SynFiny FP&A

Building the Business Case for FP&A Transformation

We’ve heard it said that Chief Financial Officers usually come in two flavors: the accountant or the banker. The accountant keeps the books clean, ensures reporting is accurate, and helps the firm take full advantage of the tax code. The banker, on the other hand, keeps the cash flowing, ensures plenty of financial might, and focuses on deal making. 

What’s often missing is an operational emphasis: The ability to use financial data and methods to understand and improve firm results and decisions. To get more operational, the key to success is the firm’s financial and planning and analysis processes, or FP&A. 

Transforming FP&A is essential for Chief Financial Officers (CFO) looking to deliver improved forecast accuracy and faster, decision grade data to their organizations.

  • Critical value creation processes, which require a deep understanding of finance, modeling, data systems and processes, and accounting, all married to deep business knowledge. 
  • Typically combines financial and non-financial data as required to create strategic and operational financial plans. 
  • When done well, these processes are a clear competitive advantage and thus are viewed as critical by a firm’s owners and senior leaders. 

Start with a Vision

As a CFO, when you can combine FP&A with a vision, strategy and action plan, you can more easily gain leadership support and approval to begin the transformation journey. Let us guide you through the process.

A vision statement sets out the future operating model of transformed FP&A and should be an aggressive view of the future of finance in your organization. A vision statement should inspire readers to support it, so you’ll want to use clear and concise wording.

Your vision statement has two primary readers:

  • The C-Suite: The vision statement should read as business-friendly so that leadership will support the FP&A transformation plans.
  • The broader organization: The vision statement should inspire employees and create excitement about the future.

While a vision statement should challenge the organization to achieve more in the future, be sure you outline goals that are attainable. It’s important that your employees understand the long-term goals and can fully envision what’s ahead. To do this, you or your finance leaders may need to share more information than you typically would. This allows the internal organization to see the plan and commit to its success.

Calculator and pen on top of financial papers

Building Blocks of Strategy

With a strong vision statement in hand, the next step is to determine what building blocks you will need to achieve the vision.

A significant hurdle in this stage is determining which aspects of FP&A need to be substantially upgraded from their current state. Consider the various FP&A tasks within a company: 

  • Strategy development
  • New business modeling
  • Forecasting
  • Budgeting
  • Management reporting
  • Analysis
  • Working capital
  • Cash forecasting
  • Capital spending

It can be difficult to determine which of these tasks should change, how they should change, and when they require intervention. Most leaders will want to touch everything, but prioritization is critical. Choosing which tasks to focus on first leads to much more success than trying to change all of the tasks at the same time.

Successful strategies can – and will – change over time as the FP&A transformation areas of focus and timelines change progressively.

The challenge for any CFO is determining the right sequence and depth of change to support the FP&A vision. Look to the company’s vision statement or strategic priorities first to guide your FP&A priorities. Is the company priority product line expansion, then analysis and working capital might be the key FP&A interventions. Perhaps new facilities or equipment are on tap, therefore capital spending and forecasting become the focus.

The key is that your FP&A vision and strategies should be consistent with the company’s overall long-term plans.

Hand holding pen running over business papers

 

Turning Vision and Strategy into Action

With strategies in place to support the FP&A vision, you can now create detailed action steps to support the strategy and turn the vision into reality. Without actionable steps, strategies fall short and visions fall flat.

Before determining specific actions, ensure you have sufficient resources, funding and time to complete the FP&A transformation from beginning to end. If you miss one of these components in planning or need more, you’ll need to either request additional support or return to leadership to reassess the FP&A vision and strategies.

Potential action steps to transform FP&A might look like:

  • Develop pricing analysis tools to increase deal capture and sales growth.
  • Develop budget tools to decrease overall marketing spend.
  • Expand effective unit developed tools or processes to other parts of the business.
  • Document and roll out your best-in-class tools and work processes.
  • Create clear accountability and ownership for tools and processes.
  • Develop simple-to-read, easy-to-access, and anxiously anticipated reports.
  • Create training materials to build overall capability in the organization.
  • Create and leverage multi-function networks inside the firm.
  • Use the network to share or reapply best practices.

When you’ve defined the action steps that support the strategy to implement the vision, review all components with C-level leadership for approval. Leadership support is essential, so continue to refine the approach until you receive full backing.

With a clear vision and actionable strategy, you’ll want to address any company-specific cultural adjustments you may need to make prior to launching the FP&A project.

Two professional women having a discussion

 

Document and Approve the Business Case

Once you have an FP&A vision and strategy, and detailed action plan, along with leadership buy-in, you can now document the business case summary. The business case summary should provide the rationale and benefits of the FP&A transformation process you’ve outlined.

A sound business case summary includes the following:

  • Business rationale for the change: What is driving the FP&A transformation? What business issue does the transformation fix? 
  • Scope of the full project: What is being transformed? Is it focused on one area of FP&A or multiple areas?
  • Benefits realized: What will the transformation project achieve? Will it deliver cost savings, higher sales or improved productivity? Will it improve analysis, transform data into insight, enable better internal controls, or something else? The benefits should be clear and measurable.
  • Company culture impact: Which aspects of the company culture need to support or will be improved by effectively implementing the FP&A vision? Clearly explain the behavior changes that need to or should occur as the FP&A work comes to life. 
  • Required investments or resources: How much is the investment? Which resources do you need? Are they internal or external resources? Are they staff, services or software and tools? Provide an estimated range of spending and resources required and an expected ROI.
  • Intersecting projects: Are there other company projects or initiatives that impact the FP&A project? This could be a new ERP implementation or bookkeeping tools, new tracking or accountability software, etc. Whatever they may be, it is critical to document how the FP&A work intersects with, supports and enhances these allied efforts.
  • High-level timeline: How long will the transformation take? What are the risks and impact of delays? Most projects face challenges and FP&A transformation projects are no different. So being clear about contingencies helps ensure you have C-level leadership support when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road.

When you have created a summary that addresses each of these areas, have C-level leadership review and approve.

Man discussing business ideas

The Path Forward 

With a fully documented and agreed to FP&A transformation vision, action plan and business case summary, you’re ready for next steps. These are typically: 

  1. Assigning a total project lead or owner. 
  2. Establishing a multi-function data and project team. 
  3. Develop the detailed project plans and cascading objectives to individual’s work plans. 
  4. Setting regular action plan updates with C-level leadership. 

These steps structure the transformation process and enable it to run smoothly. 

Because FP&A processes are some of the most critical business functions in any company, it’s essential to keep C-level leadership updated on progress. Also, you’ll need to enlist their support when trying to overcome roadblocks or obstacles during the transformation process. 

Organizational change is difficult. Organizations tend to revert to known, previous ways of doing things. Process transformation faces inertia. But broad involvement and regular communication and feedback from the organization to the project team to C-level leadership will help prevent falling back into old habits. 

Ultimately, with a clear vision, strategy and action plan, you can more easily build support to embark on an FP&A transformation journey within your organization. The benefits are worth the effort: Better data, smarter decisions, improved results, greater impact! You can do this! For more information please visit us online at SynFiny.com.

Successful Team Meeting

Meet the Author

Jeff Wuest

CEO & President of SynFiny Advisors

Jeff Wuest is a business strategist and visionary, and he helps companies to achieve extraordinary growth.

Today’s environment demands the right blend of innovation, strategy, and risk-taking to define new opportunities, be first to market and lead the industry. Jeff works with leaders to push the boundary of what they think is possible, make big strategy bets without risking it all, and create an environment where they can achieve 10x growth.

Jeff’s expertise includes strategic planning, rapid market expansion and operational scaleup. He’s an entrepreneur with experience mentoring startups and emerging companies, as well as a strategic advisor to multi-billion-dollar corporations. Jeff has over 30 years of experience developing game-changing strategies across different industries, categories, products and services. His focus is helping forward-thinking leaders succeed with breakthrough strategy, execution and operations.

Currently, Jeff is the CEO of SynFiny Advisors, a global business consultancy firm, which was recognized by Inc Magazine’s, Inc. 5000, and ranked in the top 500 of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

Expertise

Leadership, Strategy, Operations, Business Development, Startups, Business transformation, Scaleups, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Finance & Accounting, FP&A, Real Estate

3 Key Pitfalls to Avoid in ANY Automation

Weak foundations never make stable structures. Creating the right groundwork for automation or bots or Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or whatever name you want to call it is essential if you do not want to regret the outcome later. The terms have been used interchangeably in the article below. No automation is inexpensive; this article serves as a helpful checklist as you plan the rollout of your automation project (or work out what went wrong).

The below three prerequisites focus on process side of automation which at times I have seen get overlooked during the planning phase. Other elements like organization readiness, presence of a strong leader, committed executive team, and metrics to monitor performance are equally essential.

These prerequisites will need to be tweaked based on the kind of technology, industry, and scale of the RPA being implemented, but act as a good sanity check for any automation project.

WHY are you doing automation?

Start with the why first.

Is the intent to automate process? Say you want to replace manual effort with machine. The focus is on ‘as-is’ process. It will help to save costs by labor arbitrage. Your core process remains the same, it’s just that machines have come into mix. You are performing the same process – but more quickly. These are normally done within a functional group and have minimum impact on rest of the organization e.g. implementing a workflow approval tool in payables function for vendor invoices. The major impact will be in payables functions, approvers will have to just learn how to approve invoices electronically. Invoices, though, will be processed faster.

Is the intent to improve process? Automation does not question the sanctity of the tasks being performed. It will simply carry out the tasks, and whether they are redundant today or not is to be evaluated by human intelligence. Organizations must revisit the process, dissect it into tasks or activities that are being automated to ensure ‘waste’ is eliminated rather than automated. Process mapping and lean tools will be useful at this stage. Savings of standardization, consolidation, reduced rework are achieved over and above labor arbitrage. In the above payables example, before you implement the new workflow system, revisit the payables process to check the need for consolidating number of approvers, reducing number of cost centers, having backups for delays. Process is as good as the people supporting it; if an approver is not approving, a manual or electronic system is useless, but may be a backup approver, so automatic approval or escalation will help.

Is the intent to transform process(es)? This is process improvement+++. When processes are not only looked functionally but also horizontally across the organization in light of future strategy and direction, that’s when transformation takes place. In the above payables example, if we replace manual goods receipt with automated entries, manual invoices with e-invoices, manual matching to three-way matching and manual checks to ACH vendor payments – the result is payables transformation. Then it’s not automation but reengineering of number of functions and it’s not incremental improvement but significant transformation. Vendors, receiving, procurement, payables, and reporting functions everyone will be undergoing a change. This will need rewriting the standard operating procedures.

Answering the ‘why’ helps to check organizational readiness and the need for buy-in in the organization. Transformations should not be started unless there is a strong sponsor and complete buy in from the leadership.

Automate ‘processes’ not activities

Process is a series of activities when performed with a defined input, established procedures and measurable outcome. Process is different from ad-hoc activities. If your tasks are leading to rework it is activity not process.

Organizations need to automate processes not activities. The first step is to wrap those activities into process. Let’s say the automation to be brought about is on a matured process, i.e. a process which has been performed over a long period of time with established rules of how to handle outliers and exceptions. This is a good candidate for automation.

If similar automation is tried to be brought about on activities or process which have frequent outliers and exceptions, however, the machine will have to stop, learn, and incorporate at every corner – an uphill learning curve which will be cost inefficient. If in transaction processing of accounts payable there is standardization for all or types of invoices you can automate it, but if every invoice has exceptions, robots will spend a significant time learning rather than delivering. Lesser the customization, better the results.

Automation needs rules which it can code. If rules are not defined, it is learning on the job, which is possible but not effective.

What will you do with extra efficiency?

Automation will reduce costs and free up resource time. Have you planned on how to utilize the free time of your resources? If the intent of automation was to cut costs, downsizing your team would be a natural step; however, do not rush into it. There will be teething challenges in the implementation of new technology so have a gradual ramp down plan for resources. You can also look towards moving your resources to downstream processes or other processes. Moving to downstream processes will shorten the learning curve of the resource and he or she will have full understanding of end to end process.

If you can identify value added projects for your functions, things that always went on the backburner due to day to day operations, it would be great to identify them with the freed-up resource capacity. More often than not, you will realize that this contributes to further improvements.

Automation takes time and never comes easy; relentless disciplined pursuit is needed to finish the marathon. Answer the ‘why’, remove activity vs process ambiguity and optimize the resources and you are far more likely to ensure automation delivers what you had expected it to.