Monthly Archives: April 2015

Are you Comfortable with Your Existing Budget Process?

Why it may be worthwhile to rethink the budget process and look for changes

From time to time I realize that certain tasks I perform, mostly personal and some professional, are harder to do and take longer than they should. It is, however, comforting to know that these familiar tasks will get done, albeit not in the most efficient and cost effective way. My logic is that next time, before I have to start working on one of these tasks again, I will first try to find a better solution. This seldom happens, although I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

Several years ago I was visiting a client, a mid-market direct marketing company on an internal control audit engagement. I noticed that the finance group employed three full time budget analysts and a budget manager. These four people dedicated almost 100% of their time to the budget preparation, consolidation and periodic maintenance. Their data for input was received from many department managers representing business units, divisions and locations.

Several other persons in the finance group also participated in the budget process, mostly during the review and approval phases. The finance VP was the process owner and the entire organization used Excel spreadsheets to compile the budget.  There were hundreds of them, many linked together and miraculously consolidating everything into a set of worksheets that once printed and bound became the official corporate budget.

When I interviewed the Finance VP about his internal controls I asked him how comfortable he was with the budget process, its accuracy and amount of time and effort it took to complete it. His reply was: “I’m not sure how accurate it is; I know there are errors in formulas and links and it is very hard to update, but this is what we have and we know the process well. It was designed years ago and we don’t feel we have the capacity right now to completely troubleshoot these Excel workbooks, or change the process”.

Coming from a finance department person, I was not surprised with his answer. It often seems easier and simpler to work harder and longer instead of taking the initiative and changing the way we do things by replacing the tools we use and the processes we employ.

You often hear that costs of new IT systems, software and other tools are what prevent organizations from optimizing their processes, achieve higher efficiencies, etc., while at the same time, the reality is that not incurring these costs and putting off making the additional effort to design an improved process is often much more expensive (especially long term) than the cost of the proposed process change.

To use this budget process as an example, most finance managers know that using spreadsheets is not the right way, which is why there are specific software solutions designed to remove spreadsheets from the process. Yet they continue to do it the hard way, while their organizations do not get the benefit from using available new technology.

As often is the case, change must be instilled by management with vision and focus on company objectives. Lower level managers are less likely to initiate or suggest change, even though they may realize its ultimate benefits.

In our example here it should be the company CFO who must initiate this change as we see in several of the blog entries on this site. A good example is “Become your Company’s Chief Future Officer”.

As for me, personally, I would like to think that I am more motivated now than before to find better ways to perform some of my tasks, even though I realize I might step into new territory and perhaps encounter temporary difficulties. What I do know is that changes well planned are worth making.

Are Financial Planning and Cash Processes High Priorities on Your List?

See what industry experts and companies’ finance executives think

I recently read the results of the 2015 Finance Priorities  survey conducted by the global business consulting and internal audit firm Protiviti which confirmed my observations and experience working with clients in a variety of industries. To quote the first three most important findings, which also represent the top priorities of finance executives:

1.       Finance functions are striving to gain greater visibility toward the “cash” horizon.

2.       Finance executives are placing more importance on strategic planning, risk management, executive dashboards, profitability analysis and other strategic areas of financial analysis.

3.      Finance functions want to manage and improve related processes in a comprehensive manner.  Strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting rank among the highest priorities in the entire study, which demonstrates as intent to strengthen overall corporate performance management.

This clearly confirms that corporate strategic and financial planning is not only essential but also greatly recognized as such by the 372 participants in this survey who are a good representation of finance executives and managers across many industry sectors.

The conclusion is that strategic planning, budgeting and analysis must be an integral process in finance, with its results clearly and timely communicated to executive management, the Board of Directors and certain shareholders.  I am encouraged that the survey participants have recognized this and correctly voiced their opinions.

As the number one finding in this survey indicates, Cash remains the most important component in finance.  It is cash that allows a company to grow and achieve its objectives, but also to survive in difficult economic times.  A company can be very profitable according to its income statement, yet suffer a chronic shortage in cash and lack the ability to meet its cash obligations or finance its basic operations.

As a business owner, CEO, CFO or finance executive, you must be able, at all times, to forecast the cash balance at each accounting period and how much cash will be required in each period in order to meet obligations arising from business expenditures, purchase of inventory, incurring payroll and related expenses, acquisition of assets, loan and line of credit payments and other cash related transactions.  The sources of cash are from customer account collections (AR), borrowings from lines of credit, issuing of long-term debt, selling shares in the company, and from sale of assets.

Since there are many accounting transactions affecting cash every day, its balance will fluctuate during the accounting period and over a period of time you will notice an upward or downward movement of this balance as measured at the end of each period.  Similarly, if you rely on a bank line of credit to finance your operations, you may have a zero balance in your operating account and your line of credit balance will fluctuate.

Whether it’s the cash balance, the line of credit account balance, or any long term loans, you need to know and well in advance what these balances are going to be and whether or not you will have access to this cash and how much.  This is part of a prudent and disciplined planning and budgeting process, every responsible finance organization should employ.

Those who use traditional methods to forecast cash and other budgeted data, by using spreadsheets with their inherent limitations and likelihood of errors, or perhaps, upgrading to a purpose designed planning and budgeting solution that requires users to perform extensive programming and provide formulas, functions and links, have discovered that cash planning and forecasting is not trivial.

The fact is that many organizations are not able to forecast cash, credit line utilization, loan covenants compliance and other key finance ratios and operational KPIs despite the fact they have implemented expensive and seemingly powerful software solutions.

My blog entry titled: “Cash Flow Statement: One of your Most Trusted Tool” demonstrates how the finance organization can obtain a complete and accurate Statement of Cash Flows for all budgeted accounting periods, using the existing planning and budget data.

The second and third findings of the Protiviti survey provide clear evidence that many finance organizations are still struggling with achieving timely and meaningful financial analysis, using both planned and actual data.  This implies that spending money and effort on sophisticated systems may not be the right solution if these systems fail to provide the required output or the outcome expressed as highly desirable in these top three survey findings.

Several of the blog entries on this site are focused on the importance of periodically planning and budgeting and continuously analyzing both actual and budgeted data; good examples are: Why CFOs Need to Adopt Financial Analytics” and A Physical and Mental Health Predictor? A Budgeting Analogy.

I continue to marvel at the accomplishments of Centage Corporation with its Budget Maestro with Analytics product line and have written about this solution and referenced it throughout this blog. The conclusion those familiar with this product must come to after reading the Protiviti survey results is that the Budget Maestro product line delivers and overcomes two of the most common challenges that finance organizations face:

1.      Providing a clear, accurate and complete visibility into the “cash horizon”.

2.      Allowing the construction of a strategic plan driving a financial plan, year after year, and real time analysis into the future, present and past Analysis of Everything.

Having these top priority challenges conquered is no trivial feat. I am glad that a sensible and effective software solution that does just that actually exists.