7 key steps to building a great finance team

Jocelyn Ho

Published on September 22, 2022

Behind every successful company is an effective finance function.

Without a balanced finance team, building, running, and scaling a business can be extremely challenging – if not impossible. This rings true whether you have one employee or 50 on your finance team.

In this article, we’re sharing key strategies and insights from CFO Connect – our global community of top CFOs and finance experts – on how to build a highly effective finance team.

Whether your goal is to build your finance team from scratch, or optimize your existing team’s efficiency, you can apply these everyday processes of successful finance leaders across the world.

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1. To hire, or not to hire

“It’s a cliché in the business world, but always start with why. It’s tempting to say ‘we’re really busy and stretched, so let’s just get somebody in.’ But take a critical look first at where you are and what you want to achieve, before deciding that more headcount is the best next move.”Eoghan Huston, CFO at Manna

🎧 Read Eoghan’s full interview on CFO Connect.

Less isn’t always more, especially when it comes to hiring. When your bandwidth is running thin because there’s too much work for the team to handle, it’s tempting to jump directly into the hiring game. But that might not be the best strategy for your business, depending on why you’re struggling with an overwhelming workload in the first place.

If the problem is too much time spent on low value work, a better solution is to implement fintech automation software. This helps streamline your workflow at scale for a fraction of the cost, without hiring more employees to take over menial tasks.

2. Prioritize flexible communication in remote teams

“Communication at work becomes a lot more transactional in a remote setting. You send a message to someone when you need them, you don't send them a message to hear about how their day is going. And so you need people who adapt well to that environment and are able to build bonds in terms of cross-functional business partnering.” - Lili Peng, VP of Finance at Loom

🎧 Watch Lili’s full webinar episode on CFO Connect.

Team and colleague chemistry matter. We’re humans, after all. As businesses and employees increasingly expect a remote-friendly work environment, it’s important to consider what kinds of team members are best suited for your company’s collaboration style.

Employees that work well in diverse work environments are often more adept at collaborating with internal and external partners, both in person and online. If your business has a strong remote or hybrid work culture, recruit candidates that are experienced or comfortable with cross-team communication and workflows online.

3. Remember that investors’ priorities change

“Fundraising has changed a lot these past few years. Where once the majority of the venture community was focused on taking big moonshots and building impact, now, things like profitability and unit economics are a lot more important.”Asif Ahmed, Managing Director at Acclivity Advisors and Author of The Finance Playbook for Entrepreneurs

🎧 Listen and read the recap from Asif’s full podcast episode.

Like any other industry, finance trends evolve over time. Knowing how to make the business stand out makes a world of difference when pitching to venture capitalists, angel investors, and other firms.

Finance teams and executives should stay hyper aware of what investors are looking for. Finance professionals that are able to adapt their goals to changing investor expectations will have a major advantage in their fundraising rounds.

These days, investor focus has shifted from purely disruptive business models to profitable ones. With the global economic slowdown, investors now demand more financial criteria from companies, scrutinizing revenue and profitability to determine liability and risk.

The main takeaway here? Nimble finance teams help companies stay one step ahead of the competition in the wider fundraising landscape.

4. Empower finance teams with leadership

“Leadership is a key component of well-functioning finance teams. Even if this word can be very strong, leadership is all about taking care of people, making them grow.”Joaquim De Sa Alves, VP Finance Global Strategic Projects at Contentsquare

🎧 Read Joaquim’s full interview on CFO Connect.

Non-hierarchical team structures are becoming increasingly popular in the modern workplace. Clearly there are benefits to this system, like increased trust, transparency, and employee autonomy within the team.

However, having a designated team leader doesn’t mean only one person makes major decisions. Good leaders don’t micromanage. They support their teams by identifying and bringing out the best skills in each employee. This could include strategically delegating work on projects, or providing constructive feedback and mentorship.

Great leaders guide and empower their teams by giving them clear direction and freedom to take the path they know is best for the company.

5. Scale business operations

“You need to build all the collaboration on cloud solutions or at least collaborative tools. Excel was good when everyone was in the same room, but it's not scalable…The more your finance folks are tech savvy, the better they can really enable the use of these tools and deliver reporting at a much deeper level from the traditional P&L.” - Pedro Barros, VP of Finance at Remote

🎧 Watch Pedro’s full webinar episode on CFO Connect.

Business today is more globalized than ever, with increasingly diverse and spread-out workforces. Staying connected and centralizing financial data both online and offline is crucial for teams split across different time zones and countries.

One of the keys to building a modern finance team and scaling a business is implementing flexible workflows with automatic processes, using SaaS tools and cloud-based platforms. These technologies enable teams of all sizes to communicate and collaborate in real-time, with deeper insights and learnings.

Keeping documents, spend data, and payment methods secure, yet instantly accessible to all team members who need them helps finance teams work more productively. This also reduces redundant communication (e.g. goodbye, long email chains for tracking down a single document or budget approvals).

The best part? Streamlined operations means time and money saved while growing the business.

6. Choose the right SaaS tools

“Bring the tools that adapt to your needs. If you are more enterprise on the finance side, then invest on that. If you're a smaller company or fast growing, but you have one entity or it's an easy setup, go with simpler SaaS tools. Then either scale out of them, or scale them with you.” - Pedro Barros, VP of Finance at Remote

Talking about SaaS tools, we’ll bring back the ‘less is more’ mantra. The goal here isn’t to procure new software for every need you have. You want to utilize the best SaaS solutions for your unique needs, but you also want to 1) maximize cost savings and 2) not overwhelm your employees with too many tools.

That means strategically consolidating SaaS procurement wherever possible. For example: your finance team might use 3 different SaaS tools for spend management (invoicing, expenses, and reporting), but there’s a well-rated alternative solution that offers these same features in one centralized platform.

By choosing the latter, you can simultaneously streamline and optimize your finance workflow, while reducing costs. Consolidating your SaaS tools also reduces time spent training employees to use new softwares; giving back more time to focus on growing the business.

7. Know when to bring on a CFO

“There’s this kind of evolution of the finance team, where initially it's about making sure that our account team is right and that we’re able to report some figures. Then, it moves to a more strategic position, driving the business and the growth of the company, and becoming a real business partner.

In my opinion, this is the right time when you have to equip yourself with a real C-level profile for the finance team. This person needs to be able to ensure you’re growing with the right processes and tools, but they also need the capacity to project finance out of this initial scope, to make it really a key player in the way business grows.” - Clément Petit, CFO at Back Market

🎧 Watch Clément’s full webinar episode on CFO Connect.

Building a great finance team is a process in its own right, one which takes time. As we covered in the first point of this list: rushing to hire more employees isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to scaling a business. That is especially true when hiring your CFO.

As Clément explained above, many early-stage finance teams find that they can work effectively without a formal CFO. Deciding when is the “right time” to bring on a C-level finance executive depends on your business growth stage and goals.

As a general rule, a good time would be after you’ve secured a strong product-market fit and have recurring business revenue. Highly experienced CFOs can really prove their value when your company is ready to take business to the next level with exponential growth, bigger investments and acquisitions, and long-term financial strategies.

CFO Connect - community - finance leaders - Spendesk

Every finance team is different

“There’s no uniform or accepted way to start and run a business efficiently.”Asif Ahmed, Author of The Finance Playbook for Entrepreneurs

We’ve shared several best practices for building a strong finance team. But remember that this is a guideline, not a strict rulebook. Even if every company were to follow every step here to the tee, each finance team’s culture and workforce would still differ from one another.

The last takeaway here: seek advice from successful finance leaders. But only apply the best practices, methods, and strategies that make the most sense for your company structure and ethos.