As this year comes to an end, finance leaders around the world are rushing to prepare and gather all the information they need to successfully close their books for 2015. But before they head home to a well-deserved Christmas dinner, we know CFOs are wondering: how did this happen again? Is there a better way to do things? What can I do to avoid all the pain that usually comes with year-end close?
These often stressed and overworked executives aren’t without hope though. In fact, they’re always looking for ways to make processes more efficient, smoother – and, arguably the most important, more cost effective.
Based on discussions with our clients and partners, and combing through analyst research reports, here’s what we’ve found to be the top 5 things on today’s CFOs’ Christmas wish lists.
1) Faster, trusted data
The Wish: The vast amounts of data and Excel spreadsheets that businesses collect can become easily disorganized and painfully difficult to manually consolidate. On top of that, such efforts can lead to time wasting, security risks, and costly manual errors.
In a recent report by consulting firm Protiviti, CFOs and Vice President-level executives revealed that one of their biggest priorities for 2016 was to have a single, real-time version of the truth.
The Fix: Use an automated system that allows you to have your financial data stored in a central, secure database with enterprise software (or even better, Excel) as the interface into that data. By taking this approach, CFOs can minimize human error, reduce the time and effort of data gathering, and be able to provide more sophisticated reporting and analysis capabilities.
2) Turning data into actionable insights and analysis
The Wish: Most accounting efforts still revolve around collecting data and making sure it’s up-to-date and correct, leaving little time for analyzing the data, let alone acting on it. Although this imbalance is trending in the right direction, there’s still much more to do.
According to Bryce Hancock, CFO at BeyondTrust, “the best decisions made for a company are decided with the support of actionable data. This strategy not only allows a company to work harder, but smarter.”
The Fix: Combine the power of an in-memory database with the visualization and BI strengths of Excel. Excel provides extraordinary reporting and analysis capabilities like no other. All the way from conditional formatting, to charts and pivot tables make Excel the leader in ad-hoc analysis. However, Excel was never designed to be a database. By connecting Excel to an in-memory, high performance database, you can spend your time acting on the data, delivering insightful reports and sophisticated dashboards for your team, all while leveraging a tool you already know.
3) More time at the boardroom table
The Wish: In 2016, the CFO is expected to play a greater role in the big-picture strategic direction of the company, not just in the finance department. Long gone are the days when the CFO was simply the most senior bookkeeper, making sure everything is in place to handle accounting functions.
Today, you need someone who’s not only “able to oversee the finance and accounting function, you need a strategic partner who can help you analyze your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and assist in putting together a strategic plan”, as Osborne Financial Search puts it in a recent blog post.
The Fix: Use a financial solution with a central data repository that integrates with your company’s general ledger and seamlessly stores all of your up-to-date data in one secure database. Look for a solution with the ability to slice-and-dice your data, visualize results, quickly identify exceptions, and produce easy to read reports that you can immediately share with your management team.
4) A better quality of life for my team
The Wish: Happier employees through a unified, automated financial close management solution that makes running around for a “single version of the truth” a thing of the past. With the right solution – in our experience including Excel – your finance teams can deliver meaningful data analysis without having to miss dinner.
Maintaining morale and work/life balance is a constant challenge, at no time more than during the year-end close. According to financial career news site EFinancialCareers.com, even employees at the Big 4 accounting firms report no life/work balance at all.
The Fix: “As a CPA and former Chief Financial Officer, I can attest to the value of a world-class financial close management solution,” says Gary Kantz, former Vena Solutions’ Director of Close and Consolidations. “Without the right technology, Finance teams are too often relegated to late nights and long weekends closing the books.”
Automating these processes frees up accounting staff to perform more valuable tasks, such as financial analysis and the creation of more insightful management reports. Accountants will work fewer hours and have a better quality of life; as a result, organizations will experience reduced turnover and better results.
5) A highly adopted rolling forecast
The Wish: Moving from a static budget to a rolling forecast has been a persistent but elusive goal of CFOs for years. This year may mark the tipping point for many.
One of the biggest challenges in rolling forecasts occurs when finance teams manually create, distribute, collect and consolidate hundreds of Excel templates through email; predictably, this leads to issues with email overload and version control. Additionally, rolling forecasts require more attention from data contributors that can result in a lower user adoption. As a result, your team can lack the time and confidence to deliver accurate forecasts, potentially deteriorating shareholders’ and customers’ confidence in the company.
The fix: A system that improves the efficiency of the company’s forecasting process with a central data repository, dynamic Excel templates, and integration with general ledger and other source systems for access and analysis of actuals in real-time. Leveraging a system that removes manual intervention and requires little training will increase user adoption. As a result, finance teams will be able not only to create better forecasts, but analyze their variances and understand the drivers behind them.
What’s on YOUR wish list?
We’ve shared the top five things on CFO wish lists based on conversations with clients, partners, analysts and others. But what’s on the top of YOUR wish list? Post your reply anonymously below and see how you stack up: