes

Chief Financial Officer