SMEs are nothing if not resilient, and it seems that in spite of the challenges they have faced recently, they are not only open for business but have their sights set on growth too, writes Warwick Haycock, accounting software specialist at The Access Group

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), expansion is now on the cards for more than half (53%) – and to realise their plans, they will need to build teams made up of talented individuals.

A key function of any SME is its finance team, and having talented finance professionals working in a business can make a huge difference to its financial viability, its strategy and its overall success. But finding people with the right skills can be difficult for SMEs, that do not have the big budgets to compete with larger firms on salaries and benefits, nor the resources to invest in high-level recruitment methods.

In fact, staff and skills shortages were cited as the biggest challenge for 27% of 1,000 finance professionals The Access Group polled in our report, Financial healthcheck: Alleviating your pain points in 2021, at the beginning of this year.

While salaries and job perks are important, there are other steps SMEs can take to make their workplaces more attractive to today’s workforce and the next generation. And many businesses may now be implementing people strategies that place a much bigger emphasis on the role technology plays in both function and well-being.


Meeting the tech expectations of the next generation

Every generation has its own expectations from a job, and technology has become non-negotiable, first for Millennials but even more so for Gen-Z. A study by Insight found that nearly three-quarters of 18-34-year-olds are dissatisfied with the technology they use at work, while 57% want an improvement in their next job.

Intuitive business technology could help your business stand out from the competition for two reasons: not only is it easier to use, it also allows staff to concentrate on more rewarding work – another key driver for talent attraction and retention. The employee of today is just as interested in hearing about what resources you have to make their roles easier, as they are about their salary.

Finance professionals from Gen-Z, in particular, want space to innovate and reach their potential, but they will struggle to do this if they are continually fighting against clunky finance legacy systems in the workplace. It is likely they will also take a dim view of any company that fails to match their expectations around technology, and not stick around for long.

The impact of poor technology and inefficient processes became painfully obvious for some finance teams when they moved to remote working at the start of the pandemic. They might have just about managed using a basic accounting package while in the office, but working from home made staff realise that they lack the up-to-date financial data senior managers need to inform decisions and maximise revenue.


Investing in accounting technology

Yet there are now signs of positive change. According to research by The Access Group, 64% of respondents said they now plan to invest in new accounting technology, including cloud accounting software. This will enable their team to work efficiently wherever they are, simply by logging into a secure web-based application.

Citing their reasons for moving to the cloud, respondents pointed to ease of use, and its ability to support remote working more effectively.

The benefits of cloud-based financial management and accounting systems are wide-ranging. As well as making workplaces more appealing to tech-savvy applicants, they also allow you to recruit strategically.

Rather than employing finance professionals to perform labour-intensive routine tasks, which could easily be automated, you are able to channel your resources into one or two choice hires – people who bring in-demand skills and fresh ideas to take the business forward.

You are able to take on more customers too, safe in the knowledge that your people and systems can manage the higher volumes of work.

But finance teams will need to ensure they have the right people strategy in place. Switching to a more digitally focused way of working brings with it cultural changes too.

According to one recent McKinsey report, adopting new technology and hiring new employees to meet this change is likely to alter your business culture – for example, you may find teams have a different outlook on progression. Instead of moving up the ladder into management, they may want to continue to evolve in their role alongside the technology they use. So, this is a key consideration for any SME that may be looking to change the dynamic within its finance team.


Key to growth

Digital technology is key to growth across all areas of the business – which is why the government is launching its Help to Grow Digital Campaign. The scheme provides, among other things, financial support for SMEs to invest in business software that will help to drive sales, manage customer relations and digitise their accounting.

Whatever your growth plans may be, investment in finance technology can set you apart as an employer that talented people want to work for. Above all, it demonstrates that you value their time and skills, and that you want them to progress their career with opportunities to work on rewarding projects and tasks.