FSN’s Modern Finance Forum gets together in London to discuss the Future of the Finance Function

7th June 2016

Last week members of the Modern Finance Forum gathered in London’s Dorchester Hotel to discuss the findings of FSN’s Future of the Finance Function Survey 2016.  Lesley Meall, FSN writer, reports on one of the largest and most authentic reports of CFO opinion in 2016.

 

 

 

“Our research indicates the CFO’s role is overhyped and full of contradictions,” opened Gary Simon, FSN’s chief executive officer and the leader of the Modern Finance Forum. There is a mismatch between perceptions and the reality on the ground. Although senior finance professionals expect to become more influential in decision-making (81%), responsible for corporate data (81%) and technology (72%) and play a greater role in innovation (75%), they are struggling to balance new ambitions and demands with more traditional responsibilities. 

Tom Crawford, CEO at Aptitude Software adds: “We often have conversations with CFOs and echo the findings of the Future of the Finance Function Survey.  Many times what is discussed conflicts with frequently cited reports about the changing role of the CFO, which assume that Finance teams have mastered their reporting responsibilities and are now focused on big data analysis to deliver strategic advice to their business colleagues. In practice, many finance teams’ ambitions are much more terrestrial.” 

So, what is getting in their way? “The biggest barrier stopping finance people getting from where they are to where they want to be is lack of investment,” says Daniel Mason, MD at Prophix. Underinvestment across people, processes and technology and both in terms of money and time.  

Time or rather lack of it, is a recurring theme across the survey with half of CFOs citing that they do not spend enough time on business partnering and although they want to spend time on innovation and process improvement, 66% are too busy with more traditional tasks. 

The key to breaking out of the pack, is to focus on standardisation, automation and integration.  “If there is one thing we think you should take away from the research it is that you should start your modern finance journey with finance process standardisation,” says Simon.  It acts as a springboard for CFOs to do other things: freeing up time for innovation, process improvement, strategy development and business analysis. Automating that standardisation, further supports this and speeds up decision-making; while linking front and back office systems enables smarter and better informed forecasts and decisions.” 

“The FSN research shows that process standardisation can have a profound effect, before you even move on to the next stage and automate what you have standardised as best practice, ” says Dominic Policella, general manager UK at BOARD International. He is not surprised by this; nor is Carole Orr, a director at Blackline. “The research confirms what we already knew about where finance professionals want to be and how they can get there by standardising and automating key processes, such as account reconciliations and the financial close,” she says. 

“One interesting aspect of the research is the role of cloud as an enabler for finance. Not only is cloud available quickly, but it offers a way to quickly get processes into a standardised environment,” says Peter Gamble, EMEA regional director at Workday. This gives cloud an important role to play in accelerating standardisation, particularly now that cloud has come of age. “Concerns around data privacy and security are disappearing and risk is less of an issue for finance people,” adds Gamble. However, as some concerns recede others advance. 

There are many reasons why CFOs and their teams are not as far down the road to modern finance as they would like, stemming from underinvestment in systems, people and processes and an underappreciation of the benefits of standardisation, automation and front to back office connectivity. 

If you wish to get the latest reaction on  FSN’s Future of the Finance Function Survey findings from recognised thoughtleaders and leading international CFOs, FSN’s Modern Finance Forum on LinkedIn will be holding weekly ‘flash discussions’  that dissect and discuss these themes in more detail and help pave the way forward.

“Our research indicates the CFO’s role is overhyped and full of contradictions,” opened Gary Simon, FSN’s chief executive officer and the leader of the Modern Finance Forum. There is a mismatch between perceptions and the reality on the ground. Although senior finance professionals expect to become more influential in decision-making (81%), responsible for corporate data (81%) and technology (72%) and play a greater role in innovation (75%), they are struggling to balance new ambitions and demands with more traditional responsibilities. 

 

Tom Crawford, CEO at Aptitude Software adds: “We often have conversations with CFOs and echo the findings of the Future of the Finance Function Survey.  Many times what is discussed conflicts with frequently cited reports about the changing role of the CFO, which assume that Finance teams have mastered their reporting responsibilities and are now focused on big data analysis to deliver strategic advice to their business colleagues. In practice, many finance teams’ ambitions are much more terrestrial.”

 

So, what is getting in their way? “The biggest barrier stopping finance people getting from where they are to where they want to be is lack of investment,” says Daniel Mason, MD at Prophix. Underinvestment across people, processes and technology and both in terms of money and time.   

 

Time or rather lack of it, is a recurring theme across the survey with half of CFOs citing that they do not spend enough time on business partnering and although they want to spend time on innovation and process improvement, 66% are too busy with more traditional tasks.  

 

The key to breaking out of the pack, is to focus on standardisation, automation and integration.  “If there is one thing we think you should take away from the research it is that you should start your modern finance journey with finance process standardisation,” says Simon.  It acts as a springboard for CFOs to do other things: freeing up time for innovation, process improvement, strategy development and business analysis. Automating that standardisation, further supports this and speeds up decision-making; while linking front and back office systems enables smarter and better informed forecasts and decisions.” 

 

“The FSN research shows that process standardisation can have a profound effect, before you even move on to the next stage and automate what you have standardised as best practice, ” says Dominic Policella, general manager UK at BOARD International. He is not surprised by this; nor is Carole Orr, a director at Blackline. “The research confirms what we already knew about where finance professionals want to be and how they can get there by standardising and automating key processes, such as account reconciliations and the financial close,” she says. 

 

 

“One interesting aspect of the research is the role of cloud as an enabler for finance. Not only is cloud available quickly, but it offers a way to quickly get processes into a standardised environment,” says Peter Gamble, EMEA regional director at Workday. This gives cloud an important role to play in accelerating standardisation, particularly now that cloud has come of age. “Concerns around data privacy and security are disappearing and risk is less of an issue for finance people,” adds Gamble. However, as some concerns recede others advance.  

 

There are many reasons why CFOs and their teams are not as far down the road to modern finance as they would like, stemming from underinvestment in systems, people and processes and an underappreciation of the benefits of standardisation, automation and front to back office connectivity.

 

If you wish to get the latest reaction on  FSN’s Future of the Finance Function Survey findings from recognised thoughtleaders and leading international CFOs, FSN’s Modern Finance Forum on LinkedIn will be holding weekly ‘flash discussions’  that dissect and discuss these themes in more detail and help pave the way forward.

 

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