CFOs are under more pressure than ever. 76% of Finance leaders responded in ‘THE 2023 EY DNA of the CFO Report‘ saying that the current challenging market environment is increasing pressure on Finance Professionals to drive cost efficiencies and hit short-term earnings targets. In response, nearly all finance leaders surveyed (90%) are planning to reduce or pause spending across areas ranging from marketing to people development, despite some of these areas being long-term priorities.

These market conditions fall into three main areas: Money, Energy and Supply. The cost of capital, energy cost volatility, regulation, and geopolitical disruption have all impacted on business and will continue to change the cost base of a business on short notice. Modern, high performing finance functions recognise that the speed of change has radically increased requiring much higher precision and speed in forecasting and decision-making, to ensure that relying on yesterday’s information won’t sink today’s business.

Finance must be in the driving seat for designing new organisations which can cope with these changes, because no one else has a complete view across the landscape and making decisions in isolation leads to local failure. Only finance has visibility covering everything from input and overhead costs, to consumer preference, to the impact on margin.

We see this review reflected in the priorities of FTSE 40 controllers, who highlight the need for:

  • (Affordable) Beneficial technology, getting the most return on investment
  • Value from their data assets, to respond to shocks quickly
  • Staying ahead of new controls regulations and requirements
  • Responding to changes in ESG reporting and compliance

Getting these decisions right will give the business confidence to continue investing in growth platforms like new sales channels, new business models, store modernisation, marketing and developing their people, providing the right platform for the future.

Technology to beat the business trap – What are the ‘pivot’ options?

Businesses are faced right now with either pushing up their prices and hurting customers or cutting their margins and swallowing supplier price increases, neither of which is palatable; technology can offer a third option; using the capabilities we will describe in this article, the CFO can direct resources to help sustainably grow the revenues, margin, and remain competitive. How does this modern technological alchemy work?

The CFO supports the top line and bottom line of the enterprise, traditionally in a relatively passive manner delivering visibility and controls over profitability, liquidity, auditability, and compliance. Technology is giving the CFO the opportunity to become active in the health and growth of their businesses. To make the CFO a ‘star’ contributor to the business, at a time of severe challenge, we would encourage exploring the innovative finance capabilities described in this article.

Reimagine Finance Operations

The CFO has the opportunity to leverage technology, data and insights to model future business options indeed, to critically analyse prior decisions, what worked well and what didn’t. According to Gartner, decisions governing everyday operations often lack financial rigor, which can result in a loss of 3% or more of profits for organisations. This is primarily due to fragmented systems with siloed operations and an inability to access financial information in real time to make proactive decisions. As a result, CFOs recognise the need to modernise finance operations to reduce manual effort and enable their employees to focus on more value-added activities. A case in point is Mercado Libre S.A., which faced rapid growth after COVID-19, resulting in high volumes of data and an accelerated need for the company’s digital transformation. The e-commerce and fintech leader in Latin America achieved an 85% automation rate in treasury and cash management by streamlining their finance operations on a unified platform.

Delivering Assurance

It is expected that over the next 6 months the UK will be transferring from the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) to the Audit Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA). Although recently the government have stepped back from their plans to introduce UK Corporate Governance Code led improvements around Financial Controls and CFO attestation statement on Fraud, the change in regulator is expected to deliver sharper teeth and greater pressure on external auditors to report more accurately. The upcoming changes to the Economic Crime and Transparency Bill, relating to Fraud, will include a new ‘failure to prevent’ offence and is currently moving through parliament, due in the firstquarter of 2024. A recent University of Portsmouth report outlined that Fraud may have cost the UK private sector in the region of £158Billion in 2022. Fraud still represents a 5% revenue loss for many organisations, money which if protected could be reinvested to promote growth. Business resilience is a key area where an integrated controls, risks management and machine learning/AI technologies have proven to deliver significant loss avoidance whilst also enabling businesses to remain on the correct side of regulatory requirements.

Optimise Cash Management

The CFO and the finance team need to have great visibility, effective control and collaborative execution for that finite, and most valuable business resource, cash! The poor understanding of cash flow is the key reason why many businesses fail. Businesses need integrated, intuitive tools that give them instant insights on the complete value chain, including receivables, payables, and associated supply chains. They need actionable information about cash, liquidity, and working capital, and their treasury platform should allow them to predict liquidity, make proactive decisions and mitigate financial risk. Zalando achieved 100% visibility into cash and accounts through redesigning their treasury and risk management and Zalando Payment system built their unique computing and monitoring model to provide deep insights into its factoring related cash flow movements and became compliant for regulatory requirements as a multinational e-money institute.

Manage Profitability

Finance teams need to be active participants in managing profitability for the business, they may not be responsible solely, but they can best support the business by providing finance data and models in a timely, reliable and enabling fashion. The typical challenges that prevent retailers from proactive steering is the poor visibility to the real economic costs of products, customers and channels. According to Ventana Research, the most commonly mentioned challenge for companies in managing customer profitability is analytics. Using the right technology retailers can understand the real cost dimensions of their business and better control the margin challenges. Brakes – leading food service supplier in UK – achieved 2% improvement in margins through remodelling and digitizing their pricing and margin visibility.

The CFO and his team have the opportunity to play an even bigger part in the future success of their business. Not only are the Finance team the keepers for financial data, they have the opportunity to proactively consult with the business teams; partnering in agile decision-making, providing business insights, actively supporting investment choices, helping identify success or failure in a rapid manner. Transforming the finance function provides the opportunity for businesses to escape the business trap of higher prices or lower margins, it can help you to pivot to increased competitiveness, revenue growth and success with customers, these are definitely the numbers worth pursuing.

If your organisation would like to know more about how these solutions can support your success, then please contact the authors:

  • Shaid Latif, Industry Advisor Expert – Retail & Life Sciences at SAP
  • Elif Kuralay, Industry Advisor at SAP
  • Blair Robinson, Partner, Business Consulting at EY
  • Matt Smith, Alliances Director at EY