If there’s any silver lining in the dismal economic environment of recent years, it’s perhaps that finance departments — the top performing ones, at least — have emerged stronger, and with more respect from their CEOs and from other parts of the organization. That’s according to a comprehensive report, recently released by Accenture, titled “Delivering Value in a Complex World: The Next Battleground for the Finance Organization.”
The consultancy’s 2011 High Performance Finance Study, updating work it last did in 2008, used online surveys with more than 530 senior finance executives and about 300 C-level customers of finance, as well as in-depth interviews with CFOs and COOs.
CFOs are under pressure to manage cash and keep costs down while managing risk, of course, and it seems most finance organizations in the study are meeting that challenge.
“Through a combination of talent, focus, and disciplined execution,” the report finds, “finance has emerged from the global economic crisis with its reputation burnished and capabilities enhanced.” For example, 73% of non-finance C-level executives reported being satisfied or very satisfied that finance contributes to company strategy or execution of strategy, meets overall business needs, and provides timely and accurate services. Two-thirds of C-suite executives were satisfied with finance’s integration with other company functions. Meanwhile, 70% of C-suite members rated finance at their organizations at the top of their peer group (18%) or above average (51%).
The Laggard Departments
There were, however, laggard finance departments that struggled to cope with the challenging economy. According to the study, these were the finance organizations that skimped on the basics — systems, organization, and talent. “Organizations that reported the smallest finance budget also reported having less-sophisticated finance capabilities,” the report notes. It seems keeping costs down too much can be a detriment to finance’s effectiveness.
A few notable other findings:
- Regulation is seen as having a high impact on finance by 53% of finance executives, followed by permanent volatility (46%), talent (40%) and data (40%).
- The top two ways CFOs manage their finance workforce are by offering competitive salaries and benefits and to tie incentives to both individual success and the company’s overall profitability.
- The majority of finance executives do not feel their finance departments are employing leading practices to engage with and deliver higher value to the enterprise — such as identifying growth opportunities, proactively responding to regulatory changes, and expanding finance’s input into strategy and high-level decision making.
Get a Passport
While the report covers a range of issues for the finance organization, what seems especially interesting are the notes on finance talent, which reveal CFOs’ specific challenges with their finance workforce, and shed some light, for those looking to advance in finance, on what it will take to do so. Specifically, globalization is posing challenges for both finance-team leaders and members. Upwardly-aiming finance professionals will have to be more open to international placements.
One VP of finance at a global pharmaceutical firm observes the increasing mobility of his company’s financial workplace, resulting in fewer advancement opportunities for groups working in limited markets. “Unfortunately,” the VP notes, “people often do not want to move and take roles outside of their home geographies.”
A CFO of an industrial manufacturing company puts it more bluntly: with 75% of the company’s sales coming from outside the U.S., its workforce needs exposure to different parts of the world where the company does business. “If you’re not willing to get a passport,” the finance chief asserts, “it doesn’t mean you’ve ended your career, but your upward career path will be very limited.”