Withum’s Advisory Teams focus on modernizing IT systems, streamlining business processes, and analyzing data across the enterprise. But Withum is also a top 25 Public Accounting firm in the United States and that got us thinking.We decided to compare notes and polled several of our tax, audit, and financial support teams to identify the latest trends they are seeing within their client base and see how that stacks up with our own experience with respect to the latest data trends in the financial community.
In many respects, data problems are data problems regardless of what business you are in. But we know finance professionals are especially keen on solving their business problems as they impact business operations and accurate financial reporting. Whether someone is a CFO, responsible for overall P&L, or an analyst supporting one or more lines of business, we are finding the challenges within the Finance community to be similar regardless of industry type.
Top 3 Concerns for Financial Professionals
Below are the 3 top concerns that are top of mind for financial professionals:
How do I improve cash flow forecasting?
Predicting future cash flow seems to be ubiquitous within the financial community. Most CFOs want to know what is going to happen in the future but attaining that level of visibility into operations is proving difficult. Even with advanced accounting and other business applications, the problem of accurate forecasting persists. So, we asked ourselves, why? How could this still be an issue with all the advanced tools out there on the market?
This one seems to be the clear result of siloed data:Say you have sales pipeline projections in your CRM, current bookings in your back-office system, and your average A/R turnover available from your accounting system.You can absolutely sit down weekly (or whenever you need to) and spend the time to derive a reasonable forecast. This commonly involves moving data from each system into a spreadsheet and then applying some standard forecasting model(s) to the consolidated data in the spreadsheet.
But at some point, after repeating this time-consuming process several times, it is natural to wonder if there is a better way.Well, there is.
Instead of manually moving the data you need into a spreadsheet, start by understanding what data you need on a recurring basis, establish a method to automatically move it into a common data repository, and then apply your forecasting model. This removes the manual collection of data, consolidates it for future use, and streamlines rapid forecasting and other analysis.If you want to slice the project into more manageable chunks, you could even retain the spreadsheet in phase 1 and focus on the automatic movement of data from the source systems into the spreadsheet.Phase 2 could focus on putting consolidated data into a more robust data repository.
How do I reconcile our budget with actual costs without utilizing multiple systems?
It is still very common for financial information to be distributed across multiple systems (see question 1 above). Moreover, comparing estimates to actuals on an ongoing basis is frequently a manual process for most clients. To address this problem, it is imperative that data flows are established that push and pull data from different systems regularly. This means understanding what data you need, where it resides, and how to prepare it for analysis and general reporting. It is not necessarily a problem that the data are in different systems, but you need a data management plan to deal with this reality.The data are there, you just need a plan to consolidate it and generate the reports you need. If you can automate the process, you will save valuable time and make much more timely decisions.
How can I consolidate all my reporting, and most importantly, automate the reporting process?
This question is similar to the second one; how do you generate accurate reports when data are in different systems?Again, it is completely normal that data are contained in different systems.What you need is a plan to manage that data, prepare it, and then create meaningful reports. This can often be done without replacing your existing systems but you may need some additional tools to push, pull, and report on the data in those separate systems.
So What Can Be Done?
There is a common theme in all these questions; how can financial professionals make better use of the data they have? That’s where Withum’s Data Team can help.
We help you understand the data you have, how it is captured and stored, and how to make better use of it.We also help you automate the supporting processes so you can focus on using the data to make better, faster decisions.From our experience, the data you need is there. You just need to know how to get it.
How we do that depends on the exact issues your financial professionals are facing. We always start with a short assessment of your current problems (what you want to do) and review your existing data and systems to see what needs to be done. We always give you options so you can decide the best path forward.