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Financial Leadership in the Digital Age

There is more information available today than in another other age before. It’s overwhelming. Instead of having verbal conversations with one another, there is a room of people on their phones or laptops communicating with other people around the world. We are processing thousands (if not millions) of pieces of information a day. And that’s making the role of the financial leader more difficult. There is simply too much information. So, how do you navigate financial leadership in the digital age?

First, take a look around the office. How much of your team’s work in on a device? How does your team look visibly (tired and exhausted or alert and awake)? If you go to any news source (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, etc.), notice how many articles are about technology and anything digital. Almost every article has some tech or digital component to it. This issue impacts financial leaders all around the world.

Financial Leadership in the Digital Age

Too Much Processing of Information

News channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, TV shows, financial statements, reports, contracts… Every piece of information we take in from the moment we wake up to the moment our eyes shut is simply overwhelming. There is too much processing of information occurring, and it has the risk of destroying a company’s value. A company’s leadership needs to be on guard of how much information they are processing each day. An article Fast Company published says, “Our brains have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost: We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired.” Our brains can only hold so much – much like a bandwidth of Internet. Once we go over that bandwidth, then we start to lose or forget information – even the most important information.

So, what does one do? They focus on a few key metrics rather than all the metrics. Click here to start identifying those key metrics with our KPI Discovery Cheatsheet.

Financial Leadership in the Digital Age

Financial leadership in the digital age is continuing to evolve and involve more areas in business than accounting. Already, financial leaders take a role in operations (productivity, efficiency, etc.), investment decisions, strategic planning, and human resources. I tell any CEO hiring a CFO that the CFO should be good enough or better to take on the role of a CEO.

Have a Team to Process the Information

As the financial leader, you have the opportunity to defer the role of sifting through all the information and data. Have your accounting department analyze all the information and package it into the most important information that you need to make strategic decisions. The CFO sits on a lot of information to begin with. With a team’s support, the CFO can focus on the most important information.

Financial Leadership in the Digital Age

Focus on Key Performance Indicators

Financial leaders in the digital age need to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that really matter in the business. If they don’t identify those KPIs, then they risk being overrun by data and may miss something important – result in injury, lawsuit, fines, etc.  With current systems that are properly installed, you can have thousands of bits of information in your monthly report.  But may I ask, what do you really need to make decisions?

Today, a client asked me if I wanted to see the daily reports. I asked what is in the daily report. The client responded with, “everything”. It included man hours, throughput, downtime, what was sold, was was wasted, HR information on who clocked in late and who was on time, literally everything on a daily basis. My response was simply “no” because  I do not need to see everything every day because I am running the company as an Interim-CEO. Instead, I want to see data that is meaningful, weekly, and information that will lead me to make business decisions. If we have over time one day of the week and none the rest of the week, then that will not lead me to make any business decision in this case.

Since so much data is available real time, be sure to gather and analyze that which is relevant and will lead you to make a decision.

Hire the Right Team

CFOs need to reevaluate which positions they are adding to their accounting department. Consider positions like data scientists, data security professionals, statisticians, and IT delivery specialists to add to your team. If the digital age is creeping into every area of business (especially accounting), then you need to have people with more experience in data, security, and analysis.

Adopt and Adapt to Technology

McKinsey recently reported that “the average capital project reaching completion 20 months behind schedule and 80 percent over budget.” Why? Because the stakeholders (project managers and contractors) in these capital projects are resisting technology. This is just one example of how resisting technology is a technology driven world will have an impact on the bottom line. If your company is already utilizing technology, then think of areas that you could be using more technology to reduce costs. If your company is still operating in the proverbial Stone Age, then it’s time to bring in a consultant or a team to implement a digital component. That could be an accounting system, a customer relationship management (CRM) system, an optimized website, etc.

In another example, retailers everywhere are having to change their business models to cater to the buy-now demand that customers have taken up. Retailers are creating e-commerce sites, closing brick and mortar stores, and managing inventory entirely different all because of technology. Recently, even grocery stores have been competing with companies, like Instacart and Favor, who are doing the shopping for customers that do not want to shop by creating their own delivery services.

Automation Plus Analysis

Over the years, the automation has creeped into finance and accounting departments. While at first, many in accounting were terrified that it would make their roles obsolete, we are seeing something different. You can only automate so much. In the end, business is all about humans. You cannot automate humans. What does that mean exactly? That means that now accountants are able to do more with the data than punching the information into spreadsheets, systems, etc. They can now spend their time analyzing the data, and thus, they become more valuable to the firm.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Paul McDonald from Robert Half says that, “companies plan to move the expertise needed to modernize their finance departments in-house, even as the process brings about more automation to routine tasks.”

Stay Focused in the Digital Age

So, how does one stay focused in the digital age? It starts with knowing what information is important enough to earn your attention and what information is simply a distraction. Start measuring your company’s KPIs today with our KPI Discovery Cheatsheet.

Financial Leadership in the Digital Age
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Financial Leadership in the Digital Age

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Turnover in Collections is Destroying Your DSO

One of our clients called us up because his DSO went from 34 days to over 72 days within a couple months. He couldn’t figure out what was causing his daily sales outstanding (DSO) to increase so dramatically in such a short time. When we came in the office to investigate, we found that there was significant turnover in the A/R and A/P staff. As a result, collections were not being consistently collected on. Turnover in collections is destroying your DSO. But how does turnover impact your DSO?

Turnover in Collections is Destroying Your DSO

What happens when there is high turnover in a company? Decreased productivity, bad communication, reduced training, lost processes, and so much more. When we started working with our client mentioned above, they were turning over A/R personnel very quickly. At first, the management didn’t think about their DSO. Sales were going great! But no cash was being collected. What they originally thought was a cash flow problem became more of a management issue.

How are you managing your cash? After 25+ years of working with clients in cash crunches, we designed the A/R Checklist AND you can access for free here. Enjoy!

maintaining accurate records

What Happens When Turnover Is High The Collections Departments

Think about what happens when turnover is high in the collections department. Communication is not clear on who has been contacted, what to charge, if an invoice has been sent out, etc. It can easily get out of hand if communication is not seamless during the transition. There simply is no continuation and follow up.

You also need to address why turnover is high. Are you firing your employees? Are many employees retiring? Is morale down due to an upcoming transition? Are you not compensating them enough to stay? There is typically a reason for high turnover. But it may take some investigating. Do you have a good idea for what is an acceptable turnover rate?

Consider calculating the transaction turnover per A/R employee. If your number is low, you need to start improving the collections process.

      Number of Transactions Processed      
Number of Accounts Receivable Employees

Collections Cannot Be Automated

There’s a lot of things you can automate, but collections are not one of them. You cannot automate human behavior and nothing can replace a live call or meeting between two parties. While we may see some sort of automation built into this process, we don’t foresee it taking the humans out of this role. For example, if a client needs to explain that they need to extend their payment another week, they need a speak to a person, someone authorized to extend payment terms. Furthermore, if their contact person in A/R keeps changing, then those receivables will not be collected timely.  Management often underestimates the importance of having someone in receivables developing a relationship with the customer.

[HINT: Turnover may be high for a myriad of reasons, but your company still needs cash. Consider offering a discount to the client for paying in a certain number of days. Read more about discounting receivables here.]

 

How to Save Your DSO When Turnover is High

Your DSO is a key indicator for management to look at. But like other indicators, you need to know what impacts those variables and why. Employee turnover in A/R can directly impact DSO as those employees are the people responsible for collecting. When turnover is high, communications and processes don’t always get passed down properly or effectively. Let’s learn how to save your DSO when turnover is high.

Know the Cycle

First, you need to know the cycle. Companies (and economies) going through cycles where cash is tight, turnover is high, and credit becomes tight. .  Look at the recent oil & gas crisis. Oil price hit record highs, companies began to spend more, they took on more debt. Then the price of oil drops, companies find themselves paying for debt service based on a bigger size and larger revenue, cash gets tight.  The bank and other creditors tighten up until things get better down the road.

But if you’re experiencing high turnover that doesn’t reflect what the macro economy is doing, then you need to look internally.

Start by tracking your DSO at regular intervals. Make this part of your normal monthly reporting process.  This will give you a basis to predict cash flow and indicates when things are going south. When you create a DSO trend, it is easier to spot irregularity.

Identify Areas With Low Turnover

What areas in your company have low turnover? Is it sales, operations, upper level management, etc.? Identify the areas with low turnover. Regardless of their role in the company, someone needs to collect the cash or the company will be in trouble. For example, you have 5 sales people that have been there for an average of 15 years. Your A/R department has turned over 5 employees in the last 2 years. Choose one of your sales persons to manage the transition between A/R employees. Your sales people often have the relationship with the customer.

Write Down Your DSO Improvement Strategies

This is probably the most important step to saving your DSO when turnover is high. Write it down! A strategy isn’t a good strategy if you don’t write it down. Have written processes for collections as well as notes of what has been done for the entire accounting department will help everyone know where you are at.

Write the collections process down with all your DSO improvement strategies.

Then, write down notes from client conversations, steps in the collections processes. Have frequent internal meetings about collections.  Assign tasks to individuals and write down the progress or lack of progress.  The CFO should be made aware of collections, DSO and trouble accounts.

Improve Your DSO

Whether you are experiencing high turnover in your A/R staff or not, it’s important to continually improve your DSO. For more ways to add value to your company, download your free A/R Checklist to see how simple changes in your A/R process can free up a significant amount of cash.

Turnover in Collections is Destroying Your DSO, Turnover in Collections

Turnover in Collections is Destroying Your DSO, Turnover in Collections

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Productivity of an Accounting Department

Most people (especially those outside the finance side of the business) see the financial function as a cost center. Although an accounting department does not generate any revenue, it has the potential to dramatically improve profitability. Think about this: you should be able to convert 1-2% of sales into profits if the department was more productive. The productivity of an accounting department is directly linked to the improvement of profits and cash flow – the bread and butter of financial leaders.

How Productive Is Your Accounting Department?

Before you attempt to improve the productivity of an accounting department, assess how productive or unproductive it is currently. First, log what is working and what is not working. By going through this process, you will allow yourself or the financial leader of your company to fully evaluate what is going on. There are a couple areas that you can start considering when asking the question: how productive is your accounting department?

If you find that your accounting department is productive, brainstorm ways to make it more productive. The great thing is that there is always room for improvement.

Track your accounting department’s productivity by using KPIs. For help, download the KPI Discovery Cheatsheet!

productivity of an accounting departmentTips to Improve Productivity of Accounting Department

While there may be a million little things that you can do to push the needle a little, we have found that there are a few focus areas that allow you to take the biggest strides ahead. When improving the productivity of an accounting department, start by using best practices, training and developing your team, automating as much as possible, communicating effectively, tracking progress, and outsourcing. Finally, walk through your accounting department to ensure maximum profitability.


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Use Best Practices

The best way to accomplish this first tip is to continually read up on, research, discuss, learn from thought leaders, and attend events to catalog the best practices used by others to attain a productive accounting department. In addition, if you keep ahead on implementing the best practices, you should be able to accomplish company goals quicker. According to GAAP, some best practices include regularity, consistency, continuity, and recording sales when they are certain.

Training & Development

Unfortunately, some employees are simply not going to do the dirty work of reading up on the best practices. They are leaving that up to you ­– the financial leader. Those employees are going to continue to do exactly what they have done in the past; and therefore, reduce the chances of being more productive. So, it is up to the financial leader to provide training and development for the team. If the team hears and learns the same training and development sessions, then there is a huge opportunity to create a more synergized accounting process.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey says that synergy “is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table. Together, they can produce far better results than they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves.” The more your team is on the same page, the more productive your accounting department.

Automate

One of the great things about technology is that you can automate almost everything. While that could be bad news for those of you whose jobs could be automated, it is great for the productivity of an accounting department. Rather than laying off those employees, strategize how you can transition those people into more value-adding roles.

Communicate with Team

There’s a joke that you can tell extroverted accountants from introverted accountants by whose shoes they look at – their own or the other person’s. All jokes aside, it is critical that the financial leader get themselves and their team out of their office to communicate. During the hour or so when you take lunch or get coffee, ask one of your team members to join you. In addition to getting to know them better, see if they have any ideas about how to make the department more productive.

Identify Skills of Team

Part of communicating with your team includes identifying the skills of your team. Understand what talents they may have that was not on their resume. Assign projects to them in areas that they excel. Ask questions like: What’s the first thing that you like to do at the beginning of the day? Or if there is something that you could do all day, every day, what would that task be? When you identify the skills, talents, likes, and dislikes, you will be able to further develop your team.

Have KPIs

Identify those key performance indicators (KPIs) that indicate the productivity of an accounting department. Once you have identified them, use and track them. If you find your department sliding backwards, reassess and start the process over again.

If you are struggling to identify and track the KPIs that indicate the productivity of your accounting department, click here to access your free KPI Discovery Cheatsheet!

Outsource

If a specific job or task is not a core function of the business, explore whether it can be outsourced. For example in our retained search business, we have discovered that many companies are outsourcing their accounting departments to countries like the Philippines and Germany because it is more cost-effective for their organization. While that decision may be outside the norm, it is an opportunity to step up and be a financial leader. Outsource tasks and roles that can be accomplished at the same quality for a lower cost.


Click here to download: The Smart Back Office for SMBs


productivity of an accounting departmentWalk-Through Process

Finally, generate a list of topics to run through when evaluating the productivity of an accounting department. The Journal of Accountancy developed a questionnaire as part of a walk-through process checklist that can be accessed online (we have also included it below). When you ask yourself these questions, you’ll be able to better gauge the productivity of your accounting department and exactly where you need to focus.

Time

  • How much time are you spending on any given task?
  • Is it labor intensive?
  • How many people participate in the process?
  • Does it take excessive time to complete?
  • Is there a duplication of effort?
  • Are too many handoffs occurring?
  • Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined?
  • Is anyone performing similar tasks?
  • Are roles and responsibilities appropriate?
  • What is slowing down the process?
  • Do you require needless reviews or approvals?
  • What are the busiest times of the day, week, month and/or quarter?

If there is a task or job that is time intensive, judge if that job could be automated, outsourced, or done quicker. The goal is to reduce the cost associated with that task or job. Unfortunately, you are going to find that there are jobs that simply cannot be trimmed as they are essential to the business itself. That’s okay! But try to find and reduce the costs associated for as many tasks as possible.

Necessity

  • Is the step or process necessary to the company’s success?
  • Can you eliminate it without causing any damage?
  • Do you have more tasks to do because of a single task?
  • Is duplication of information necessary?

Automation

  • Can you automate a task?
  • Are you keying in the same data into multiple places? (For example, the accounting system, an Access database, spreadsheets, etc.)
  • Does a backlog exist?
  • How often are your deadlines missed?
  • Where is there a breakdown of a streamlined process?
  • Is there a person or a job that stops the production of financials?

Value Adding

  • Does a task add value?
  • How accurate is the data?
  • How much value can come from automating/outsourcing/etc.?

Conclusion

Streamline your accounting department by asking questions, automating, outsourcing, and find more profits and cash flow. Don’t continue to just be a cost center… Transform your department into a value-adding entity within the company! For help and tips to track your transformation, you need something to measure your performance. For help, download our KPI Discovery Cheatsheet and start measuring your accounting department’s KPIs today.

Productivity of an Accounting Department

Productivity of an Accounting Department

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Computers Change CFO’s Role

When I started out in public accounting in the late 70’s I remember working with green bar paper, IBM 36 computers and having to foot computer reports because you couldn’t trust them to add correctly. As a new hire, you had to prove your proficiency with a 10-key adding machine before you were sent into the field. Now most people don’t know what a 10-key adding machine is!

Accounting Programs Then

Accounting programs were cumbersome at best. For example, they often require manual oversight to make sure they stayed in balance. Furthermore, accounting departments were made up of numerous clerks and accountants entering and reconciling data.

Computers Change CFO’s Role

A lot has changed in 25 years. Today if you print a report out of a computer you expect it to foot! Data entry has been simplified. In addition, you can often capture data outside the accounting department. Accounting software makes it difficult for the subsidiary ledger to be out of balance with the general ledger. (It may not be correct, but, at least it will agree!)

Computer Revolution

So what happened? Welcome to the computer revolution. Because of the increased power of computers and sophistication of accounting software you no longer need the same number of people to maintain accounting systems today. Furthermore, the role of CFOs and controllers of smaller has changed.

In the past a CFO/Controller had to manage a larger staff and be more of a technician to manage the process. Now with automation and outsourcing those functions no longer take up as much of their time.

As the amount of time devoted to accounting tasks decreased the time allotted to other administrative areas has increased. CFO/Controllers today are often responsible for human resources, information technologies, insurance and facilities management. In fact, better describe the CFO/Controller role as the chief administrative officer.

WikiCFO

Today there is a new resource!

WikiCFO was created to be a repository of best practice ideas in the various areas affecting the job of a chief financial officer or controller of middle market companies. CFO/Controllers can go there to find and share tips and tricks in cash flow, profit improvement, health benefits, information technology, banking, payroll, etc. WikiCFO enables CFO/Controllers to drive more value to the bottom line!

Technology and the evolution of computers is just one example of how external forces are changing how we operate. Download the External Analysis to gear up your business for change.

Computers Change CFO's Role

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Computers Change CFO's Role

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