Get down and dirty - finance for business success - Business Works
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Get down and dirty - finance for business success

by Charlotte Chung, Senior Policy Adviser, ACCA Business growth should not be taken for granted, but must be continually managed to succeed. Finance leaders need to 'get down and dirty' with the day-to-day workings of the business to avoid it becoming static, warns Charlotte Chung, Senior Policy Adviser at ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).

In a new paper on the subject of business growth titled Building the finance function in growing businesses ACCA's SME Global Forum says that finance chiefs must start acting as business partners with a clearer view of the day-to-day workings of the business to make informed decisions and understand the whole impact those decisions will have. The paper also says that much of the discussion on business growth assumes that growth is a potential option for businesses at all times, when the reality is very different.

There is a lot that separates the finance function of a static business from one geared for growth. The SME Global Forum has looked at what makes a company grow in detail and a key starting point is the notion that growth is not something businesses can dip in and out of at will. It requires constant management and analysis, using timely and accurate data. Without this, rapid growth can be scuppered by what might seem to be very simple risks, such as overlooking loyal customers.

finance leaders must start acting as business partners

The underlying theme in unlocking a business so that it is fertile for growth is the pivotal role of the finance function. Finance leaders must start acting as business partners getting down and dirty with the day-to-day workings of the business. CFOs and FDs of growing businesses must become the central information hub for the business - consolidating, synthesising and disseminating information to where it is required, be it to meet new regulatory and compliance targets, scan their environment for funding or business opportunities or make the case for new activities such as exporting.

Here are the key recommendations for businesses on developing an environment conducive to growth. Recommendations include:

  • Ensure business plans for growth are designed to be 'living documents' focussing on aligning everyone's efforts in the relatively short- and medium-term while being the central point for updates on any changes and developments. The business plan must be able to adapt to the fluidity of the markets it operates within.

  • Invest in data infrastructure - a growing business needs to be able to perform data mining and have access to actionable real-time information. This information will also reveal where the cracks and gaps are as the business goes through rapid growth.

  • Focus on balancing the benefits of outsourcing with the need for self-sufficiency through building in-house capacity both must be developed in tandem to ensure growth that is robust against external challenges.

  • Develop and grow strong financial leadership this may require building a network where advice can be readily sought, for example, the board, support staff and external advisors.

  • Understand what growth will look like for your business over the long term growth is the same for all businesses, it is important to monitor how growth may be impacted by factors such as where it occurs in the business cycle, market changes and finances. It is also crucial to understand how growth may impact on the business, including staff fatigue and customer bases.

Across the world, there is a major policy focus on supporting SMEs, but merely encouraging more SMEs to form will not deliver the desired outcomes. enterprise policies have to be accompanied by efforts to understand and support the sustainability and growth of businesses. Growth has many challenges and a large proportion of young SMEs fail to grow because of a lack of appropriate and timely support, including in-house resources. ACCA's own research [PDF] shows the importance of an evolving finance function and its symbiotic relationship with the growth of a business, from its informal setting-up of processes and systems onwards.

You can read the full Building the finance function in growing businesses report here

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