Date posted: 8/11/2018 4 min read

The innovation-led finance function

Creating the right culture is vital to building an innovation-led finance function.

In Brief

  • People and culture are vital in creating an innovation-led finance function
  • Finance teams should be encouraged to experiment and fail
  • Organisations should seek inspiration from technology company culture

Jacqueline Chan, Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer, DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Ltd
Janelle Hopkins, Executive General Manager, Finance and Group Chief Financial Officer, Australia Post
Daniel Papallo, Global Planning and Finance Transformation Controller, Cochlear

Senior finance executives say that creating the right people culture is vital to building an innovation-led finance function.

"If you want to make transformation happen, you have to focus on both people and systems at the same time,” says Janelle Hopkins, Finance and Group Chief Financial Officer at Australia Post. Hopkins says her organisation has been going through substantial change and transformation.

She says that while there was nothing wrong with her finance team, "I knew that if we didn't transform our role to support the organisation, we wouldn't be helping the organisation to thrive."

Hopkins says the only differentiator between a good and bad finance function is "the people and capabilities, and the systems and tools", which why she started with people. She first talked with her leadership team about the need for the company to change and transform.

Janelle Hopkins FCA

Janelle Hopkins FCA, Group Financial Officer - Australia Post.

Then she involved the extended leadership team. "I got the top 60 people within the finance function and asked: What do we really need to do to really become a leading-edge finance function?"

Everyone "gets the technical stuff", Hopkins says, so she focused on building her soft skills. She trained people in negotiation, how to influence across boundaries, and leadership.

Only after she focused on people did Hopkins move to the systems side of Australia Post's finance function, including automation, simplifying the ledger, creating a data science team to work on analytics, and putting robotics in.

"That's good to have the systems and tools but you've got to get the processes right. If you don't get the processes really simplified, you're not going to get to the real value add."

If you want to make transformation happen, you have to focus on both people and systems at the same time.
Janelle Hopkins FCA, Finance and Group Chief Financial Officer, Australia Post.

An innovative culture in the finances team also requires allowing talent to experiment and fail.

Daniel Papallo, Global Planning and Finance Transformation Controller, Cochlear, says leaders need to be clear where finance teams should and shouldn't experiment.

"We're not going to experiment with this year's audit opinion," he says. "But there are areas where, for the business to grow, you do need to experiment. The real shift required is encouraging failure."

Papallo says that when considering innovation, it is also important for the finance function to focus on supporting the business as whole. Finance teams need the traditional finance measures "but for us, success in the long run is really about trying to solve problems and supporting the great innovators we have in the business," he says.

Jacqueline Chan, Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer, DBS Bank (Hong Kong), says to drive innovation, people in the finance team need to learn to "fail fast".

"We don't love to fail, but if we really experience something that's not in the right order, we just acknowledge it, fix it and move on," she says. "It's a test-and-learn-test-and-learn approach."

Jacqueline Chan CPA

Jacqueline Chan CPA, Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer - DBS Bank (Hong Kong) Ltd.

Chan says her organisation thinks like a technology company. "We look for their inspiration and guidance. We learn from the way they work – their people culture and strategy."

Chan says her finance team has diversified its talent to include people with data and technology backgrounds, but senior leadership in the finance team is also vital to drive innovation.

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