XU Magazine - Issue 15

ApprovalMax and Xero enable a leading NFP to optimise spending management and facilitate audits

Fieldays Society_009 (2)
Written by Anthony Burman

Find out how Xero and its pre-integrated approval workflow app support the largest agribusiness event in the Southern Hemisphere…

The New Zealand National Fieldays Society is a not-for-pro t organisation and a registered charity. It is also the owner and host of the Southern Hemisphere’s largest agribusiness exhibition known as Fieldays.

Over the first few years, the Society experienced great success and soon realised that their cornerstone event gained interest not just locally but was recognised on a global scale. Fieldays now 50 years old hosts more than 130,000 people over the 4-day event, attracts individuals from over 40 different countries, and contributes over $530m of economic benefit to the New Zealand economy each year.

What was going wrong

After joining the Society and taking over the role as CFO in July 2015, I quickly identified shortcomings in the Society’s financial processes and systems. Within my first
month with the Society, I saw a significant portion of the Society’s cash reserves depleted. The pace of expenditures and the immediate rate of cash burn in this first month alone took me by absolute surprise.

Soon it became clear that these challenges were rooted in the processes and systems in place at that time. They were inefficient and made it extremely hard to maintain a reasonable quality of financial data or establish a sufficient approval decision control. One of the process fallouts was the practice of using the General Expenses code for coding expenditure, meaning there was no way to properly authorise the Society’s expenditure.

On top of that, the financial reporting was done in Word with data copied from Excel and then collated as a PDF file.

Fast forward a couple of months, I had been in the job just under 90 days and had developed a budget for the ensuing financial year, having spent numerous hours reviewing the transactions in the General Expenses account. It was also year end, and auditors were due in the next few days. It was at that point that I realised that dramatic change was required to move the Society forward.

The change was radical

That’s when I told the finance team: “We are moving to Xero and it’s happening tomorrow”. I signed up to Xero, migrated the accounts, linked the bank accounts and literally overnight we were ready to go. This was a business with 35 staff, hundreds of Purchase Orders, thousands of Sales Invoices, and just as many Bills.

Xero immediately became the single source of truth. Suddenly I could see the daily cash balances and manage Purchase Orders, Invoicing, and Bills. I trained the staff on how to code expenditures to anywhere but General Expenses. And it was a success!

However, we still required the ability to implement how the delegated approval decisions should have been made in the decommissioned system. This meant approval workflows had
to be simple for the end users but complex enough to deal with the existing delegate authorities – specific to our business needs. Plus, we needed a capable tool to address our growing compliance and regulatory requirements.

And that’s when we discovered ApprovalMax.

Single point of control

ApprovalMax is natively pre- integrated with Xero and complements our accounting platform with multi-dimensional approval workflows. This enables us to set up complex routing rules and Approver roles, including Delegates. In short, it turned out to be the very solution we had been searching for.

With ApprovalMax we create – in the simplest way possible – a complex approval matrix wherein we define approval roles, business rules, and workflow routing; all being intuitive and easy to use.

Today, we use ApprovalMax for the creation and approval of Purchase Orders, along with the approval of Bills.

One benefit of creating Purchase Orders with ApprovalMax is that you can restrict employees
to ordering only from existing suppliers and make sure that procurement processes are adhered to. Also, as newly added suppliers are entered to the system before being contracted, we can undertake a financial review of their organisation and verify their bank accounts prior to receiving any invoices.

Having the means to approve Bills and Purchase Orders on the move (via the mobile app) is one of the most exciting features. This enables executives to still enforce their authority whilst out of the office or travelling.

Proud winner of the CFO of the Year award

The implementation of ApprovalMax as part of the wider finance system around three years ago has relieved the finance team from a large portion of its workload. In our last financial year as a not-for- profit organisation and registered charity, we returned our strongest cash surplus ever, surpassing that of our previous record result in 2009. We have reduced our finance staff from five people at its peak to two including myself.

I now spend only about 30% of my time on accounting matters, with the remainder focusing on the business and its systems as well as expanding the ecosystem that supports our use of Xero and ApprovalMax.

Recently the Society was announced as a CFO Awards winner for its Financial Innovation Project which, at its core, includes the use of Xero (ERP), Ungerboeck (CRM), and an ecosystem of software – such as ApprovalMax, which manages and controls the delegated approval authorities in our organisation, and provides us with audit-ready approval histories.


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About the author

Anthony Burman

Anthony is an experienced leader with a proven record in leading change, through system automation and innovative process design. Anthony is more than your typical accountant, with a passion that lies deep with designing organisational strategies utilising technology solutions to enhance organisations performance and profitability.

Anthony graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Business Management Studies from the University of Waikato.