How to build a resilient finance function


The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected individuals, organizations, and the world economy. Finance teams must consider reassessing their processes to maintain core functions and cash flow. Here is some guidance for CFOs and finance teams on how to strengthen their operations, keep calm, and carry on.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve learned that the shift from business as usual to a state of emergency can come like a bolt from the blue.

The global virus pandemic COVID-19 has changed the routines and daily lives of millions of people. The world economy and most aspects of society are affected. For companies and organizations, hard work is required to adapt to new conditions.

The main priority is keeping employees safe while maintaining operations.

Industries like travel and hospitality have been directly affected. However, the considerable uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and its implications requires every business to plan and act thoughtfully. Sometimes even drastically. From securing the supply chain to implementing new waste disposal routines. From hand sanitizers to remote work policies.

It’s about maintaining business as usual in a state of emergency.

Few business areas are more critical for an organization than the core finance functions; transaction management and control of cash flow and costs.

It’s why solid routines and the right technology are essential, especially during extraordinary events.

By addressing these three steps, you’ll be in a better position to adapt your team and increase your resilience quickly:

  • Secure core finance functions
  • Automate manual tasks
  • Improve accessibility and routines for remote working

1. Secure core finance functions

Maintaining accessibility to finance data, and securing the capabilities to process transactions must be a top priority.

Assess invoice management routines

Secure your invoice management routines. Incoming purchase invoices on paper and in PDF format will be a significant issue in times of extensive remote working. If you can’t visit your office mailbox, the handling of the most ordinary tasks will be a challenge:

  • How to get access to the company’s postal mail in times of quarantine?
  • How dependant on a physical place is your routines for handling sales and purchase invoices?
  • Can or should you provide your accounts payable team with equipment for invoice scanning?

Review third-party dependencies

Many companies and organizations rely on third-party providers for services such as invoice scanning and OCR. By reducing the reliance on these services, you’ll lower your exposure to the risk of not being able to manage core accounts payable functions in-house.

Your processes are highly vulnerable if your service providers can’t live up to the agreement (true story – that is what happened to one large Romania-based scanning center that was quarantined in March 2020).

E-invoicing is a highly effective way to eliminate the need for scanning and analog data management.

Stress-test your sales process

Perform an imaginary stress test of your sales process – and implicitly, your customer’s internal accounts payable routines. The quickest fix is to increase the usage of e-invoicing.

  • How is your sales invoices process setup?
  • How dependent are your customers on physical invoice handling or third-party service providers?
  • Assuming your customer is struggling to maintain their operations (for instance, as a result of third-party shutdowns), how will you be paid?

Increase e-invoice usage

E-invoice adoption is essential for businesses to secure their transactions. Fully digital formats improve the resilience of the finance team and will help to ensure the business momentum. Even in extraordinary situations, such as the country-wide quarantines we’ve seen in recent times.

You need to assess your ability to increase your e-invoice usage, both in accounts payable and accounts receivable processes.

2. Automate finance tasks

Every manual work task requires the attention of your finance team. Most process steps are possible to improve and automate, but sustainable automation requires solid digital data. You need to identify bottlenecks of manual work tasks and analog information in your specific process.

The most common manual work tasks:

  • Paper invoice handling
  • Scanning/OCR of paper/PDF invoices
  • Posting
    Manual posting
    Manual adding of dimensions, cost centers, project numbers
  • Approval
    Manual validation of price, discounts.
  • Deviation management
    Contacting suppliers due to deviations
    Identifying duplicates
    No reference on the invoice
    No PO on invoice
    Manual credit invoice follow-up
    No routine for centralized dispute dialog
  • Supplier ledger management
    New supplier validation
    Adding supplier information
    Adding bank accounts
    VAT check
    Tax Certificate check
    Manual control of certificates, contracts, price-lists
    Manual entry of reply-to addresses and contact persons
  • Payment
    Manual payment management
  • VAT reporting
    Registration and VAT compliance

3. Improve accessibility and routines for remote working

Your systems and financial data must be available from anywhere, 24/7. Assess your accessibility and adapt to the needs of distributed teams. Successful remote work is not just about technology, but also a matter of routines.

Ensure system access

You need to secure that all core finance systems are accessible remotely: software for accounting, accounts payable, invoicing, etc. Usually, it is not an issue if cloud-based tools are already in use.

If your core systems are hosted locally on a company network, make sure that your team has access to a virtual private network (VPN). Request this from IT if this is not the case.

Related to accessibility are issues approval setups and hierarchies. Do you have a fallback for bank account access, tax authorities, and other business-related government services? Identify weaknesses in your setup in case of, for instance, sick-leaves or quarantines.

Review data security

Don’t neglect data security. For remote VPN access, a strong user authentication method is highly recommended. Passwords must be strong and randomized and preferably with two-factor authentication.

Establish remote work routines

Teams must be able to communicate seamlessly, apart from being able to access all systems remotely. Learn from the developer community, which has used and fine-tuned remote work routines for years.

Review user-friendly team communication tools like Slack or Teams to maintain a dynamic dialogue wherever your team is located.

Implement a daily standup routine for your distributed finance team – a short virtual briefing meeting where every team member provides an update on daily tasks in the morning. A common model is based on providing team members with answers to three questions: What did I work on yesterday? What am I working on today? What issues are blocking me?

It’s digitization that secures your processes

The areas and examples above have one thing in common – the importance of increased digitization. Remote work and infrastructure capabilities, together with increased adoption of electronic transactions, will improve your resilience radically.

The use of electronic invoices is one of the fastest and most effective ways to improve your processes, whether it’s in accounts payable, accounts receivable, accounting, or even spend analytics.

How to get started

1. Get e-invoicing access. PEPPOL is the dominant e-invoicing network in Europe and beyond. It’s supported by most e-invoice operators and secures an easy exchange of e-invoices between companies and organizations. Sign up to Qvalia for free and get started in minutes.

2. Register a PEPPOL ID, your organization’s unique e-invoice address. Qvalia serves as your inbox, and you’ll easily manage incoming and outgoing invoices in one platform. Here’s more information about how to set up your PEPPOL ID.

3. Inform your suppliers about your e-invoice address. To maximize your digital input and future-proof your processes, we strongly recommend that you communicate that only e-invoices will be managed.

4. Integrate with your ERP. Qvalia provides integrations via SFTP and API. Contact us so we can help you and your IT department with a quick setup.

5. Activate automated invoice validation. Reduce manual work and improve legal compliance quickly with Invoice Shield, a built-in accounts payable automation feature on the Qvalia platform. The cost is fully transaction-based. Learn more about Invoice Shield.

6. Monitor your suppliers with Supplier Manager. Keep your supplier ledger automatically up-to-date and reduce the risks of outdated information or doing business with insolvent or blacklisted companies. Supplier Manager monitors and updates your supplier data.