Season's greetings from a finance department

Chris Harris, resources director at CIPFA, explains how Christmas cards can be more than just merry messages

Chris Harris, resources director at CIPFA
Chris Harris, resources director at CIPFA
It was tempting to do an article entitled 'If Finance did Christmas', which would poke fun at our proclivity to make those slices of turkey even thinner, to switch the Christmas lights on only when someone is looking and to insist upon watering down the Christmas spirit.

But instead, I'd like to look at Christmas cards – particularly, how they compare to the communications from the finance department.

Christmas cards are only sent once a year, but can carry a lot of information. They can also be highly symbolic. There are always some people with the view that just sending a card is sufficient. Presumably, the assumption is that the recipient knows the sender already. A quick squiggle may indicate where it comes from, but I always get a handful from people I cannot identify.

Communication from the finance team can sometimes be just like this, especially when the document has been issued at speed. Sometimes, it is identical to that from the previous year – just with the dates changed. A little time spent ensuring that the communication is clear about whom it affects, and what they need to do, will improve the level of immediate response and prevent quite so many follow-up calls from finance departments to "remind" people of something they would know if they had read the original note. This is especially the case when there has been some turnover of people from 12 months ago.

In recent years, we have also seen the introduction of e-cards – a wonderful excuse for all-singing, all-dancing messages. The equivalent from finance is probably the enlightened use of survey monkey, or spreadsheets with macros that save a lot of repetition (for the finance department). The problem with e-cards is that many get caught by the spam filters and others only work if you have Flash version 168.1b. Similar technological glitches can affect the most well-intentioned finance e-message, so do make sure that your recipients are not going to have a technological reason for failing to read your instructions.

Thirdly, Christmas cards can be accompanied by the Christmas newsletter, often extolling the wonders of the family holiday and the astounding intellectual prowess of your children. These can be lengthy and I sometimes wonder whether the senders are trying to make up for a complete lack of communication over the rest of the year.

Finance communication can be similar – long documents with every possibility dealt with in depth. However, there must be an inverse relationship between the length of the document and the likelihood of anyone reading to the end. So perhaps, finance teams should aim for more frequent communication – little and often – rather than the once-a-year message. Happy Christmas!

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