FAO Today: Putting FAO on the CFO’s Agenda
In these trying times, CFOs have more challenging agendas then ever and a dizzying list of options from which to choose to help them to pursue their respective agendas. How can finance and accounting (F&A) organizations ensure that key initiatives, such as shared services centers and finance and accounting outsourcing (FAO), make the list?
The first thing an F&A group must do is clearly understand and map their efforts to the overall corporate strategy and agenda. This is especially important and challenging under current still turbulent market conditions. A recent EquaTerra market study assessed what are the most critical challenges, issues and goals facing F&A organizations. The most frequently cited challenge was managing down and cutting costs. This is not surprising given today’s economic and market conditions. The most important challenge cited was growing the business.
These results show that organizations are affected by current market conditions in different ways. While few respondents, for example, identify competing against new or emerging competition as a major challenge, those who do score its importance very high. Similarly, while managing down and cutting costs is cited as an issue by the most respondents, it is ranked as seventh in terms of overall criticality. Clearly this highlights the importance of understanding and interpreting the corporate agenda when putting together the F&A sourcing strategy to support it.
The next step is to map the overall corporate agenda to that of the CFO. In the same market study EquaTerra identified the critical items, issues and goals facing organization’s finance and accounting group today, i.e., the top items on the CFO’s agenda. The most frequently identified issue facing CFOs and their F&A organizations is driving corporate cost cutting efforts followed by supporting the overall corporate strategic agenda. While cost cutting is a common corporate challenge, it is not necessary the most important. Herein lies the danger of disconnect with the overall corporate agenda if the F&A function unduly focuses on cost cutting at the expense of other strategies such as growing the business.
The most important challenge cited was improving the internal controls environment followed closely by achieving overall F&A functional transformation and preparing for the upturn coming out of the regional/global economic recession/depression. These findings highlight that CFOs face a broad range of competing issues and goals, some potentially in conflict with one another. They also show that many CFOs are in a tough spot. Driving cost cutting efforts – and cutting F&A costs along the way – while simultaneously supporting corporate strategic agendas that include goals, such as growing the business and competing against new competition, can easily lead to establishment of agenda items that are at cross purposes. The challenge is to do more with less. It is also to continue to drive new ways and means to conduct the business of F&A.
There are a variety of tools at CFOs’ disposal to affect change. Some are internally focused, such as process improvement and reengineering efforts, or quality initiatives such as Six Sigma. Investing more in new, and ideally better, IT software applications and systems is a perennial favorite but one that has fallen from favor not only due to tight economic times but also because many F&A organizations have already made extensive IT investments. Relatively new and more dramatic tactics involve the expansion of shared services centers (SSCs) or the increased use of FAO.