Pricing is an issue that almost every for-profit company confronts – and usually agonizes over. Chief financial officers must play a part in setting the strategic direction of pricing in their organization. They should not be involved in tactical pricing decisions because they are not close enough to markets and customers, but they should be part of the strategic design of pricing, especially as part of a profitability management effort, which I’ve discussed before.
Managing corporate income taxes is a challenge for chief financial officers. Tax codes are often complex, so tax accounting as well as the data required for tax provisions and tax compliance are different enough from statutory accounting to create significant workloads for the tax department. Today, the worldwide trend to higher taxes and growing tax code complexity is increasing the payoff for digitizing an organization’s tax function.
A looming challenge for companies in the developed world is price inflation, an issue periodically fretted over – but not experienced at a macroeconomic level in most developed economies – over the past four decades. Price inflation has been a frequent bugaboo that never emerged because of persistent disinflationary forces in the world economy over the past forty years. It remains to be seen to what extent recent price rises are persistent or transitory but “what if?” was the most important phrase organizations used in 2020. What if this time it really is different?
Environmental, social and governance reporting by public corporations has become a top-of-mind issue for senior executives and boards of directors as countries increasingly consider or mandate its implementation in some form. The fundamental rationale for ESG reporting is rooted in the inability of purely financial measures to capture externalities (such as greenhouse gas emissions) or provide metrics that enable an objective assessment of management’s ability to properly determine trade-offs between short-term results and long-term sustainability. And, while in the United States the Sarbanes-Oxley Act mandates that auditors assess governance, the focus of this assessment is on preventing financial fraud as opposed to broader objectives that may be important to the functioning of the company as a sustainable entity.
A year of business uncertainty, lockdowns and operational disruptions forced finance and accounting organizations to adapt and change in many ways that are proving to be permanent. The need to operate virtually resulted in some organizations accelerating their adoption of technology, bringing them closer to achieving a transformation of the finance and accounting function: reshaping the department into an organization that is more forward-looking and strategic. Strategic in the sense of providing greater visibility into how the company and each of its business units is performing and insight into how to achieve better results going forward. Its focus is on what is happening next and not merely on what just happened. It does not only explain past results but uses that context to provide guidance about the choices executives and managers have, and the likely impact of those choices. To truly achieve this degree of transformation requires a different departmental structure, one that incorporates a Finance IT capability.
Topics: Office of Finance, Business Intelligence, Data Governance, Data Preparation, Business Planning, Financial Performance Management, ERP and Continuous Accounting, blockchain, robotic finance, Predictive Planning, AI and Machine Learning
These days it strikes me that the motto of successful salespeople – "ABC: Always Be Closing!" – should apply equally to corporate controllers, albeit in the accounting sense. This is a reference to an approach to managing the finance department that I have been advocating, which I call "continuous accounting." It is a holistic way of managing the accounting function that, in large part, emphasizes using technology to distribute workloads more evenly over an accounting period, spreading closing activities as evenly as possible over time rather than waiting until the end of the month or quarter. Continuous accounting also stresses improving staff efficiency by automating repetitive processes as well as enhancing organizational effectiveness by improving data integrity in finance processes.
Business process reengineering (BPR) was a consulting fashion in the early 1990s that spurred many companies to purchase their first ERP systems. BPR proposes a fundamental redesign of core business processes to achieve substantial improvements in market and customer responsiveness, productivity, cycle times and quality. Those early ERP systems provided a platform to manage cross-functional business processes with much greater flexibility and efficiency than had been possible in the past, partly because it took advantage of the commercialization of relational database technology, the graphical user interface, client-server networks and event-driven programming. ERP and other digital systems support business process reengineering by guiding the step-by-step execution of the redesigned process to ensure that it is performed consistently. They also automate the handoffs between individuals and departments as well as manage approvals and exceptions to accelerate completion of that process and permit supervisory personnel to spend more time focusing on matters that require their judgement and experience and less time on administrivia.
Ventana Research defines intercompany financial management as a discipline for structuring and handling transactions within a corporation and between its legal entities. IFM is designed to maximize staff efficiency and accounting accuracy while optimizing tax exposure, minimizing tax leakage and ensuring consistent tax and regulatory compliance. Today, IFM is an obscure topic, but I assert that by 2025, one-half of organizations with 10,000 or more employees will have implemented intercompany financial management to achieve tax, risk-management and financial close benefits.
The objectives of zero-based budgeting are well aligned with what I call integrated business planning, a technology-enabled approach to managing the forward-looking activities of a corporation including forecasting, planning and budgeting. IBP enables every business unit to plan their business in a way that makes sense to them but also makes the numbers in those plans available for company-wide planning, budgeting analysis and reporting. IBP combines operational planning and financial budgeting using models constructed around the things that managers manage, translating those elements into a financial budget. This approach can compress the time required to create and update operating plans from days or weeks to hours or minutes. Our Next-Generation Business Planning Benchmark Research found that IBP is a superior approach.
Unit4’s Financial Planning and Analysis (formerly Prevero) is a planning and budgeting application designed for the requirements of midsize corporations and the public sector. These organizations are challenged in buying software because they have almost all the requirements of larger enterprises but have a smaller budget and limited technical resources.
Topics: Office of Finance, embedded analytics, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Planning, Financial Performance Management, Price and Revenue Management, Digital Technology, ERP and Continuous Accounting, AI and Machine Learning, collaborative computing