It always feels like you are going to get a better result and be kept safe when you employ and supervise finance staff, rather than outsource the finance function. Somehow it seems to make more sense to be able to directly supervise those staff than rely on a contract or Service Level Agreement. You probably don't feel this way with your internet or transport or cleaning or car maintenance, but with finance it seems to make sense.
Except when it breaks - through high payroll for underemployed staff, fraud or errors, or when a manager realises they are supervising someone in an area where they have no content, and are not sure that what they are hearing is accurate or an excuse.
For clients that switch to Accounting for Good from an in-house service, here are some of the reasons they give for why they made the move.
If you don't know anything about bookkeeping or accounting, you would ask yourself 'how hard can it be? I've seen the advertisements for Xero and MYOB, and they tell me that any duffer can do their own accounts now.'
To run the books in an accurate, timely and sensible way requires skill, training and re-training (in finance as well as the technology), quality review of work done, knowledge of accounting standards, and supervision. There needs to be updated policies and procedures, and efficient workflows. And of course there needs to be security around the information and the accounting platform. These are harder skills to recruit for than you think.
An efficient finance team needs to ensure the systems are talking to each other, and that bank reconciliations and other adjustments are dead accurate. When finance staff answer your question about the accuracy of a report with 'it depends', or 'sort of', its good cause to be nervous.
Inhouse finance staff should be able to run the budgeting and forecasting cycles with confidence. They need to have credibility and authority to challenge staff at all levels about their assumptions, and call for reviews when there is drift. Not always that easy when they are 'in the line' and can be intimidated by management or program managers, (let alone the board). However they do tend to be 'in the frame' when the forecasts are wrong.
Being proficient in the software, and all its integrations, takes time and training. Staff need to have time off to train, and be supported to get certified. And if they leave, the organisation needs to go through it again, even if they can recruit the best for that application, there isn't always a smooth handoff from employee to employee.
The most difficult problem is staff turnover. This is such a time and money sink for organisations that many of our clients cite this as the main reason for seeking our services. Recruitment, training, probation, supervision, management, leave management... all take their toll.
And finally there is the challenge of the right mix of skills. Recruit at the high level for CFO type advice, and you are paying way too much for them to be doing the bookkeeping as well. Recruit a bookkeeper, and you are unlikely to get the high level guidance. When clients switch to us, they get to 'dial up' how much of each skill they need and want to pay for.
So building an inhouse finance team might seem like a good idea, but make sure its not about 'having the biggest head count in the room' and that all the pros and cons have been considered.