Financial analysis, whether it’s looking at company statements, reviewing historical business activity or looking at company performance, is actually worthless if it does not lead to better decision making or helping to develop an organisation.
Adrien Laure is Director of Finance and Resources at UK charity Together for Mental Wellbeing, which offers community outreach programmes, legal advocacy services and manages 18 residences across the UK for people with mental health difficulties.
Having a purpose
According to Adrien, there has to be a purpose to financial analysis.
“You could prepare the best and most exhaustive financial analysis in the world, but if it’s in isolation and does not bring any insight or facilitate decision making for staff and management, then someone is going to look at your piece of work and say ‘thank you very much but I don’t see the relevance of these numbers. They aren’t helping me.’”
As Adrien explains, analysis can too often come across as a pure piece of work, not linked to background or context. That, he says, helps no one.
“I always believe in clarity of information in finance for a purpose, especially when talking to non-finance staff.”
Adrien’s drive for clarity sits at the heart of one of his transformation initiatives he implemented within the first few months of joining the mental health charity.
Transformation at Together
As a new joiner, he could ask the most back-to-basic questions: ‘why do we do it like this?’ or ‘what’s the thinking behind this?’.
It gave him an “incredible amount” of leeway with which to bring everybody back to a ‘common level’ of understanding.
After two months, Adrien believed he was in a good position to understand the financial position of the organisation and knew what changes he wanted to make.
While some members of the team felt he moved ‘too quickly’ with his transformation drive, Adrien felt that delaying changes would have seen them into a new financial year with a completed budget round and therefore a ‘lost opportunity’ to improve things for another twelve months.
“One of the things I did was to change the way we report our accounts on a monthly basis,” he explains. “What frustrated me was that things just weren’t clear. We work with non-finance people, whether its directors, senior managers or frontline service staff such as recovery workers or mental health workers.”
“Many of them struggle to read numbers. I had clear feedback early on that they roughly knew what they were looking at but they didn’t really understand what they personally were in control of financially.”
The monthly accounts included everything from central overheads, depreciation to local spend, all mixed together. It meant that there was a lot of irrelevant information.
“I didn’t understand why it was done like this,” Adrien recalls.
“What’s the point of telling frontline services about a budget of £100 when they only have control of £70? Focussing attention on what a budget holder can control means that they can make better decisions about how to use their budget.”
The importance of mental wellbeing
Providing clear, insightful and tailored data like this really matters. In a corporate setting, it matters from a strategic, profit-driven and healthy balance sheet perspective, but for charities or not-for-profit organisations who rely on government funding or public donations, there’s an additional layer to it.
“Support functions enable charities to operate in what are often very challenging circumstances.”
“In our case, finance enables the work of frontline staff.”
“It’s not just about ensuring controls are in place or complying with regulations and completing audits, although these things are critical.”
“It’s about helping staff deliver support for mental health patients.”
Supporting Together’s mission through finance
Since Covid-19, Together for Mental Wellbeing has seen a significant increase in the number of people using their services. Adrien says most people will now know someone who has been impacted mentally by the pandemic.
“Our services work alongside people from very diverse backgrounds, who have often experienced incredibly difficult life events and many of whom are isolated from family, if they have family at all.”
“We are dealing with more challenging cases now so the need for our service is just as important as ever.”
For an FD like Adrien, it’s about looking at the overall organisation and what it can afford while ensuring that every resource is allocated to the right area, with nothing wasted.
“My role is a supportive as well as a strategic one,” says Adrien.
“The data analysis we prepare needs to ensure that every department makes the right decision for itself and for the organisation as a whole, but crucially, always going back to what is the right thing for our services and service users.”
Adrien’s POWER PROFILE
Who is his hero?
“My parents. We moved to the UK from France when I was a teenager. None of us spoke English at the time, but it was quite transformative for all of us. It was by far the best and richest decision they ever made and if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing.”
What music empowers him?
“I’m incredibly lucky to have my own jukebox. I play anything on it from 60s to 90s rock. I don’t listen to anything online, I’m quite old fashioned in that sense. I like artists such as The Beatles, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Meat Loaf.”
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