The real estate finance department capacity problem, and how you can fix it

by | Mar 17, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments

In our role as trusted technology advisors, we frequently meet with executives in real estate finance departments that are running close to capacity levels.

The finance function is much broader nowadays, with greater analytical capability expected alongside the efficient production of financial information. So, it’s not always easy for the people or departments to provide the business insight that is demanded of them.

Yet too many executives continue to make little effort to fully understand what technology solutions are available to help them improve the situation. This is not sensible or sustainable working practice.

Are you efficient and ineffective?

“If you’ve already started to lose clients or money, it’s far too late.”

There’s a fine line between maximum efficiency and ineffectiveness and it’s not always easy to tell where that line is. Real estate tends to produce a relatively repetitive income, so you might not even notice straight away that your team is struggling.

Your organisation may pay attention to an overstretched workforce when it struggles to cope with a new client or portfolio. It will notice once it’s started to lose clients or money. By that time, it’ll be far too late.

The early indicators that you should look for involve your people. The effects of overcapacity result in stress, resentment and bad decision making, which then drives towards an unhappy and disengaged workplace. This, according to research and common sense, is bad for business.

Inevitably, unhappy people with high workloads move on, creating disruption and the expense of a new hire and the training to close the skills gap. It’s not unheard of for a company to invest in an entirely new and expensive solution that does the same job as the tools they already have but don’t know how to use. That is certainly not an efficient or effective way of working.

Proven, practical and fit for your purpose

“It enabled us to move from compiling data to interrogating data.” Vern Power, Kennedy Wilson. (Ref)

Even if you have a positive culture with a motivated and performing workforce, the wrong processes can be a hindrance to continued success.

Your business needs to continue to evolve with external and internal changes. Mergers and acquisitions happen, leadership teams change, plans are adapted and, sometimes, Managing Directors just demand reports that you can’t produce quickly enough. All this can impact the suitability of your technology too.

Technology that was essential to your initial success can become outdated and no longer fit for your purpose. This can happen gradually or overnight. Manual processes which worked fine for the few people in your office soon become insufficient when you have multiple members in different offices or various data sources to interrogate. If you have grown and you have much more data—or more team members—there may be better technology options available.

This exact situation occurred when Kennedy Wilson rapidly increased their European portfolio. Vern Power, Senior Director for Finance & Accounting, knew it was time to rationalise and reduce the manual process that entrenched their finance team.

After reviewing what was possible and practicable, Vern and the team selected an Excel add-in reporting tool with analytical properties that they envisaged would significantly reduce time spent on the whole reporting process.

The result? Kennedy Wilson saved 100s of hours per month from just one part of the reporting process.

Even better, Kennedy Wilson was able to invest the finance team’s new free time on working on analysing the data, leading to even smarter decision making.

<< Case study >>

It’s important to keep an eye on the market or, at least, keep relationships with those that do to make sure your tools are fit for the job. If you—or your advisors—know what’s proven and practical to your situation, you don’t necessarily need a premium enterprise product to revitalise your performance. (Here’s an example of that from a real estate BI tool perspective.)

Engaged and productive

Innovative software tools that work for the team can result in better engagement of staff and a significant rise in their personal performance. In fact, workers at “technology laggard” organisations are “more than 500% more likely to be frustrated, and 600% more likely to consider quitting when they work with outdated technology” (Ref).

Having the right processes and tools for the job will help to create that positive culture in which an engaged team is able to work to maximum capacity. That doesn’t mean you should simply give your team more of the same work to fill the hours—you’ll soon cross that fine line from efficiency to ineffectiveness. It’s important to give your team the space to learn, develop and experiment.

With some real estate businesses beginning to rapidly transform their digital capabilities—and, in some cases, their businesses models—empowering your team to continually make smarter decisions might be the only way you can compete.

You won’t be able to do that if your finance team is constantly scrambling to keep up.

Note: Thanks to Nick Wilks for inspiring a post on this subject.

Richard Duddy

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