Consultancies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some more generalist and some very specialist, whether that is specialist by industry or by the subject area of the consulting engagement itself. Choosing the right consultancy that fits with the organisation and with the target objective at hand is critical in getting the most from any consulting engagement.
But why would the head of a finance department engage a consultancy in the first place?
According to Accenture’s CFO Reimagined report, the CFO’s role is being driven by:
- Increased expectations from boards and CEOs
- The accelerating change of pace
- Pressure to show growth and profit
- Increased data-volume, exploring the power of data
- The need for more control and compliance, due to regulation and consumer expectations.
In short, the job is busy already and looks like it is going to get even busier with more demands and new challenges; this could pose a problem for some and is certainly a challenge for most. Transforming the finance department cannot wait.
What does finance transformation include?
From the Accenture report, a lot rests on technology. Whether it is technology to extract more value from data, technology to share information, (to the Board, to investors, or to regulators) or for technology as a tool to better equip the finance department more generally. Technology alone however is not transformation.
'"True transformation comes from a combination of process, system and cultural change" - this according to our own report The honest guide to finance transformation.'
Finance transformation should assist the organisation and the CFO either from a strategic perspective or as a tactical engagement. At a high level it should help the CFO assess their finance strategy and vision, design a roadmap for change and, more critically, a plan of how to implement said change. Overall, this change should aim to improve the performance of the finance function and what it delivers to the business and its future needs.
Transformation could be a simple project. Implementing a new set of standards, such as IFRS17, or SOX compliance. It could be as simple as enabling better reporting, not the beautification of graphs and charts (though that may help), but the data that drives reports, the ability to create more scenarios, or drive a deeper level of understanding and the ability to readjust and react far more efficiently and with greater insight to the changes happening around the industry.
Whether finance transformation is a strategic initiative that spins out tactical projects or whether it is a piecemeal approach to tactical gains requires a vision and an understanding of which approach is more effective. That very often requires a consultant to first establish the best way forward through a tactical engagement and answers to baseline questions.
One way to achieve this is with VantagePoint’s CFO Labs -an accelerated finance strategy workshop which includes three stages:
1. Capability assessment survey
2. Client strategic analysis
3. CFO Labs workshop.
The one-day workshop enables CFOs to drive engagement, alignment, and commitment to finance transformation, by providing a clear roadmap of prioritised change initiatives.
The end of any change programme should not be a full stop. Change should be constant, and whilst it often begins with a major programme of work or a very specific and targeted project, finance transformation needs to be sustained after the first engagement to keep seeing the benefits.
What are the benefits of working with a consulting firm during finance transformation?
1. Additional resource
According to Netsuite:
'51% of CFOs admit they are juggling too many responsibilities.'
Add to that, the society of certified public accountants believe:
'75 percent of current CPAs (Certified Public Accountant) will retire in the next 10 to 15 years.'
We have a challenge for resource that is only ever going to get worse, unless we find ways to do the same with less people. Better still is to do more, add greater value, and provide better insight, with less people.
Finance transformation can be light-touch, or all-engaging for those already working in the finance function. Accepting that business-as-usual does not stop can very often shape any finance transformation and how best to approach the changes needed. Finding the time may be a challenge right now but not creating the time to invest in business transformation is not an option for the future.
Today the finance department is confronted with little choice than to find ways to do more with less. Getting from the current status-quo to a better state requires investment. External consultants provide the much-needed resource to allow BAU to continue.
Another advantage that additional resource provides is that finance transformation can be delivered more quickly. Unencumbered by the daily grind this extra workforce can significantly reduce the time to value.
2. Benchmarking as a place to start
The obvious place to begin with any finance transformation is to understand if what is there today is any good. Whilst the end goal may be the same the journey begins with understanding if the task at hand is a major transformation programme or a series of smaller steps for incremental gain.
Financial benchmarking requires financial analysis to compare business processes and practices to other organisations. Good benchmarking requires more than simply comparing companies in the same industry. Comparing a fintech bank to an established bank does not make sense perhaps. Comparing a company that is fast growing, international and multi-acquisitive may have much more in common with a firm on a similar journey regardless that they may be in completely different industries.
External consultants can bring into the conversation an understanding of companies who have gone through finance transformation before and where they too began. It is easier for external consultants to map out what can be done and in what order, having started from a similar position before with another client. That is not to say they copy what has gone before but it certainly helps to have walked the path more than once before.
3. Culture agnostic
External consultants are regularly exposed to different corporate and organisational cultures as much as different systems and processes. As a result, they bring with them a wider understanding of good and bad practices as well as process and system changes that may be needed.
Culture is not simply related to how people interact but also organisational structures, and the ways teams go about problem solving, sharing knowledge, and supporting the wider organisation. As with benchmarking, knowing whether an organisation has a culture open to change or how far and how fast change can be achieved is also dictated by culture.
A more detailed study Organisational Culture: Definition, Characteristics, Roles, Types can be found on iEduNote.
External consultants not only give the client a better understanding of the propensity to change for any organisation, but they potentially act as a catalyst for change; and an avenue for dissent in disagreement with views held by senior management and change leaders.
4. Objective and unbiased
Change is necessary for a company to achieve its goals. Doing so may challenge existing processes and cultures, it may challenge existing investments and sunk costs and will push against any resistance to change. External consultants are not encumbered by these constraints and focus on the needs of the finance department and the requirement objectives of finance transformation.
Finance transformation is often influenced by emotions, corporate politics, and inter-departmental differences. Business, however, cannot allow the road ahead to be obscured by such matters. If, out of choice, business transformation is allowed to be compromised by such matters then it is for the business leaders and company itself to make that as a conscious decision, but only after an objective and unbiased assessment by independent consultants.
External consultants will also hold the client to account. Projects deemed too difficult or undesirable for any of the reasons mentioned above can be avoided if the approach is internal. External consultants bring external accountability.
5. Cost savings
Recognising that additional resource is required to undertake finance transformation is vital. The options are to expand the team with unfamiliar staff, or to retain for the duration of the project dedicated and specialist resource capable of undertaking the task and bringing with them the expertise required.
Recruiting full time employees to undertake a project adds not only to salaries but also overhead costs in terms of health and wellbeing, technology and other equipment as well as, potentially, office space. At the delivery of a project key skills may be superfluous to the ongoing needs of the organisation and therefore redeployment or taking on tasks that are not a perfect fit may be required.
External consultants are focused on delivering a project on time and to budget. They are constrained by the agreement of the project, not an open-ended salary arrangement. Consultants are hired and retained for the services needed when they are needed. A consulting engagement can bring in specific skills and resources as the project demands.
Hiring consultants also allows companies to get value for your money. A focus on outcomes for the task at hand and relief from ongoing costs once the project has been delivered.
6. Sharing knowledge, enabling growth
According to Emmerson Nash “A good management consultant will train and upskill your staff during the project. This leaves you with improved skills and knowledge within your team, helping maintain or improve on the benefits you have achieved during the project.”
Transfer of skills and knowledge typically takes place in two ways. As any transformation programme progresses there is knowledge sharing by the consultant on those directly involved in the project. Often train-the-trainer programmes for new technology and systems will form part of the project. After any business transformation there may be a more tailored programme of imparting knowledge in the form of training courses and access to online training material.
External consultants work with multiple businesses from the same sector, different sectors and at different stages in the evolution of the company. Taking from a wide variety of projects allows consultants to take what works best for the current client based on a broad experience base. In short, consultants know what works and what does not, and how best to share their experiences with the client driving a deeper level of knowledge and understanding.
7. Change is now BAU
We tend to think of finance transformation in the same way we would a project. It has a clear objective/outcome, it has key milestones, and the degree of success is clearly measurable. But change programmes should be seen not as a one-off project, though many programmes begin that way. Change should be an ongoing programme that throws out specific projects.
It was Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said, “the only constant in life is change” and that would certainly be right of finance transformation. Making change part of the norm for the finance department requires a successful project led by consultants that enables the finance department to constantly challenge itself. Creating such an attitude begins with a successful project and an outcome that leaves behind the right cultural attitude to continue this.
Finance transformation begins with one project. It is a roadmap for effectiveness, not a roadmap for technology, continually evolving and improving.
VantagePoint is passionate about improving your finance function and the value it creates for your wider business. We ensure your office of finance is empowered with systems and processes that are tailored to your specific needs. Using a holistic approach, we listen to your unique set of challenges and help you create a people, process and technology solution that meets the demands of your business.