Council Post: The Future Of Finance Is Human-Centered

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Peter Nesbitt is COO teampeTop distributed expense management platform that provides finance control and visibility into spending.

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Maybe it’s just in our nature, but people like rules. So they usually have a very well thought out spending policy. The problem is that, according to a report from enthusiastic partneris about 37% of the expenses No under control.

Employees who do not follow these guidelines are disappointed and a shame and blame game usually ensues.

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But why are the guidelines not being followed? Aren’t they clear? Do people need more training?

Have you tried asking the staff? With so much non-compliance, it’s time to rethink how you design finance processes and move away from the notion that humans are rule-abiding machines toward a more human-centered approach.

What is Human-Centered Design?

“When you understand the people you’re trying to reach — and then design from their point of view — not only will you arrive at unexpected answers, but you’ll come up with ideas they’ll embrace.” – IDEO, Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

Human-centered design has been adopted by software companies over the years. Apple has built a nearly $3 trillion company based on building “just work” products while meeting the emotional needs of an amazing user experience.

Human-centered design focuses on users’ experiences, especially their emotional experiences. To understand user experience, you need to understand the problem from the perspective of a customer, employee, or other stakeholder. Only then can you work to design a process that solves their problems in an intuitive and fun way.

Applying Human-Centered Design to Finance

Ultimately, guidelines and procedures that finance feels adequate may not be immediately intuitive to employees (losing control over an estimated 37% of spending). Instead, finance and staff should work together towards creating a better process.

A design-based approach might look something like this:

drown in trouble: It does No Meaning just having an all-hands call to brainstorm with the finance team. You need to immerse yourself in the day-to-day work of your employees to see how the finances fit into the way they work. How’s the buying process from an employee’s perspective? What problems should finance help solve, and why is finance not able to solve those problems today?

Instead of thinking “Why can’t Jim follow our shopping guidelines?” Take a more curious and empathetic mindset about why Jim can’t have a receipt for something he bought three weeks ago. Take away Jim’s blame, and place it on the fact that he was forced into a buying process that wasn’t really made for him, or any average human being for that matter. But remember, this step is about discovering the problem, not the solution.

Create an Employee “Journey Map” for Your Purchasing ProcessDesigners use travel maps to see how people are using their products or services. This helps them identify friction and improve the user experience at each touchpoint.

In the previous step, you talked to the employees to understand their problems. Now you see how employees go from A to Z to make purchases. Where does the process start? What are friction points? Creating a map is a great way for your team to visualize the processes and problems at each stage.

Brainstorm: This is where your team comes together to figure out how to address the challenges faced by employees. You’ll be tempted to keep this as finance only, but I encourage you to keep team members out of the finances in the room to help validate some of the assumptions you’re making.

build, learn, iterate: Once you’ve brainstormed possible solutions, it’s time to create a new process based on the needs of your employees. However, this is not a “one and done” exercise. Designing human-centered finance processes means iterating over time based on user feedback and ever-changing needs.

Human-Centered Finance in Practice

Let’s take a look at each employee’s favorite process: expense reimbursement.

today’s process: An employee needs to buy something to get the job done. Let’s say they need to print a one-pager for an upcoming event. Because time is of the essence, they decide to use their own card and pay what amount to an interest-free loan to the company. They print one-pagers, go to events and get some leads. awesome work!

But they are already resentful of needing to use their own money for company purposes. And now the real fun begins—they need to file an expense report. What software do they need to use for this? What is login? Where did he put the receipt?! Now they start back and forth with finance why it was needed and how to get reimbursed. This is a frustrating user experience, which causes undue stress, resentment, and frustration. Not the emotions we aim for in human-centered finance.

human-centered approachYour team maps today’s user journey with those key pain points: Knowing the employee frustrations with paying out of pocket and how difficult the whole process is. Then there is a brainstorming involving employees from outside finance to validate potential solutions.

In this instance, your first solution may be to implement a more proactive system that does not require employees to use their own funds. You enable pre-approval, allowing employees controlled access to company money. You launch this solution and it seems to have solved many of the earlier issues. But you learn that it still takes pains to log employees into the system, leaving room for improvement.

To iterate, you decide to integrate finance software into the company’s collaboration tools (think Slack or Microsoft Teams). This allows employees to handle things in a more interactive way without the need for a separate login. Another pain point down – great!

And then the same process of creation, learning and iteration continues.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the processes you’re building are People, and to get people on board with what We needs, you must take into account their needs and experience.


Forbes Finance Council is an invitation-only organization for executives in successful accounting, financial planning and wealth management firms. am i eligible?


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