Real-time finance data seen as key to CFO planning in uncertain times, Accenture finds

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Last year brought many challenges and forced business leaders to adapt to volatile market conditions as the coronavirus crisis demonstrated the need for real-time data to inform business decisions, according to a recent Accenture study.

But even as executives long for real-time visibility they also see technology issues as a barrier, despite its benefits, the study found. They have questions about paying for the technology, implementing it and finding the right people to run it.

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The Accenture research focused on 450 finance executives at companies with revenue valued at more than $1 billion in the U.S. and Europe to better understand the most challenging obstacles that businesses faced amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Although finance leaders’ concerns varied, they all agreed that access to real-time information is critical to planning and managing daily finance operations in the face of uncertainty.

4 areas of concern for CFO planning

Accenture’s research found there are four potential disruptors that executives are most concerned about in the year ahead:

Source: Accenture

Of the executives surveyed, 49% cited concerns about rising interest rates.

Concerns about further disruption from the pandemic and an economic recession each were noted as worries for 2021 by 47% of survey respondents. The ability to hire and retain the right talent for their company amid the crisis was the fourth major hurdle cited by 42% of executives surveyed.

Areas of concern also varied by industry. Information technology executives were most worried about rising interest rates, the pandemic, and hiring and retaining the right talent, while insurance industry leaders commonly noted Brexit and recession worries as priority issues. For those in the banking sector, rising interest rates and the pandemic were also top concerns.

Working capital and real-time data

Nearly all of the business leaders surveyed by Accenture — 99% — noted the importance of having real-time processes in place to make better business decisions during times of uncertainty.

About 68% of those surveyed also said they believe that using real-time tools going forward will help them to forecast more accurately and maintain a better sense of their working capital. Executives surveyed said these tools can support integrated planning with improved access to financial data, according to the report.

The survey results also show that enhancing access to financial data is an area in which many major companies still have room to grow:

Respondents also report that they plan to invest about a third of their finance budgets for 2021 toward building their companies’ real-time finance abilities.

“The data supports what we are observing in the market: Finance leaders who have not yet shifted to this approach are finally more willing to move away from historical models and embrace change,” the report states.

Finance models that use real-time planning tools can bring many advantages, but Accenture noted that implementing these processes is easier said than done. Finance leaders looking to shift toward using these processes will need to identify the right operating models, technologies and talent to use these tools.

Executives also cited technology as an obstacle, and the survey found that companies with more than $10 billion in revenue — 49% — were more likely to view technology issues as a barrier.

Strengthening finance operations can help to better safeguard a company’s financial health while also improving efficiency and stability, allowing companies to better prepare for future events if they have real-time data, Accenture notes.

“Think of it as two complementary parts of a powerful engine fueling how finance delivers value: The stronger the core operations are, the swifter the pivot to the strategic can be,” the report said. “The more real-time the strategic insights, the better or more streamlined the core can be.”

Making finance operations more efficient can free up a finance team’s time to plan for both normal and chaotic business environments, the report noted.

Read more of Spend Matters’ coverage for procurement practitioners, like interviews with CPOs and more insights on the forces shaping business today.

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