April 13, 2016

Steering the Finance Function from Back to Front

by Finance Centralization, Industry Trends and Technology, Point-of-View

Originally published in OpusCapita Journal.

Janeka Rauva, CFO of Tallink Silja Oy, explains that the transformation of knowledge work equips the finance department with improved tools that truly support business operations, which has always been the role that modern financial management has wanted to achieve. The CFO has become a manager of change.

The entire finance department needs a change of attitude in order to shake off the traditional back office role.

“Technology alone is not enough – in the end it is just a tool. The finance function needs to change from being a collector of numbers to an active producer and interpreter of information that reaches out to business functions and lets them know that this is exactly the information they need right at this moment,” says Janeka Rauva.

She explains that the information handled by the finance team is so important that everyone in the company should know where to find them. However, three years ago when Rauva stepped into the lift at the headquarters of Tallink Silja Oy on her first day at work and asked for directions to the department, not one person in the lift could help her.

“I don’t want the finance function to hide away behind rules and regulations and to just focus on numbers. Of course, the CFO sometimes needs to take charge, to stop things before they go too far and provide a reminder of the risks and limitations.”

“However, I want to start with the fact that we provide support, we work out whether it is possible to implement something and we know how to solve things in other ways within the limits of the rules and regulations. We can offer business functions ways of making decisions that are more justified, more well-timed and more effective.”

Time to step up and be counted

“One of the greatest challenges regarding expertise is achieving a sufficiently extensive overall understanding of your own company’s business and challenges in the operating environment, and also from another perspective than that of the financial ­administration, regulations, and laws,” says Rauva.

“Business is more than just numbers, and the same numbers may even mean different things for different functions. That’s why it is important to have a skilled interpreter to explain financial information to the business functions.”

Tallink Silja is part of the AS Tallink Grupp, which is listed on the Tallinn Stock Exchange and is one of the largest passenger and freight shipping companies in the Baltic Sea region. Every year the Group’s 18 vessels transport around 8.9 million passengers and 310,000 cargo units.

An extensive system renewal enabled the 42 companies in the Group to transfer to the same accounting system. The company’s sales systems on land and in the vessels, and also OpusCapita’s solution for managing bank account transactions and balances, for example, were also integrated into the accounting system. The project also transformed the processes in the 30-strong finance department of Tallink Silja.

Janeka Rauva sees the increased automation, system integration and access to real-­time information as the first steps towards the finance department of the future where routine work will only take up a fraction of the day.

“Changing operating methods can, of course, be painful, but it is necessary. There are often phases that no longer serve a purpose but have become hidden in the processes over the years.”

“In the change, there could also be an inspiring chance for the experts in the finance team to step up: the opportunity to highlight personal accumulated expertise and to find ways of using this in a new way to benefit the company,” says Rauva.

Perfecting the triple salchow

Now she urges the finance function to discover its service spirit and to serve the company’s internal customers. It is important to identify your own role in the chain that ends with providing a service to the final cus­tomer.

“Our vessels are not only competing with other shipping company vessels, they are also competing for the leisure time of the customers. Passengers want amazing experiences. The type of service experienced by a customer receiving a refund at a cash desk on a ferry, for example, also depends on the type of processes that have been created by the finance department.”

“Processes easily become awkward if their purpose is to achieve other targets in addition to serving the final customer. It is important to find ways to perform challenging processes effortlessly – exactly the same way that a champion figure skater makes a triple Salchow look easy,” says Rauva.

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