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The Finance function is at a tipping point. As more CFOs aspire to take on an advisory role in their companies, there’s an ongoing push to automate manual processes, consolidate data, and increase agility. It’s a shift that will enable Finance to focus on the future of the business, rather than just reporting on the past.

Our latest CFO survey found that an overwhelming majority have plans to automate and upgrade their technology — but there’s also a great deal of work to be done.

We asked experts in Finance to help guide CFOs through this time of transition and transformation. Keep reading for advice and key takeaways, and you can read the entire 2022 CFO Survey here.

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How the Pandemic
Affected Finance
Transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic affected every part of the business, including the Finance function. Most organizations didn’t have a global pandemic in their scenario plans, let alone forecasts or budget. CFOs had to think on their feet to keep up with the changes.

As the pandemic ebbs and rises, it’s crucial to get out of crisis mode and back into strategic planning. But this means developing the ability to plan more quickly, revise forecasts on the go, and model new scenarios with a quickness.

Shifting Priorities

As the future became more uncertain, CFOs and their teams increased their focus on budgeting, forecasting and scenario planning.

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2022 Agile Finance Survey - Prophix

2022 CFO Survey

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Top Priorities

(Percentage of respondents who rated each as "focused" or "extremely focused")

Pre-pandemic Budgeting: 80.2%, Current Budgeting: 80.3%

Budgeting

Pre-pandemic Forecasting: 71.6%, Current Forecasting: 77.5%

Forecasting

Pre-pandemic Scenario Planning: 71.5%, Current Scenario Planning: 78.8%

Scenario Planning

During the pandemic, 73.2% said they increased the frequency of their forecasting, and 76.5% said they increased the frequency of their scenario planning.

The crisis made it clear that organizations needed more agile scenario planning and forecasting capabilities. This pandemic is unlikely to be the last major disruption we ever experience, of course. And faster, more accurate planning and forecasting can also help businesses handle minor disruptions better.

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Technology Investments & Budget

In order to develop forecasting and scenario planning capabilities, most survey respondents are increasing their investment in technology. Over a third (35%) said they quickly moved their technology to the cloud to allow for more nimble planning and forecasting. Another 21% said they scrambled to quickly implement more automated processes to gain real-time visibility into the business.

Going forward, the vast majority of Finance departments are poised to increase their budget for new technology. Of our respondents, 82% said they would increase their budget, and 39% said they would increase their budget by more than 25%.

The majority of respondents said they plan to spend that increased budget on automation, business intelligence, and AI tools.

What are the top areas of technology investment for finance in 2022?

(Respondents were allowed to choose multiple responses)

Artificial Intelligence and/or Machine Learning: 43.9%

Artificial Intelligence
and/or Machine Learning

Business Intelligence Tools: 51.7%

Business
Intelligence Tools

Automation Tools | Performance Management: 55.1%

Automation Tools
Performance Management

Obstacles to Transformation

Despite a newfound focus on, and investment in, modernizing Finance processes, most of our respondents still have obstacles to overcome. The top challenges they identified were:

  1. Lack of skilled workers to deploy and use new technology
  2. Lack of budget or time to overhaul and update systems
  3. Lack of understanding and executive buy-in

The lack of time and lack of skilled workers can be a self-perpetuating cycle: We can’t automate or train new skills because we don’t have the time. But we could free up plenty of time if we just automated and trained new skills.

The third item on the list holds the key to meeting the first two challenges. Buy-in across the Finance department and in the C-suite makes it easier to allocate time and resources to transformation.

Prophix - 2022 CFO Benchmarks - Accelerating Finance in the New Normal

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Tom Hood, EVP Business Engagement & Growth, AICPA-CIMA
Matthew Ranan, Leading Strategy Consultant
Jack McCullough, CFO Leadership Council

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It is a strategic imperative that Finance departments evolve, and yet many such efforts fail. Why? I think the main reason is lack of support from leadership.

Name

Jack McCullough

Founder and President, CFO Leadership Council

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The Importance of
Finance Automation

The future of Finance depends on automation. Finance teams simply must break free from repetitive, manual, siloed processes. These tasks eat up time and resources, reducing the Finance function to a past-focused, “scorekeeper” role.

Automation can reduce the burden of manual tasks, as well as help consolidate, clean and process data.

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Automation is a Top Priority

Our survey showed that automation is a major area of focus—but that many have a long way to go.

Less than 10% of respondents said that their processes are more than 75% automated. Fully half of respondents said that they were less than 50% automated.

However, these numbers could change substantially. When we asked how much of the FP&A process would be automated by the end of this year, over 30% said they planned to have 3/4ths of the process automated, while an additional 38% planned to have over half of the process converted.

How much of your FP&A process do you expect will be automated?

Current versus End of 2022: Less than 25%

Less than 25%

Current versus End of 2022: 25%-50%

25%-50%

Current versus End of 2022: 50%-75%

50%-75%

Current versus End of 2022: Greater than 75%

Greater than 75%

Less than 25%

25%-50%

50%-75%

Greater than 75%

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The days of simply setting budget targets once a year and then executing that plan are over. Now, Finance leaders need the ability to continuously plan as we get new information, run what-if scenarios, and accurately model out the impact of changes in business strategies.

Katya Forsyth

Katya Forsyth

CFO Advisor at KMicro Tech, Inc

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Prophix - 2022 CFO Benchmarks - Accelerating Finance in the New Normal

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Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CEO, KET Solutions
Theodora Lau, Finance Author & Speaker
Katya Forsyth, CFO Advisor

Top opportunities for automation:

Not sure where to get started? Consider automating these tasks first:

  • Routine report creation and distribution
  • Monthly closing processes
  • Variance analysis
  • Expense allocations

Agile Finance

What does a digitally transformed Finance function look like? “Agile Finance” is a good term for the goal of this transformation journey. Agile Finance isn’t just about technology, of course; it’s having the people, skill sets and processes in place to take full advantage of the technology.

In our survey, respondents said their two top concerns were lack of data accessibility and the need for quicker and more accurate planning, budgeting and reporting capabilities. A fully transformed and agile Finance department can tackle both of these concerns head-on.

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Critical Components of Agile Finance

A truly agile Finance department requires changes in company culture, workers’ capabilities, and technology.

Capabilities of Agile Finance

What does success look like in your digital transformation journey? A fully transformed, agile Finance department is able to:

  • Quickly execute scenario planning for multiple models
  • Reforecast in under a week
  • Automate reporting
  • Construct self-service dashboards for reporting
  • Budget with greater accuracy
  • Spend less than 20% of time on manual tasks in spreadsheets

Prophix - 2022 CFO Benchmarks - Accelerating Finance in the New Normal

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Janet Schijns, CEO, JS Group
Mayur Vyas, CFO, Speaker, Advisor

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Even though startups or small companies can be more agile, they still must track and correlate unique KPIs to their industry. Larger firms could borrow some of these practices.

Name

Mayur Vyas

Chief Financial Officer, Finconoso

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Download a copy of The Future is Agile Finance: 2022 CFO Benchmarks eBook

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