3 Ways to Generate ‘Silver Linings’ From Regulatory Compliance Work

By Robert Half September 15, 2017 at 3:00pm
When finance leaders and their teams are in the thick of routine and complex regulatory compliance work, they can easily lose sight of the benefits their efforts can yield — beyond keeping the business compliant, of course. The most obvious silver lining is good governance — which, in turn, is good for the business.

But what about the accounting and finance function itself? Can it derive value from regulatory compliance work? Certainly. In fact, several financial executives interviewed for the latest Benchmarking the Accounting and Finance Function survey report from Robert Half and Financial Executives International (FEI) were quick to highlight how compliance initiatives have had a positive impact on their organizations.

For example, a senior director of finance and administration for a public manufacturing and distribution company said that having a strong internal control framework in place has helped his staff to increase efficiency. And a controller at an automotive dealership group said that well-established compliance processes help her finance team to “play offense instead of defense” because they can audit and review “red flag” issues before they become significant problems.

Meanwhile, in a separate survey from Protiviti* that examined Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) compliance trends, internal audit and finance leaders cited the following as the top two benefits their organization has achieved through its SOX compliance process: an improved internal control over financial reporting (ICFR) structure (70 percent) and enhanced understanding of control design and control operating effectiveness (65 percent). Fifty percent of respondents identified continuous improvement of business processes as a key benefit.

Best practices can lead to better outcomes

While compliance costs are holding steady at most U.S. businesses this year, according to the 2017 Benchmarking report, the compliance burden for many organizations is still rising. Sixty-one percent of U.S. financial leaders surveyed said they expect their firm’s compliance burden to increase over the next three years.

That outlook may change under the current U.S. administration, which has been taking steps to reduce regulatory compliance requirements for many companies. However, the nature of regulatory compliance work will still require businesses to commit significant time, budget and highly skilled resources to complete many critical tasks.

To effectively manage the costs and burden of compliance initiatives in any regulatory environment, finance leaders should consider applying strategies that are outlined in the Benchmarking report and employed by their peers. Here are ways that leading finance functions are ensuring they can realize silver linings from regulatory compliance work:

Embracing automation

While finance functions, in general, have not been early adopters of technologies like cloud computing, many of the executives surveyed for the Benchmarking report said their organizations are now looking to technology solutions to help reduce compliance costs.

Automated systems can be configured to produce essential reports that are ready to submit to regulatory bodies. That, in turn, reduces the workload for compliance teams. Automation also helps to streamline workflows, and reduce errors that manual processes can often introduce.

Another silver lining from automation is that it frees accounting and finance staff to focus on other priorities, like strategy, or to develop valuable new skill sets, like business analytics.

Making compliance work a true team effort

When there is too much incoming work for the firm’s core compliance team to handle, the risk of missing key deadlines and making costly mistakes runs high.

Training team members from other areas to help with regulatory compliance work is one way to alleviate the strain. For example, teaching employees how to produce reports in the format used by the compliance team can make things much easier for the compliance staff.

An additional silver lining: When staff have strong knowledge of the basics of a key compliance mandate that the business must adhere to, like SOX, they can help the organization to drive continuous improvement of business processes related to financial reporting.

Engaging outside resources

Bringing in compliance consultants is another strategy that many leading businesses use to take the pressure off their compliance teams, especially during busy reporting periods.

As an example, our company recently helped a financial services firm that was short-staffed across several of its locations and facing the possibility of not being able to execute its audit plan. It needed auditors with compliance and risk expertise, and we quickly assembled a team of consultants at the manager and senior levels with that knowledge. The silver lining for this firm? With the extra support, it kept its audit plan on track.

Without question, regulatory compliance work can be a tremendous burden for accounting and finance staff. However, by harnessing technology and streamlining processes, providing training, and securing expert resources when needed, finance leaders can help their teams to manage this work more effectively, and deliver even more value to the function — as well as the business.

*Protiviti is a Robert Half subsidiary.

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