Excel and really any spreadsheet programs certainly have their place in helping CFOs organize data and perform basic operations. However, many CFOs often rely on Excel for tasks that it's not really equipped to handle. And that could lead to any number of issues when they manage the complex process of the financial close and reporting.
CFOs and their financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams who depend on Excel are spending most of their time importing, exporting, and manipulating data rather than focusing on what the data is telling them. That's because Excel hasn’t kept up with the demands of contemporary corporate finance units. What’s more, errors can occur because data in Excel is separated from other systems and not updated automatically.
Today's CFOs need the ability to provide precise forecasts and actionable insights so they can make faster and more accurate business decisions. One way to do that is by quitting Excel and moving to cloud-based financial planning and analysis (FP&A) software.
Here are seven ways FP&A software can help CFOs drive profitable decisions for their organizations:
1. Quickly find actionable insights
One of the most common problems CFOs run into today is the inability to transform their business data into actionable insights. The reason: most of them use spreadsheets that don't enable actionable insights because they're clunky, they're rigid, and they're slow."
FP&A combines financial close with forecasting, budgeting, analytics, and reporting to help CFOs and their FP&A teams make the decisions that enable companies to meet their business goals. FP&A software gives CFOs the real-time data and comprehensive analysis they need to help the C-suite align business goals and plans across the enterprises.
2. Alleviate pain in finance operations and reporting
Collecting and consolidating financial and operational data across an entire organization and converting that data into reports that can be easily shared between business units is not an easy process.
That's particularly true for CFOs who are still using Excel and are dealing with manual reports and data that is stored in silos, each of which is held by one group or business unit and not easily accessible to any other.
FP&A software, on the other hand, is made for collaboration, enabling CFOs to streamline their operational and financial planning by enhancing their consolidation and reporting and allowing them to easily share information between departments and functions.
3. Alleviate pain in transaction execution
Part of every CFO's job is to identify and prioritize the business activities where they can create the most value for their organization, including mergers and acquisitions.
"When the CFO was 'very involved' in merger integrations, companies were much more likely to capture cost and revenue synergies that were at or above plan," according to research from McKinsey & Co. "This is perhaps the most obvious role for the CFO to play in integrations given the impact of such transactions on company financials and valuations."
McKinsey noted that the CFO has to develop a process to capture the most value from a deal — a process that includes "assessing potential synergies, building forecasts and scenarios, and involving top leaders in financial planning and analysis" to ensure that the company can meet its financial and strategic objectives after the transaction is completed.
"It means proactively weaving synergy targets and metrics into current financial processes — for example, building one-time costs into budgets and creating incentive plans that support deal objectives," according to McKinsey.
Unlike Excel, FP&A software can help a CFO analyze financial and operational data, realistically forecast the benefits and shortcomings of a potential deal and enable more efficient transactions with a clearer view of the business. That's important because acquisition targets, acquiring firms and their partners, as well as other stakeholders may also look at these forecasts to identify the net value of a transaction.
4. Alleviate pain in performance improvement
To help ensure the health of their companies, CFOs and their FP&A teams must use FP&A software to track and analyze current results and plan future performance. FP&A tools help CFOs streamline, automate, and improve the accuracy and effectiveness of their strategic efforts.
The job of the CFO is to understand the past, present, and future financial performance of the business, applying context to what's happening and figuring out why. As such, CFOs and their teams coordinate and collaborate across their companies in part to collect financial and operational data to analyze financial performance. They are responsible for ensuring the organization's financial health and making good financial decisions to improve the performance of the business.
CFOs have traditionally used spreadsheets for financial planning and analysis, but Excel is not the answer because it's extremely manual, only provides stale data, and doesn't allow the finance team to share data and collaborate across the business. This makes it difficult for CFOs to determine if their organizations are underperforming.
However, CFOs who use FP&A software can link dynamic forecasts directly to each department's systems and continuously capture data to identify important trends. They can then create and analyze "what-if" scenarios to understand the impact of investments, the allocation of assets, and/or market conditions to determine the causes of any financial irregularities. FP&A tools provide performance improvement insights so CFOs can develop strategies to correct the cause of any underperformance.
5. Significantly reduce avoidable errors
Excel use has been declining among businesses, particularly in the finance department in part because it's prone to errors — errors that could have devastating effects on the business.
Humans make errors. And when they enter data manually, there's always the chance that they'll enter something incorrectly. But when it comes to finance, even minor errors can have major impacts, which can cause CFOs to make critical business decisions based on misinformation. Even worse, CFOs may never identify the errors that wreak havoc with their plans, budgets, and forecasts.
CFOs can avoid this scenario with an automated and integrated FP&A software solution that eliminates potential human errors and empowers finance teams with accurate, real-time data.
6. Enhances collaboration across the finance department and other departments
Excel has limited collaboration features and since collaboration is critical during the financial close period, CFOs need a tool that enables finance people to work together easily.
In addition, the office of the CFO requires a collaborative environment as the decisions CFOs make often involve people from outside the finance department. However, Excel doesn't allow them to easily share information with other business units.
However, cloud-based FP&A software enables multiple users to enter data simultaneously, and authorized individuals in other departments can view information from anywhere whether or not someone else is entering data.
7. Improves forecasting abilities
Excel doesn't have robust forecasting abilities. Excel introduces data complexities, including version control issues, that make budgeting, planning, and forecasting difficult. Excel isn't designed to efficiently store and organize data as are databases and data warehouses. Excel begins to break down when CFOs and their teams rely on Excel as a database and reporting system rather than implementing FP&A software.
To accurately conduct their budgeting and forecasting, CFOs need the most up-to-date information. FP&A tools enable CFOs to maintain the integrity of their data while eliminating common manual errors. FP&A software compiles the data and analytical processes to allow CFOs to successfully budget and forecast their business strategies.
Excel no longer meets the intense modeling and data transparency needs of today's CFOs and their finance departments. As such, more CFOs are quitting Excel and moving their planning, budgeting, and forecasting capabilities to cloud-based FP&A software to modernize their data reporting practices.
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