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Invest carefully, finance executives say

A RECENT survey of business leaders in the United States shows that spending priorities have shifted from “cut everything” to “invest carefully.”

In its quarterly Finance Priorities Survey in July 2020, Brainyard surveyed 130 finance and non-finance executives and found that despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders are pushing to change business as usual, and advocate a larger product set and technology investments.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that normally conservative finance executives are now much more likely to say that adding products or services is a necessary reaction to COVID-19. For managers outside the finance department, it’s a split decision, with 28 percent wanting to increase the number of products and 25 percent favoring a decrease. Among the finance team, 43 percent say it’s time to increase the number of products on offer versus just 9 percent favoring a decrease.

For finance professionals, there are two clear drivers. The first is a desire for an improved toolset that allows for better remote work and better clarity into the details of the business, particularly for their own teams. The second is e-commerce as the dominant sales channel. McKinsey & Company research shows a stunning decade’s worth of growth in e-commerce market penetration in just one quarter.

Just 14 percent of finance executives want to reduce technology spending while 28 percent of non-finance executives want cuts.

Ignoring such a sea change in buying behavior is clearly a bad idea. For example, consider how people shop when they anticipate buying online. The process virtually always starts with a search engine and may never involve a salesperson. That’s certainly been true in the consumer world, and now it’s becoming the norm in business-to-business (B2B) markets as well.

Increasingly, sales success means being easily found through search and in relevant online marketplaces.

As a result of COVID-19, new training was high on the list for 57 percent of finance executives.

The second most common response, topping the list for both the finance and non-finance groups, is increasing investments in cloud-based software for finance.

Finally, most respondents agree that the finance function is now both more important and more challenging. That’s hard to argue, given teams working remotely while managing cash flow, accounts receivable and in some cases, prioritizing accounts payable.

Respondents also agreed that the finance team needs to find savings: 70 percent of non-finance executives listed it as a priority, as did 72 percent of finance executives. A close second for finance executives, at 70 percent, is producing better reporting on key performance indicators (KPIs).

Before the pandemic, KPI reporting was the second most common choice from the finance team (59 percent), right after “use data more effectively.”

CFOs were hungry for deeper insights even before COVID-19. Now as in December, finance appears to be the primary customer for its own reporting.

KPIs can be thought of as the building blocks that support actions when certainty is hard to come by. Finance is delivering these with recommendations on product mix, paths to market and how to gain more traction with business leads.

Cloud-based enterprise systems such as NetSuite provide the ability to businesses to have a real-time, 360-degree view of their operations on a single dashboard. NetSuite offers 75 out-of-the-box KPIs that can appear in the dashboard. These standard report figures permit finance executives to drill down into the complete report for further information and detail when needed. But in most situations, businesses have specific data that they need to display that is not available in NetSuite’s standard reporting. In such a case, users have the ability to establish a new saved search or utilize an existing saved search that is consistent with this data.