From XU Magazine, 
Issue 29

My Finance Journey: From Print and Process to Full Automation

My finance journey starts with the GFC, probably the worst time to be hunting down a career.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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My finance journey starts with the GFC, probably the worst time to be hunting down a career. Having completed a diploma in business administration, I found that securing any job was extremely difficult, so I doubled down on my self-investment, enrolling in a Business Commerce degree majoring in accounting. Little did I know that the fallout of the GFC would still plague the jobs market and the only accounting roles my experience would allow for would be entry level bookkeeping and accounts payable. 

My first role was with a small family-owned business that managed their books through Excel. I made it my mission to modernise the business and implement a current accounting package. This was a step in the right direction, but still required manual processing of faded receipts and half torn invoices in a filing cabinet... The role of a bookkeeper is extremely laborious and far from the analytical aspirations that I had after my degree. However, it shone a light on how many businesses operate and the challenges they faced.

After a few years in the job, it was time to aim higher, so I landed a job with a multinational organisation. This was surely going to help me get my foot in the door for something bigger, and that’s how the role was advertised. However, I found myself back in a data entry position with little analytical requirements aside from the few additional tasks including bank reconciliation and cash flow reporting. The same scenario played out for my next 3 roles, even though I would go on to be a part of teams that implemented paperless processes and update accounting software packages. In some of these positions I was working with individuals that had master’s degrees in accounting, leading me to believe that I would require a PHD in accounting just to have access to a balance sheet and profit/loss. 

One achievement that I had in one of these roles was implementing a paperless system. This caught a lot of flak at the beginning as I had far less experience than anyone else in the team, but I saw a great opportunity to put myself on the map with the senior team and be seen as a leader as well. The issue was thousands of invoices stacked in sorters, and every weekly payment run, there were errors which sometimes resulted in the team staying back till 8/9pm organising and fixing them. I borrowed imaging software from the customer service department that I implemented, which was not designed for AP, but I used this along with analytics to scan and solve outliers well before the batch was sent for approval, saving us 1-2 boxes of paper every week. This was a few thousands in cost savings alone. However, it was not enough to land me a promotion. 

Eventually I caught a break and landed an assistant accountant position with a large healthcare provider, and would you believe it if I told you that data entry was still required. This was a multi-billion-dollar organisation, and I was using an 80’s MS Dos looking system. That’s right, invoices would come in, I would print them, stack them in piles, then send them for MANUAL approval before I would be allowed to enter them in the system using only a keyboard. No mouse.  

The biggest issue I faced in this role, was that invoices would go missing. I would print and code them, package them in a folder before sending them to the respective manager only to receive a call from the supplier weeks later demanding payment. I had to repeat this task again and again until I realised that I needed to stand over some individuals until they signed all the invoices in front of me. This was a huge time waster for me, especially when I had month end reporting to organise.  

The second biggest issue was the excel based Purchase Ordering system that some managers utilised. This was basically an excel document created by a previous accountant, for everyone to stay on top of incoming costs. However, the information was always with the respective managers who could never remember or had never been given an estimate from the supplier. When it came to month end, my Balance Sheet reconciliation would fluctuate violently with no accurate estimates on expected costs, the provisions account was always understated or overstated. 

My nightmare though would soon take a turn when it was announced that I was to be the head officer in charge to implement a new software package that would not eliminate the account system but work in conjunction with it, eliminating printing and manual keying of invoices. 

This brings us to the current position I now hold, a mixture of project and account managing as well as providing training and support to all new users coming on board. Basically, the same thing I’ve done in the past 4 roles, which is implement new processes and software to resolve the chronic mismanagement of financial information. I have seen the accounting and bookkeeping space go from manual data entry to automated practices. Keeping track of spend and invoices is a lot easier when you know with accuracy, costs that are incoming and you can plan cash flow accordingly. 

In all my previous roles however, I had to deal with staff at different levels who didn’t always see my point of view and one senior manager taught me that it is easier to first get individuals buy in before proposing a change. As change can bring in a huge level of uncertainty to an individual’s daily tasks, bringing them to the table early on is key. This is my current approach now that I take through my scoping and enablement sessions with new clients. AI and automation all in one new system can be daunting and at times seen as a challenge instead of an opportunity. However, most individuals quickly learn that there is time better spent when you have all your data entry done for you, and as a business grows there are always subject matter experts needed.

Why leave it there?

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