Understanding the achievements of industry leaders is a key to business success.

The UK’s finest financial directors, CFOs and finance teams gathered at the Royal Garden Hotel, London in March for the Business Finance Awards. The awards were hosted by Financial Director – a publication for senior finance professionals working in business in the UK that’s been running since 1984.

So what can you learn about how to run a successful finance department from the 2016 winners? We spoke to them to find out.

UK FD of the Year – Growing Business

Neil Warman, Nostrum Group Over his 4 years as CFO of financial services technology company, Nostrum, Neil has earned a number of accolades, including being awarded FinTech CFO of the year by Finance Monthly in 2015.

This category was highly competitive, being open to high achieving CFOs and FDs in an organisation with less than £15m annual turnover. Neil was commended for his notable career success at a relatively young age, and for his ability to organise highly skilled and innovative teams.

So what single achievement was most responsible for Neil’s win?

“I would say it was down to us achieving record levels of high growth year on year alongside consistently funding our R&D programme,” said Neil, “this was done all through the use of working capital and therefore did not require any external debt or equity.

“I’m a strong believer in continuous improvement, and therefore I am constantly looking at ways to get the whole organisation to deliver ‘more with less’ but crucially, to a higher level of quality.”

And what advice does Neil have for aspiring FDs who hope to be in with a chance of winning next year? He said:

“One of the most important skills to acquire is to learn to challenge and support the CEO in equal measure.”

Finance Team of the Year – Public & Voluntary Sector

The University of Edinburgh 

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On the back of being shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards in 2015, the finance department at the University of Edinburgh have kicked off 2016 with a bang, winning Finance Team of the Year at the Business Finance Awards.

We caught up with Phil McNaull – a veteran university FD who’s been working his magic at UoE for the past three and a half years. So what’s his secret?

“I started at the University of Edinburgh on 3rd September 2012 and it’s shaping up to be potentially the best job I’ve ever had!” said Phil, “Education is a wonderful business to be in and I am privileged to be able to play a part in supporting the development of the University.

“To aspiring FDs I would say you have to set a vision and ensure that you translate that into language and actions that your team can relate to and engage with; it’s the team that wins the awards, not the department head!”

And what are the team hoping to achieve in the coming year? Phil said:

“We are already looking at the next level of business partnering and reporting and setting ourselves a challenging target to raise financial literacy across the university through a user-focussed, needs-driven training programme.”

Software Product of the Year

Inform Direct 

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Inform Direct is an online company records management software that allows you to easily manage company information, transfer shares and update company registers. Crucially, the software has been designed to support small and very large companies, providing advanced functionality but via an incredibly user-friendly interface.

Henry Catchpole, founder and CEO of Inform Direct, shares his advice for finance software developers:

“It is crucial that your software can provide a quick and demonstrable saving (in time or money or both) to a new user,” said Henry. “This is because the time a potential user will invest in understanding your proposition is incredibly short.”

“Unless you can (honestly) say: ‘Using this product will save you £x because…’ you will struggle to engage the potential users attention – because they are so busy. This is an irony you can sometimes turn to your advantage: ‘Given that you are so busy the benefit of using this product will be to free up your time….’”

And how does Inform Direct intent to build on its current success? Henry continued:

“All SaaS software needs to be continually improved. We are constantly seeking feedback. You have to take both the good and the bad. You cannot afford to ignore the bad.

“You should reckon that if someone gives you objective criticism it is worth double a positive review because it gives you a chance to fix/improve something which a user thought worth mentioning. If you address the criticism properly you will delight your client and they become a promoter of your service.”

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