It can be a daunting task for accountants to advise clients on how to effectively and accurately budget, plan and forecast during uncertain times, while also remaining compliant with accounting regulations. This challenge was never more apparent than with the arrival of COVID-19. The pandemic changed revenue planning, costs, production, headcounts, and business outlooks overnight.
During this unpredictable, volatile time, it quickly became apparent that static financial decision-making and forecasts weren’t agile enough to support long-term business success. It’s clear the shocks of COVID-19 and the resultant ever-shifting financial headwinds have made fixed financial planning models and rigid budgeting spreadsheets nearly obsolete.
Accountants critically need the ability to not just react quickly to help maintain clients’ financial health, but increasingly to predict the next steps a business should take. The new imperative is access to timely data to determine what impact sudden market shifts have on earnings, staffing, capital requirements, and most importantly, liquidity. These insights enable accountants to help clients plan more agilely and take sure-footed next steps based on trusted data.
Continuous reforecasting and “what-if” scenarios are now a critical part of this new approach to financial planning. This enables companies to nimbly pivot plans and make informed decisions based on a variety of case scenarios, whether that is making changes to production, go-to-market strategy, credit terms, and more.
The critical role of technology
For those accountants and business financial professionals who still manually prepare forecasts using spreadsheets, it’s nearly impossible to incorporate relevant real-time data to projections and make adjustments on the fly. This is true during COVID-19 — or any business crisis, for that matter. Many finance professionals are recognizing the necessity for dynamic reforecasting and “what-if” scenario planning, but often lack the capability within traditional financial forecasting methods to do this important work. Let’s face it: Paper-based manual processes and a spreadsheet-centric approach to financials can no longer serve as a foundation for strategic business planning.
Enter corporate performance management software. These modern cloud-based solutions enable finance teams to quickly and easily leverage data mined across all of their departments (i.e., marketing, sales, HR). This provides finance teams with accurate insights to make more proactive and informed decisions when developing an effective, comprehensive and forward-thinking financial plan, while also providing a single source of truth around the data when it comes time for audits and filing taxes.
CPM software empowers businesses with the capability to reset forecasts according to real-time data insights to meet fluid market conditions, and also provides time savings, greater accuracy, and reduced financial risk. Moreover, when clients use CPM, accounting professionals can more easily work with them to conduct long-term financial, operational, and strategic planning, as well as allow for planning and budgeting at a greater degree of frequency and granularity. For example, these tech tools allow accounting and finance teams to regularly tweak budgets (e.g., weekly or daily) and extend real-time flexibility across their investments and initiatives. As a result, financial professionals at a client organization have a more accurate, timely and complete picture of their decisions to positively drive business performance and mitigate risk.
Further, since CPM software is cloud-based, business finance teams have access to data anytime and anywhere, which is particularly important in today’s remote-working environments. Additionally, open cloud platforms allow for more advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to be applied to the CPM model, enabling the financial data to be further optimized to extract more significant insights. For instance, with the ability to handle larger data sets, AI rapidly allows the detection of patterns and unknown anomalies so accountants can perform interactive analysis to expedite resolutions.
‘What-if’ scenarios for proactive decision-making
One of the more critical roles CPM can play during uncertain times is scenario-building for proactive decision-making. “What-if” scenario planning provides a guiding framework of events that may or may not occur in the future. By running different CPM system scenarios, businesses can quickly and easily view alternative models built from existing budgets and forecasts. This gives them the insights to manage resources and improve decision-making based on opportunities and risks. Scenario planning combined with reforecasting provides clients with the information they need to weather any number of dramatic business or economic changes.
Dynamic financial planning has become the new constant. By utilizing CPM software, in-house finance and accounting professionals can run multiple scenarios by plugging in different numbers and variances, and receive instant results to better plan their “new” future. CPM software provides clients with valuable data insights for more informative, strategic, and proactive decision-making, giving them the competitive edge they need to manage and thrive in a world of increasing complexity and risk. Having this accurate and trusted financial data at the ready can also be extremely beneficial for accounting firms to offer strategic guidance and recommendations to their clients around any new policies and regulations that might come up post-COVID.
Given the many benefits these technology tools present, accountants are wise to advise their clients to adopt these more nimble and agile approaches for financial planning, budgeting and forecasting. Having the ability to make quick financial and accounting decisions based on real-time data insights will give them the one-up they need to compete in today’s uncertain business environment.
Here’s a guarantee for 2021: Given the continued dynamic nature of the economy, market, and internal influences, previous “set it and forget it” annual business plans no longer align with current expectations. Planning for just one, two, three or more probable scenarios that should be considered by accountants and their clients is both complicated and time-consuming. The generations-old technologies most accountants use, including spreadsheets, aren’t up for that task. In the year ahead, expect businesses and accountants to increasingly turn to enterprise-tech based solutions like CPM to work together to minimize the time, effort, and complexity often associated with scenario planning, helping them to better reorganize, reduce risk, and quickly plan for all potential client outcomes and cement their roles as essential strategic counselors to their clients.