Untangling Finance and Data

The Financial Education and Research Foundation discusses the myriad ways that poor data impacts the finance function with Steve Rivera Vice President, Global Technical Accounting Advisory Services & Policy at Johnson & Johnson.

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FERF: How can professionals in finance and accounting better cooperate with those working in data. 

Steve Rivera:  It is all about connecting with your staff and having a personal touch. For me, I cook for my staff, and – at the same time – they love to come to my office and talk about what they’re doing and working on. As a matter of fact, someone came to my office the other day just to collaborate with me on some project that they were working on. They shared with me how they can create a dashboard that can access reports that will be generated throughout the system.

So how could professionals in finance better cooperate? We have to invite them in. They're not a separate group, and they can come in and showcase their entrepreneurial thoughts on the value they bring to the table. 

FERF: How can professional improve the quality of data surrounding financial reporting?

Rivera: I think using the latest technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence) will allow folks to reconcile and check things at a much more rapid, efficient way – as opposed to having lots of people thrown at a manual process to make sure it's correct. Based on my discussion with peer companies, they haven't moved the needle to make sure that they have the latest technology. It seems many of us still are living in “Excel World”. If you are a company that has one instance of SAP, you can basically have a robot go through the system to find things and track information. 

FERF: What are some of the other impacts of obsolete technology?

Rivera: One area that I am seeing is the ability to attract top talent. In my opinion, this new generation is graduating from colleges and universities coming in and thinking that these big companies have the latest and greatest sitting on all desktops.  To their surprise, they realize many companies are still in the past with outdated software and technology that could be 10 years old. In my view, it’s about having the latest technology that's available for folks coming out of college. This is a huge seller for the new finance professional as they can play an important role with providing solutions rather performing manual tasks like spending time to gather/compile data manually.

FERF: How would you characterize the relationship between professionals in finance and accounting roles with those working in data management quality and analytics?

Rivera: They’ve got to be connected at the hip and the relationship has to be very collaborative. Today’s accounting professionals are coming out of school knowing more than just accounting.  They have the ability to understand data and how to use it in a very different way.  Even the CPA exam is now going down the path of data analytics. It's something that they're looking at incorporating it into the exam, and it's something that CPAs need to start thinking about as part of their training.

FERF: What is your biggest piece of advice for the finance function as it relates to data? 

Rivera:  Your data analyst is the future. I think it's going to be part of the finance professional’s tool kit. I don't see it going away. I also think that companies today really need to spend the time to get their technology into a better place, especially in finance. 

For all finance departments in big or small companies, the latest and greatest technology should always be a top priority. Finance teams are the back stop to ensure financial compliance and present accurate results for investors. When you have the latest technology available, it allows finance teams to focus their time on areas that are important to help create value. Value is created when there is an ability to access data in an efficient and timely manner which leads to better decisions/execution.