Maintaining margins while staying vigilant

Assessing the results of the financial executives research foundation/Protiviti 2016 finance priorities survey

Finance functions were historically busy last year. Whether or not these workloads are leveling off, finance functions cannot afford to back off. In the coming year, between maintaining margins, forecasting cash flow, complying with new regulations and combatting cyberthreats, finance functions will have much to monitor on their radars and need to be incredibly vigilant. If the 16th President of the United States were to return as a 21st century CFO, his mandate to his financial troops would echo the guidance he dispensed to a top general 150 years ago.

Our five key findings

1. “Margins, not market share” – That’s what General Motors Company CEO Mary Barra communicated to her senior leadership about how they should govern their strategic goal- setting activities.1 On this count, GM is hardly alone. Margin and earnings performance ranks as the top priority across all groups of respondents in our survey. With a modest recovery over the past few years, finance functions are preparing the enterprise for challenges that could materialize at any time by working to preserve margins and also by sustaining a strong focus on working capital management.

2. CFOs see more significant priorities on the horizon – Whereas the overall survey response shows some priority index levels are trending down, suggesting perceptions of a less-intensive year ahead, CFOs have a different view – in many cases, their priority levels have increased compared to last year.

3. Cybersecurity concerns permeate the finance function–There is little doubt that IT security and privacy is far more than just an IT issue today – it represents a strategic organizational risk, and not surprisingly, one that ranks near the very top of finance functions’ priority lists. From a finance perspective, there are significant concerns regarding the security of financial information as well as the financial impacts of the security of all data. While IT often takes the lead in addressing this risk, cybersecurity is now a top boardroom issue as well as an area drawing substantial time and attention within the finance function. Effective cybersecurity requires strong board engagement, the right policies, and an understanding of the enterprise’s most valuable and sensitive data.2

4. Wanted: a single, real-time version of the truth – To help strengthen overall business performance and strategic planning, and to drive value from the financial data within an organization, finance functions want to develop better, more accurate and timelier data collection, data analysis, reporting, budgeting and forecasting capabilities. These corporate performance management processes are used to perform profitability analyses tied to customers, products, operating units and geographies.

5. Becoming leaders – The capabilities of the finance function to lead strategic planning and performance management for the organization are driving CFOs and finance teams to prioritize their internal leadership responsibilities.

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