By Tim Jung
As CFO, you have 60 months before the private equity firm sells your company again.
And the newly installed CEO doesn’t like the company’s reports.
Maybe the reporting isn’t timely or lacks the right numbers. Maybe it doesn’t tell a story from the progress that has been made, how you’re going to achieve higher revenues, who on the team are the right resources and when this will be realized. Executing this strategy will result in a higher sale valuation.
If your lawn is green, you don’t think about it. But if your grass starts to turn brown, you start asking questions.
In any case, you have already started the prep work for upgrading the Finance Department. You have a better understanding of where your team fits within the five buckets: People, Process, Technology, Culture and Governance.
Now, it’s time to start a three-part process with overlapping stages. This system can take three to nine months depending on your needs.
This part of the process is mission critical.
Stabilization is about making sure people know what they should be doing, what they need to do is being done correctly and when these actions need to be done so reports and analysis are readily available for timely review. Let’s say you make a sale and send the invoice. Was the sale recorded in a timely manner so that various stakeholders along the process could track, forecast and report sales, profitability and cash flow? These actions need to be documented and verified.
The company is working hard at selling goods and/or services, however, it may be inefficient at reconciling goods or services sold with billing, accounts receivables and cash receipts. It all may work, but having timely processes, data flow and reports are important to manage the business.
If your Finance Department is sending out invoices late due to antiquated manual processes, cash flows could bottle neck from purchase order fulfillment all the way to collections of accounts receivables. Are some of your customers still sending manual checks? Given the trend towards a hybrid working environment, if your team is only in the office once a week, incoming checks may sit uncashed for an entire week. Time is money.
To establish an acceptable level of cash flow confidence, you must ask questions pertaining to resources, process and technology.
- Are the resources capable (e.g., skills, integrity, training) of assuring that the cash flows are being compiled, reconciled and reporting completely, accurately and timely?
- Do the resources have the capacity to carry out the processes and controls?
- Is the process coordinated (e.g., information hand off points) from stakeholder to stakeholder along the operational flow so that each stakeholder is receiving what they need?
- Is the stakeholder passing data to the next stakeholder based on what that person needs as compared to what the prior stakeholder believes the next needs?
- Are there information gaps that are filled with reasonable assumptions?
- Does the current technology limit the resources and influence processes (e.g., manual, paper based, spreadsheet-based processes), but in a way that it functions with the basic controls, reviews and process integrity, be it not the most efficient?
- Are there technology capabilities available that would improve the process and control flow that drives efficiency, cost-effectiveness and allows resources to perform more value-added activities?
The second phase of shoring up a finance team—transformation—can begin once deficiencies and opportunities are identified while the stabilization phase is still in flight.
During this time, resources can be presented and moved toward a better team-based cross-functionally coordinated approach. Processes can be retooled to remove unnecessary steps, so they provide each stakeholder with the necessary data needed to perform their function efficiently, effectively and timelier.
In addition, technology can be enhanced to incorporate capabilities that are available, but not being utilized. Manual processes can be automated to save time and improve controls.
In an earlier example discussed in the stabilization phase, several factors could cause your company to fall behind your competition, including uncoordinated processes, a lack of innovation and technology that does not leverage automation. For example, to speed up cash receipts, you could ask your customers to electronically debit your company’s bank account (e.g., ACH, wire transfer). Not only would you turn receivables into cash quicker, there would be less processing time for your finance and treasury teams. Embracing technology, such as utilizing AI functionality, will help the Finance Department with forecasting, which would yield better case management, analysis and decision-making.
Leveraging technology may lead to an analysis of personnel and training, which are important variables in the equation.
The third and final stage in shoring up the Finance Department centers on transition. At this point, the finance operating platform is functioning, any significant deficiencies should be remediated and the road map to the target operating model has been prepared. If you are working with a third-party partner or an in-house committee, there will come a time when oversight of the program needs to be handed over to the permanent team members so they can carry on. Then, going forward, the finance team is set up for success.
In some cases where new skills are required, the upgraded program could include existing resources and new ones.
Retraining and, in some cases, recruiting resources that embrace change can continually enhance the process flow and controls to meet the changing business demands. Having the technical skills are the minimum standards. Possessing a forward-thinking attitude without fear of challenging the status quo will provide the framework to conquer whatever impact from the market, clients and accelerated technology.
(This story originally appeared in CFO.com.)
(Tim Jung, CPA/MBA, is a director who has held leadership positions in the US, Europe and Asia for complex global banking businesses, as well as nonprofit and for-profit organizations. His expertise includes tactical financial planning, financial modeling, business analysis, accounting, forecasting and reporting.)