Now that many finance teams have closed the books on 2016, it’s time to look ahead at the future landscape for finance professionals. What creates a successful finance team? What fosters efficiency and collaboration? What keeps CFOs up at night? What are the expectations of your CEO?
In October 2016, we here at Hubble conducted an online survey of more than 300 senior finance professionals in partnership with Morar Consulting. This included primarily CFOs, as well as VPs of Finance, FP&As, controllers and analysts. We uncovered a wealth of data from this survey, much of which supported our ongoing conversations with customers and partners about the challenges and opportunities facing today’s finance team.
So what is top of mind for the year ahead? As we enter the “Year of the Rooster” – we wanted to let financial professionals crow about what’s working (and what’s not) as they face new expectations and realities from senior management in a fast-paced business environment.
While not necessarily a “new” challenge, finance professionals (39% per our survey) are still grappling with how to best collaborate with leaders outside of their finance departments. And this is absolutely critical because CEOs increasingly expect finance professionals to serve as strategic partners in decision-making rather than as retroactive data distributors. Continuous forecasting and modeling, and providing real-time business guidance are the new normal. So, while it’s great that finance has a seat at the senior executive table, finance also must help facilitate the streamlining of communication across business departments and connecting multiple data sources, all while being sensitive to costs.
Another challenge – how in the world do you serve as a strategic partner if your team is so strapped that you struggle to simply close out the month? Surprisingly, less than 1 in 5 respondents to our survey said they were able to close out the month within 5 business days. A whopping 38% said it takes 20 days or more to reconcile the month. Requiring 1 month to close out the month is simply not going to cut it anymore – competitors who are more nimble in adjusting to new business opportunities and challenges will undoubtedly eat into profits.
With an explosion of stories about data breaches, security violations and privacy problems, our survey also found that protecting company data is a key concern for finance professionals (not to mention their CEOs!).
With such a demand on modernizing and streamlining finance processes, it is ironic that 61% of our respondents noted that Excel was still their crutch analytics tool. Not that there’s anything wrong with Excel – for limited, specific functions. But finance leaders must take heed: Excel is siloed, error-prone and does nothing to foster collaboration between teams. It compartmentalizes data – making it virtually impossible to make holistic business decisions, or see greater company patterns beyond an individual business group.
But in spite of this understandable co-dependence on a tried-and-true product like Excel, our survey indicated that finance professionals are increasingly open to technology adoption and innovation – provided that it offers value to the organization. More than half of our respondents said they were investing in new technology, or looking for ways to bolster current enterprise performance management solutions from large players such as Oracle. Additionally, some CFOs were implementing analytics and business intelligence tools; however, many of these products cause unintended accuracy issues, given that data is not necessarily linked to the company ERP.
Overwhelmingly, respondents (75%) stated that they were not necessarily married to a certain tool or product – finance professionals simply crave what will help them to their jobs most effectively. Their key criteria for new technologies underscore 3 qualities:
- Easy-to-use/intuitive (61%)
- Compatible with Excel (61%)
- Speedy (58%)
This indicates that finance pros are looking to shed the deficiencies of strictly Excel-based processes. They want to move toward a solution that incorporates familiar technologies, a user-friendly interface, and robust capabilities to cut down on the time and reliance on IT currently needed to complete month and year-end closes. Finance pros are eager for ways to increase automation, security, and of course, save money! (Who wouldn’t?)
Finally, our survey indicated that finance professionals are hungry for information and willing to research and learn. Product research (54%), how-to tutorials (25%) and publications like the Wall Street Journal and Forbes provide CFOs with ideas and inspiration on how to run an effective and successful finance organization.
At Hubble, we are excited to see the evolution of the finance department, and the heightened clout for finance pros as strategic partners within their organizations. Marrying the comfortable aspects of Excel with robust business intelligence and forecasting capabilities – all using data in real time vs. siloed documents – will be the hallmarks for successful, modern finance teams (and the technology innovators that serve them).
Do you agree with our survey respondents? We would love to hear from you. Further reading recommendations below.