From Chaos to Calm: Year-end tactics and tips from ION’s own finance team

Find out how ION's finance team closed the books a full month earlier than usual, with Sage Intacct

After closing their books for the year, finance managers can breathe a sigh of relief after a typically very daunting and notoriously stressful period. Year-end can be a challenging process for finance teams as they navigate through piles of paperwork, reconcile accounts, and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. However, for ION's finance team, this year-end season was a breeze, closing the books a full month earlier than usual.

To uncover the secrets behind their success and offer valuable insights to our readers, we sat down with Carolyn, Head of Finance, and Tracey, Finance Manager, to discuss their strategies and tips for streamlining the financial year-end process. From leveraging technology to fostering teamwork, their approach not only optimised efficiency but also alleviated the stress typically associated with this time of year.  

Join us as we delve into their expert advice and discover how you can make your financial year-end a smoother and less stressful experience for your finance team.

Year-end is traditionally a very daunting time of year for finance teams. In your experience, what has been the most stressful or time-consuming part of this process?

Tracey: Personally, as a new starter who joined 2 months before the year-end close, the biggest challenge was coming in and trying to get up to speed with current processes, learning everything and then jumping straight in. At the same time, I also needed Carolyn’s time to train me which I knew would add to her stress levels at such a busy period.

Carolyn: At that stage in the year-end, you’re closing the current year, but you also need to have one eye on the next year which means you’re usually going through some kind of budget-setting forecasting process as well. The challenge is juggling that, and making sure that everything like bills and invoices are in on that last working day, and adequate accruals and provisions are in place for any invoices that haven’t come in. There might be one-time year-end adjustments that you need to prepare and adjust for.

It’s all about multi-tasking and prioritising, because you’ll still have your day-to-day tasks to do; year-end is closing but you’re still living in the now. For example, it might be that your priority is to get a new contract out, since cash is always the priority. This means reinvesting your time in the new contract vs looking at your year-end adjustments.

Tell us about what steps you took to optimise year-end process this year?

Carolyn: Step 1 must be lessons learned from the prior year — from the lessons that came out of the previous year, what can you effect? Some things might be out of your control, for example if they rely on external partners do their bit, so you need to pull forward as much as you can based on your experience the prior year.  

Then, do as much outside of that close window as you can. Give people a heads up and getting their buy in well advance. This is internally and externally because you might have advisors who you need to make aware of the deadlines.

Tracey: Start by thinking ahead, what can you pull forward? What can you get ahead of the game on? You also need to be firm on the final payment date and communicate this to everyone in the business so that they’re all aware. For us that’s just speaking to the right people, but for larger organisations it needs to be highlighted in meetings and emails so that there’s no excuse for people to not know.  

Personally, I’d recommend communicating this a month before year-end. Set expectations a month before year-end timelines and then send a reminder to that initial email and constantly follow this up. Don’t be afraid to ask managers to reiterate this to their team members as well.  

What’s the most important thing that a finance team can do to ensure a successful year-end?

Carolyn: Making sure you’ve got good practices throughout the year. So, if you’re closing every month or quarter, you need to make sure that for those 11 months prior to that last one, everything is covered. There needs to be no surprises in that last moment.  

Tracey: Really year-end should follow the same suit as a month-end or quarter-end close. The only difference is that you’ve got additional year-end tasks to close the year with. Ultimately if you’ve done your job and followed policies and processes throughout the year, with your controls are in place, and your balance sheet fully reconciled well in advance, year-end shouldn’t be that special.

C: Exactly, and your balance sheet is the key. If your balance sheet is right, your Profit and Loss will be right. And if you’ve done this and followed all your policies and processes throughout the year, December shouldn’t be such a problem. Really nailing the monthly-close will make year-end so much smoother.

How much do you think technology/finance software plays a role in how smooth your year-end process runs?

Carolyn: It’s huge, it’s your record and your entire infrastructure. It is crucial and you rely on it for everything. It takes away a lot of the manual work if you’ve got an advanced system; lots of things will get automated that you can just rely on.  

Tracey: Yeah, the automation is huge because this then gives you more value-added time to spend on other tasks. You’ll have more time to do the analytical work, like going through your balance sheet and spotting things that might be missing. If you identify all the things that can be automated, you can reinvest the time into proper value-added activities.  

Carolyn: And that starts with having a system that removes a lot of operational tasks. For example, you can rely on your finance system functionality to take away a huge chunk of the load for things like bank feeds, depreciation runs from fixed assets, and recurring journals and invoices. Then at the end of it, you’ve got the tools to run reports at the click of a button to see your final balance sheet, final profit or loss, and send out specific reports to stake holders.  

Tracey: It’s important also to have the ability to tailor these reports to whoever they need to be sent to. You can tailor them to the individual needs of their role within the organisation. For example, budget holders have different needs to a CEO. With these analytical reports we can be more impactful within the business and have the time we need to analyse the data to make meaningful difference.

C: I agree, and this ability to make meaningful difference proves that Finance does deserve a valid seat at the table during board discussions. It really allows your finance team to have a valued seat at the table and to make those data-driven decisions that will grow the business and underpin your sustainability and your success.

What are your initial thoughts on using Sage Intacct for your finance function?

C: We’ve only been using the system for 4 months. Initial views are there will definitely be substantial operational efficiencies. The immediate value add that we can see right now is the level of reporting and the ease of this. We really love how customisable it is — it’s given us the ability to slice and dice the data and look at it through whatever lens we want to look at it through.

T:  Definitely, you can adapt it really well to suit your needs. It’s also a lot quicker than other systems I’ve used when it comes to tasks like VAT capabilities. This will be a big help for our small team’s productivity and efficiency levels considering there’s only 2 of us.  

Any top tips or simple hacks for streamlining year-end?  

C: Good housekeeping throughout the year, good control and process flow.  

T: A clean balance sheet! Get your balance sheet right and everything else flows.

Find out more about Sage Intacct to give your finance team a valued seat at the table and the tools they need to succeed during every year-end close.

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