A recent survey by The Conference Board, of over 800 chief financial officers (CFOs), at both public and private companies, many from the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley, has identified the following top business priorities for 2020:
Security and privacy of data
Not surprisingly, security and privacy of data is at the top of the list of priorities for CFOs and finance leaders. CFOs are able to clearly see what is happening in the market and understand that keeping sensitive data secure is critical. Continued reports of data breaches, involving the loss of millions of records, severe financial loss and significant operational impact, have undoubtedly put accounting and finance teams on notice that the data they maintain must be secured and managed properly.
Unlike with other financial-related risks and controls, finance leaders need to collaborate with IT and security teams to articulate and implement specific controls and protections for data governance and cyber risk.
Enhanced data analytics
Data is everywhere, and typically, CFOs sit on the largest bulk of data. By applying analysis to data, CFOs can take great strides in improving and guiding strategic decisions while enhancing the internal operations. With risk analysis, CFOs can increase trustworthiness and security of the company. With forensic analysis, CFOs can bolster tracking of fraud and other forms of financial crime. By applying analysis to business processes, operational inefficiencies can be uncovered and the process to correct them can then begin. And by adopting analysis for regulatory data-sets, compliance to reporting demands among other requirements can be simplified.
Improving the foundations of finance – processes and governance – remains a top three priority for CFOs. This includes improving the processes underpinning billing and credit, Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable (AR), payroll, internal accounting, expense management, capital expenditure, treasury management, compliance and working capital management.
Changing demands and expectations of stakeholders
Growing demands from the business means that CFOs and finance executives are more determined than ever to exceed the increasing expectations of stakeholders. These stakeholders include not only business owners, investors, and shareholders, but also internal stakeholders such as the CEO, COO, and other senior management leaders. They realize that failing to address the needs of employees, shareholders and other stakeholders could result in a failure to meet the business's strategic objectives. In doing so, they are aiming to embrace a more strategic mindset and operating model.
Embracing new technologies
CFOs acknowledge that embracing advanced technologies is key to advance both effectiveness and efficiency. Many organizations are migrating from enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and related applications to a cloud model. And finance is more focused on robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, predictive analytics, cloud-based applications and other advanced technologies.
Remaining in control of business processes is a core part of the CFO’s job function, and to this end there are a plethora of internal controls installed across business functions and (cross-functional) processes. From digital transformation and cloud migration to customer service, the CFO needs a strategic mindset to understand how to build out all these capabilities effectively. CFOs are well aware of the need to sustain an unwavering focus on strong internal controls. This attention is crucial to apply to data management activities, given that the value of the CFO’s analyses hinges on the quality (and protection) of the data used to produce its forward-looking insights.
Financial planning and analysis
While CFOs always need to monitor and improve their accounting-focused processes and cycles – such as the period-end close, external financial reporting, procure-to-pay and order-to-cash –stakeholders are increasingly asking for sharper and more forward-looking financial insights to strengthen their strategic decision-making. This explains why profitability reporting and analysis capabilities are high on the finance agenda, and why more CFOs point to competitive intelligence as a rising priority.
Profitability reporting and analysis
CFOs are working with more departments outside of finance than ever before. Those managing these departments want more specific metrics and analysis which provide crucial insights into financial and operational performance, driving strategic decision-making. From the board down to operational managers and even third-party partners, there is greater demand for stronger and clearer financial analysis.
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