The vital role of a CFO

October 28, 2020

Leading members of the finance industry explain how businesses can transform and maintain performance levels through the pandemic. Financial leaders are playing a vital role in managing businesses through the pandemic and associated economic challenges. A recent study by CFO Research combined with FTI Consulting interviewed 325 chief financial officers and senior executives to get a better understanding of how finance is supporting and driving business value. The results presented five core themes:- 

-The work of CFO’s during the pandemic has shown what impact financial leaders can have on the wider business strategy. Covid-19 has emphasised the ability of financial leaders to manage what is often an overlooked part of a business: corporate scenario planning. 

-With significant changes to the economy, CFOs have managed to maintain productivity via remote teams. The survey indicated that over 70% of finance professionals worked in a remote workforce model. 

-continues to progress and while many CFOs are adapting and utilising automation tools, the survey indicated that automation is yet to reach its full potential in many businesses. The general corporate finance service delivery model is transforming. Over 40% of the respondents stated that their finance work was performed by a shared services organisation, nearly 50% said they used business process outsourcing or alternative hybrid models. Looking to the future, CFO’s are in a position to manage lead strategies and value development of a business. Finance has the capability of delivering insights on predictable measures in a volatile market, a vital asset in helping a business determine the cost, risk, working capital and overall capital structure. 

CFOs transforming into strategic leaders During the pandemic, CFOs have demonstrated the potential to generate models based on various scenarios, the ability to transform, make informed decisions and most importantly, lead their business through the pandemic. Respondents of the survey indicated that finance executives view their CFOs as vital members of strategic leadership, planning, analysis, technology and automation and detecting risks. Approximately 90% of respondents indicated that their CFO’s core functions include:-

Overwhelmingly, the surveyed finance executives portrayed their chief financial officers and finance teams as rising to the task across the domains of strategic leadership, planning and analysis, use of technology and automation, and identifying risks. More than nine out of every 10 of the survey respondents said their CFO and finance functions: 

-Important roles in guiding the overall strategy, making key operational decisions and supporting enterprise values across the entire business. 

-Driving value by detecting areas and leading plans to reduce and optimise business costs. 

-Applying innovative technologies i.e. predictive analytics and automation to generate accurate and relevant information. 

Remote working 

As with all business leaders, CFOs needed to adapt to remote working conditions, the cultural changes and the overall talent challenges. The survey findings suggested that CFOs were well prepared with automated-driven tools and were capable of responding quickly to specific priorities, processes and the preservation of talent and culture in the business. 

The main priority for CFOs in regards to the pandemic was enabling a remote workforce, according to the survey results. Over 40% of the respondents stated that finance teams adopted a remote working system, with nearly 30% transitioning to predominantly working remotely. The challenges from this transformation included the implications on cost management, financial planning, analysis, budgeting and forecasting (40%). Over 40% of the respondents claimed that risk management, working capital management, adopting new technology, and accounting and financial reporting were largely impacted. 

Automated Technology CFOs have progressed in regards to applying robotic process automation to specific finance functions, but there are still opportunities to enhance this further. Most CFOs have adopted automation to a certain level, with nearly 80% of the respondents indicating that at least one of the members of their finance team was ‘virtual’ i.e. they were using RPA and other automation tools. The survey findings indicated that for smaller businesses, the number of virtual workers was significantly smaller, suggesting that automation hasn’t reached its full potential in many businesses. Over 50% of finance executives indicated that eliminating and automating manual tasks was a top priority. Cost containment continues to be a key concern for CFOs. Over 30% of respondents stated that they intended to increase the use of captive shared services, BPO, GBS or an alternative hybrid model to utilise cost models during a disruptive business environment. For many senior finance executives, the CFO is regarded as a finance and accounting leader. The survey highlighted that finance professionals also regard CFOs as a business leader, value creator and someone who drives efficiency and effectiveness within a business. Nearly 90% of the respondents indicated that the CFO had the talent and expertise to enhance enterprise value for the business. In the short term, CFOs have proven how a business can survive during the initial phases of the pandemic. In regards to the long term, CFOs will examine initiatives that focus on cost savings. Finance executives believe that improving planning, scenario modelling and forecasting are top priorities for CFOs over the coming year or so. To achieve these strategic goals, over 80% of the respondents believed this required evaluating, implementing or focusing on existing planning, forecasting and budgeting technologies.

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Oracle Financial – Banks and corporate industry working together can improve supply chain financing

October 21, 2020

The recent economic challenges have accelerated the need for businesses to focus more on supply chain management, and in many cases, this requires added support from banks. Vikram Gupta, the head of the banking product engineering group at Oracle Financial Services explains that access to capital can be a challenge, and the pandemic has only highlighted the issues of transactional risks further. Gupta highlights that nearly every industry has experienced some level of impact and many small businesses have found it particularly challenging for working capital due to low demand, extended payment terms and increasing inventory levels. The innovation and efficiency from digitalisation play an important role in supporting a business-enhancing working capital, but banks can also play an important role. Gupta explains that banks can provide an alternative, low cost and less document-heavy form of financing, like supply chain financing. Gupta emphasises that funding can even be applied to vendors or dealers, and the corporate’s balance sheets.

Based on these details, Oracle Financial is offering a new supply chain finance service to support banks in delivering more flexible financing options. Providing early funding to supplier corporates or extended payment terms are other ways to support working capital plans. Banks are in a unique position, with details covering every payment going to their corporate client’s account. Understanding when invoices are raised and where capital is required is the area that should be focused on a growth and partnership model. By leveraging balance sheets, smaller corporates will have more affordable and quicker access to working capital, which in turn enables banks to generate added revenue streams from interest and fees.

Supply Chain Financing

Gupta explains that there are several important factors to consider in terms of automation with SCF. This includes managing physical documents and converting them into specific inputs for a business process and automating business processes for quicker turnaround times. To do this, a range of innovative technology is required, including natural language processing (NLP) which converts documents into on-screen information and AI-focused services to reduce human error. Having real-time details of information for the end customer and the bank’s operational users enable everyone to use the same information and provide clarity on the status and predictability of cash flow. 

Identifying unmatched payments continues to be the biggest challenge in supply chain finance right now, Oracle’s focus on automating and streamlining this issue has made tracking simpler. The oracle platform can identify the groups associated with the payment and match them with outstanding invoices and finances in real-time, while at the same time, provide instant status updates to corporates and banks.

Reducing Disruption

Any software changes on a bigger scale have to be capable of connecting with existing systems used by businesses and Gupta explains that Oracle can do this with little disruption. Oracle’s experience with banks enables it to deliver solutions that can be easily integrated and transformed within a business.

Gupta highlights that their strategy is to create an API for everything, meaning the applications are open to receive and provide information from legacy systems in a bank’s system. 

Capital Access

Whether it be poor borrowing costs or lack of strength in balance sheets, capital access has always been challenging for smaller businesses. Smaller companies also face further challenges due to changes in account payables and account receivables. The speed at which you manage funds can determine the winners in this industry, according to Gupta. Gupta highlights that generating money churn through the business is how any business generates more money. Based on the current climate, the need to streamline activities and reduce complex processes is critical. Gupta highlights that in the current conditions, every bit of money that can be collected and any government funding that can be utilised will have an impact.

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Post pandemic cloud data platforms to play a significant role in financial services

October 21, 2020

Financial services businesses are accelerating the development of digital transformation initiatives and migrating towards the cloud. With rising demands from customers and an increase in stricter compliance and regulatory standards, the financial services industry will only benefit more but utilising the potential of cloud data platforms.

The businesses that have taken the steps towards implementing cloud strategies have seen major improvements in efficiency, cost reductions and a decrease in downtime. The recent disruptions and implications of large-scale lockdown measures related to the pandemic have been alleviated by the mobility, security and scalability of cloud data platforms. While we are yet to truly understand the economic impacts of Covid-19, businesses are aware of the need to increase digital transformation strategies and prepare their organisation for other disruptive times in the future. 

According to reports by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), the cloud industry is expected to exceed $7 billion by 2022. Being one of the initial industries to adopt the technology, businesses within finance have been reaping the benefits associated with cloud migration. The latest report from NASSCOM explains that the financial industry has the potential to offer real-time, high volume and high-performance transaction within a range of channels by adopting cloud.  The added benefit of migrating to the cloud for the financial industry relates to customer security. Migrating to a secure cloud data platform enables smoother and efficient monitoring of vital data channels and allows for simultaneous analysis.

From online transactions to insurance claims, financial services generate considerable volumes of data. The information that can be collected from this data can enhance efficiency, security and improve the overall customer experience.

There are several key ways financial services organisations can benefit from a cloud data platform:

Improved Customer Experience

Customers today are actively seeking a unique and personalised customer experience. For many, personalisation is a critical factor in determining whether the business relationship will continue. With access to significant data, banks and financial services businesses have the opportunity to create this desired personal experience. For this to be a success, complete visibility into customer interactions in real-time is vital. With the support of cloud platforms, businesses can gather a range of data in a single secure system. Cloud platforms can also measure various sources of structured and unstructured data collected on CRM systems, customer transactions and IoT. 

Generate New Revenue Streams

Cloud data platforms provide a direct and secure way of sharing data without complicating the process or adding further cost or risk concerns as associated with legacy data systems. An individual data product to data consumers can generate new revenue streams. Financial services businesses that gather stock market data is a good example of this in action. By using cloud data platforms, financial data vendors can develop data projects that can then be sold to hedge funds.

Manage potential fraud and risk

Financial services businesses are under regular attacks from cyber threats and other cases of fraud. With a significant cost attached, financial businesses need to ensure they are well prepared. Cloud data platforms gather and assess data and can act as the initial defence line against potential cyber-attacks. Financial organisations can effectively store data and manage cybersecurity, anti-fraud and other data sources. With the added use of analytics, financial services organisations can apply detection rules and detailed visualisations to detect any anomalies with transactions. The combination of high volume data storage with detailed financial analytics can enable rapid risk detection. The result is a cost-effective higher level of data security.

A cloud data platform offers the necessary steps for a business to enable a business to deliver agility and growth. For financial services businesses looking to create a unique, personalised customer experience, increase potential profits and enhance their security measures, implementing the most effective data infrastructure is the vital step to take.

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Google Cloud and Anaplan partner to transform enterprise planning

October 14, 2020

The launch of a recent partnership between Google Cloud and Anaplan will enable an expanded availability of high performance, global, scalable infrastructure.

Google Cloud and Anaplan confirmed the joint partnership to enable Anaplan’s platform for enterprise planning combined with business performance on Google Cloud. Representing the first public cloud offering for Anaplan, the partnership will deliver additional intelligence, variations and scalability for customers looking to solve complicated business problems and combine business and operational strategies with their financial outcomes. Being an Anaplan customer since 2016, Google has deployed the platform on Google Cloud in a number of scenarios in sales, supply chain and finance.

Transforming enterprise planning in the cloud

Through the new agreement, global businesses can utilise the leading expertise of Anaplan’s in-memory, Hyperblock calculation engine system operating on Google Cloud’s worldwide, high-performance secure infrastructure. Furthermore, the partnership will allow Anaplan to enhance its global reach, enabling customers to benefit from using Anaplan at closer proximities to their operations and with a wider choice of options to comply with regional and industry-related data requirements. 

In order to enhance decision making and planning, Google Cloud and Anaplan, combined with other service partners, offer an extended platform for data storage and analytics, utilising BigQuery and Google Cloud’s AI/ML capabilities. The combination of these features will allow businesses to combine ‘first-party’ data from Anaplan with third-party data sources, delivering intelligent, real-time modelling of large volumes of important data and generating valuable insights for business.

Thomas Kurian, CEO of Google Cloud explains that they are committed to supporting businesses in enhancing and accelerating critical operational procedures. Kurian states that the partnership with Anaplan delivers highly effective infrastructure and intelligent innovation to enterprise planning, supporting organisations in making better business decisions.

Frank Calderoni, Chairman and CEO of Anaplan states that his business is dedicated to helping business leaders implement the right actions, while at the same time building for the future. Calderoni explains this is why they took the decision to extend Anaplan to run on Google Cloud and accelerate their customers’ digital transformation journey to the cloud.

Global integrator partners include Deloitte, Slalom, Wipro and others manage a number of the world’s biggest enterprise-scale deployments at Anaplan. The partners involved will support customers on migrating to Anaplan running on Google Cloud and will deliver innovative solutions to leverage Anaplan, BigQuery and the AI & ML services available with Google Cloud.

Tom Galizia, the Principal of Deloitte Consulting explains that they have the first-hand experience of the client value that Anaplan and Google Cloud can deliver by combining real-time analytics and enterprise and planning and operations management. Galizia states that with Anaplan on Google Cloud, there is a great opportunity to bring a flexible and functional number of solutions capable of delivering intelligence and agility that is required for customers to make informed decisions.

Google uses the Anaplan platform to develop business performance on a larger scale across various business units. Google has introduced Anaplan across a range of business scenarios including financial planning, supply, sales and operational planning. Under the new partnership, Anaplan has migrated nearly all of Google’s Anaplan use cases to operate on Google Cloud. The work with Google clearly shows the number of benefits that businesses can expect from Anaplan moving onto Google Cloud, including wider global reach and additional real-time insights into data from Anaplan and other third-party sources.

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Predictive Analytics – vital tool in supporting finance leaders manage uncertainty

October 14, 2020

Predictive analytics enhance financial processes by providing key insights into potential problems in a business and possible opportunities.

The pandemic has created a significant period of uncertainty, with many businesses being forced to rethink their strategies. The finance leader, along with the CEO will be the leading force in navigating a business through uncertain times and ensuring the company can continue with its plans. This is a challenging task and will require supportive information in the form of predictive analytics to determine the right path for the future.

The variations in time spent analysing data compared to conventional methods of number crunching greatly differ between nations. A study by Sage indicated that 50% of financial managers are spending more time on innovative data analysis. In contrast, nations such as South Africa, the figure stands at 64%. The report ‘CFO 3.0: Digital transformation beyond financial management” explored how predictive analytics technology could change how finance leaders operate at board level.

Where to begin

For businesses not applying predictive analytics, a good place to begin is assessing the existing state of financial systems and processes within the business. For example, has the business automated processes for reporting and generating financial information? Does the business have a modern integrated solution in place that enables quick access to financial information?

If the answer to this is now, then the finance leader should consider shifting away from inflexible legacy systems and manual platforms to adaptive, cloud-based solutions that provide real-time information and insights.

Providing finance teams with skills and experience

Finance departments and CFOs may need to utilise the skills and expertise outside of the finance market to enable the opportunities available within analytics. 

Prioritising automation for your business

Finance teams can enhance their analytics processes by applying a focus on automated data analytics. Automation provides an effective way of improving the quality of financial data by streamlining data preparation and aggregation.

Developing a culture of automation can enable higher productivity by reducing manual processes and potential errors, and speeding up processing times. Automation can enable faster decision-making processes while also improving regulatory compliance and improving the accuracy of financial information. Technology today can automate a number of standard reporting systems, as well as the development of dashboards. 

Enhancing processing

As business operations continue to change, finance teams can leverage data and analytics to enhance engagement with other businesses and manage overall performance. Finance leaders should focus on ensuring real-time data and analytics are available within stages of operational decisions, speeding up processes and reducing costs via automation.

The study by Sage makes it quite clear that where businesses lack any real cloud-based financial management tools, there is a general lack of strategic decisions in place. In contrast, predictive analytics creates an effective platform for finance processes, providing insights into potential problems in a business, as well as opportunities on offer. There are a number of ways finance leaders are utilising predictive analytics. This includes:

-Predicting revenue: marketing, sales, operation and user behaviour data enable finance teams to forecast revenue streams more accurately and predict future demand for particular products and services.

-Finance leaders are using predictive analytics to enhance efficiency in a number of creative ways, including ranking vendors in terms of fraud vulnerability, to assessing potential equipment failures.

-Financial leaders are using predictive analytics to assess potential trouble areas that may be reducing company revenue. For example, businesses can use predictive analytical modelling to measure indicators of customer loyalty, enabling action plans to identify issues and retain them.

-Fraud detection is something that many finance leaders are very keen to utilise by implementing analytics to discover and detect potential issues of fraud.

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How can finance teams make the most from investment in Business Intelligence?

October 7, 2020

As the finance industry realises the potential of data analytics, investment in business intelligence tools continues to rise. One challenge is ensuring analysts are provided with enough time to utilise the full potential of these services and not bombarded with other business-related activities. 

A lack of structure can lead to a disjointed approach to data management and result in inefficient use of time, money and resources. Businesses need to ensure they maximise their investments into business intelligence tools. 

Nearly every company has some version of a business intelligence solution, however, many analysts spend a large portion of their time on data preparation and other activities. In finance, businesses depend on accurate data to deliver reliable and intelligent business decisions. Financial analysts are actively looking to utilise this data appropriately, yet some challenges can affect their ability to use and manage the information collected promptly.

While an organisation may employ the right people, have the correct structures and goals in place to deliver data-driven strategies, they may fail to utilise the full value available within this data. Studies emphasise this further, suggesting that BI tools are well-resourced, but are not being used to their full potential. Findings suggest organisations could be potentially wasting their investments, with a large proportion of data analysts believing they have clear methods of improving company profits but lack the time to implement more strategic plans.

One of the biggest challenges on the productivity of an analyst is the time allocated to accessing disparate data sets. It may be a relatively easy process, it is known to take a large proportion of an analyst’s time. Other reports have suggested that a large proportion of analysts have found that the data sources they require to do their jobs effectively are often inaccessible, broken or only available on an intermittent basis.

Inaccurate data sources can lead to delays and bigger impacts on the business. Delays in the process can result in analysts using reports and making decisions based on dated information. In the current climate, a time of unpredictability and constant change, it isn’t efficient and possibly risky to be using dated financial data as the tool for making accurate plans.

Determining data from multiple sources

Data analysts use several data sources which can be challenging, particularly when a business is continuously updating their operational and management focus. Schema updates are often implemented by analysts which do improve reporting accuracy and decision making, but these changes result in further time and often delays the entire process.

To enable finance times to spend more time on analysis and less time on data preparation, businesses should re-evaluate their data systems. By applying automation to selective processes, businesses can eliminate a large number of the barriers data analysts experience today. The information can then be replicated, transformed and embedded into one data set and used to make data-focused decisions.

The surge of BI tools in business is positive, but the disjointed approach towards data analytics makes it difficult for financial teams to get the most out of the BI tools available to them. Studies clearly show that the technology and professionals using the tools are not being utilised to the full effect. Instead of looking to increase the number of data analysts in your team, a business should focus on how it can combine multiple sources of data and look to improve data access and management processes. Once access to real-time data is made simple, data analysts can extract all of the data value from BI tools to ensure their business remains competitive and customer experience stays high.

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Finance teams must learn and embrace the power of analytics

October 6, 2020

The pandemic has caused a transformation of plans and priorities for many industries. Something that a business may have taken for granted has become a major asset in the current climate. In the finance industry, Covid-19 has had an instant and dramatic impact on the value associated with certain roles in finance.

Finance professionals and accountants are being more widely recognised for their useful insights related to financial metrics, enabling businesses to identify and determine their course for financial survival.

Data has been cast in the spotlight throughout the pandemic, with regular updates on infection rates and their associated impacts. This information and representation of data are very applicable to the overall health of a business. What has become more critical than ever is delivering real-time insights capable of supporting a management team in making the most effective decisions possible?

Recent studies are urging finance teams to break free of their comfort area and embrace the opportunities available with big data and analytics. Finance teams can play a leading role in supporting business decisions, driven by insights gathered from data analysis, as opposed to relying on historical trends and patterns.

Unfortunately, reports suggest that very few financial professionals have moved away from their traditional reporting methods. Many finance teams are still reliant on dated analytical tools or basing their plans on past performance tools. Right now there is a significant need to invest in innovative analytical tools. Finance professionals need to ensure they are expanding and creating skills to enable progressive insights for their business.

Nations are starting to embrace the tools available for finance professionals, enabling individuals the opportunity to understand and apply the insights that data can offer. Advances in technology have considerably increased the amount of data and information available to us. This data offers valuable insight and can deliver highly effective decision-making tools.

The pandemic has accelerated the need for businesses to be adaptive and capable of restructuring their plans with new scenarios and opportunities as they develop. Finance professionals have the option of using innovative tools such as predictive analytics to understand what could happen in the future and prescriptive analytics which goes even further by providing decisive measures.

These forward-thinking tools can help determine future performance and support leaders in delivering the most effective plans. CFO’s are increasingly becoming a more important part of the entire decision-making process for an organisation. Data and analytics have the potential to enhance business efficiency, support risk management, planning, budgeting and forecasting.

Nearly all of us are having to adapt and become more flexible in a world driven by advancing technology, and this transformation has been accelerated further by the pandemic. Finance professionals can rise to the challenge and potentially play a critical role in maintaining a business and making it more sustainable for the future.

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