Today’s CFOs are being held to a higher standard than ever before, whether in terms of the technology and other equipment their organisations buy, the people who are hired, or the processes that are put in place to seize competitive advantage on the global stage.
That’s the view of Mark Partin, BlackLine’s CFO. High standards are in Partin’s wheelhouse – he’s a competitive triathlete who looks a decade younger than his 47 years. In many ways, he embodies the Modern Finance CFO of today, a skilled financial person not just looking backwards at historical sales figures and capital expenses, but also looking forward at where the CEO’s strategy is taking the company and what might be in the way.
“Finance is the group that is supposed to be the most forward-thinking in an organisation, yet many CFOs are still solving problems the old ways,” he says. “To become more strategic in our roles requires more strategic people in our employ and more strategic investments in technology. Otherwise, the CFO will always be the `reluctant accountant.’”
Asked what he means by the term, Partin explains that accounting is where many CFOs start their careers, but this is just one function of the role. “You need to do that to ensure the accounting and the financial statements are accurate, but much more is demanded of today’s CFO. Just like other parts of the organization are being held to a higher standard of performance, world-class companies are asking the same of their CFOs.
“Modern Finance should be the goal, leveraging technology to automate rote, repetitive accounting processes and improve operational excellence.”
Better controls, greater accuracy, more informed forecasts
To ensure more efficient processes, a faster monthly close, more accurate financial statements and a reduced risk of accounting irregularities, CFOs should care about automating account reconciliations, journal entries, and a wide range of external and internal transactions.
The faster the monthly close, the sooner business leaders have access to the organisation’s financial data to make adjustments in strategy and tactics. The less time left to close the books, the greater the risk of making a mistake. Error-free financial closings are critical to a company’s compliance and fiduciary responsibilities and, by extension, its reputation.
When blunders occur in the manual process of validating accounts and transaction balances for compliance purposes, accountants must manually correct them. This heaps more work onto their desks or compels companies to hire more accountants to handle the overload. Small wonder that accountants have been one of the “ten hardest jobs to fill” in industry researcher Manpower Group’s last three annual talent shortage surveys.
The time that accountants save from not having to manually attend to rote tasks using spreadsheets can be put to more strategic needs like predictive analytics, providing the CFO with data-driven, forward-looking guidance to navigate the company’s growth initiatives with a better understanding of the related financial and market risks.
“Like all CFOs, I need visibility into our operations to gauge the risks to our strategy,” Partin says. “At the same time, I want to be sure my view of operations is accurate. You can’t manage finance and accounting without trust in the numbers.”
To do that requires the ability to not just validate the numbers but also verify them, which demands unimpaired visibility into financial and accounting data to detect mistakes and deficiencies before they become a problem.
Cloud levels the playing field
In today’s fast-paced business environment, having a world-class technology infrastructure has become a competitive differentiator, particularly for midmarket companies presented with myriad market and geographic growth opportunities.
In recent years, one business function after another has seized significant advantages by implementing cloud-based tools for sales, marketing, supply chain, inventory, HR and other purposes. Finance/accounting has been late to this party. For CFOs to achieve the high standards that Partin advocates requires similar investments.
“The more complex the organisation, the more tools like ours are needed,” he said “For today’s CFO, this is now the price of entry.”
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