The top priorities for finance in 2014


Harnessing data for strategic planning, streamlining processes, and bracing for heightened regulatory concerns are the top priorities for CFOs and the finance function, according to a recent report.

Finance executives were asked to rate how different issues and capabilities ranked among their priorities in business consulting firm Protiviti’s 2014 Finance Priorities Survey, which polled 220 finance leaders, three-fourths of whom were CPAs or chartered accountants. Improving strategic planning capabilities ranked as the highest priority in the survey. Data-driven processes related to strategic planning—such as cash forecasting, periodic forecasting, and budgeting—also were rated as high priorities.

“More and more companies are looking to harness business intelligence and Big Data for strategic planning,” Jay Thompson, a Protiviti managing director, said in a news release. “They also want to analyze their data to gain an in-depth understanding of their customers, products, and other business areas in order to identify the best opportunities for profitability.”

To succeed in strategic planning initiatives, staff members must have the discipline to follow through with them, said Jim Lindell, CPA, CGMA, president of Wisconsin-based Thorsten Consulting Group and author of Strategic Planning: A Simplified and Workable Approach for Private Companies.

Here are some of Lindell’s tips for successfully following through with a strategic plan:

  1. Upper management has to buy in. “The CEO or COO is really charged with strategic vision,” Lindell said. “They should be the ones that drive that process.”
  2. Maintain an appropriate scale. “A plan can be anything from the back of the envelope to the traditional 40- or 50-page strategic plan,” Lindell said. “And depending on the skill sets of the people, the back of the envelope might be perfectly fine.”
  3. Follow up on at least a quarterly basis. “The danger with a strategic plan is that you do it, and then people laugh about putting it on their shelves,” Lindell said. “And no one goes back and looks at it.”
  4. Hold staff accountable. “The seriousness is going to be, if we don’t make it, they’re not going to make their bonuses,” Lindell said. “It’s the CEO running the process, so we are checking up on it, all the time, and people understand it.”

Streamlining processes for efficiency and effectiveness also is an area of considerable focus for finance executives, according to the Protiviti report. The report showed that finance executives have a strong desire to:

  • Perform transactional activities such as the period-end close and associated processes as efficiently as possible.
  • Improve their cash forecasting and working capital management capabilities, as well as their banking relationships.
  • Update their capabilities for complying with evolving business tax policies, business regulations, and accounting standards in a period of rapid change. The new U.S. health care laws contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are a particular focus.

“Organizations are facing tremendous change and new cost pressures, and they struggle to know whether or not they are prepared to adjust and manage sufficiently the impact of various upcoming changes,” Jim Pajakowski, Protiviti’s executive vice president of global services, said in a news release. “The Affordable Care Act is front and center for a lot of companies, given the many questions that remain open related to the act, from compliance to short- and long-term costs.”

The original version of this article, “Strategic Planning Leads List of Finance Priorities,” by Ken Tysiac, is available at

Jack Hagel, editorial director
CGMA Magazine

Also at

Paper Checks, Fraud Decline
Businesses have been hesitant to accept electronic payments, and many are having difficulty persuading customers to submit payments electronically. But a sign of progress in the transition is emerging: The use of paper checks is declining in business-to-business transactions.

The average company makes 43% of its payments to major suppliers by check—down from 49% in 2010 and 65% in 2007, according to an Association for Financial Professionals survey of 484 cash managers, directors, analysts, and assistant treasurers in more than 15 industries.

Thirty-one percent of payments made to major suppliers are done using automated clearing house credits, and 16% are made by wire transfer, according to the 2013 survey.

A global survey by AFP earlier this year showed that companies reported a drop in attempted or actual payments fraud, in part because the use of electronic payments has increased.

The full article, “Electronic Payments Rise, but Paper Checks Still Dominate,” by Neil Amato, is available at

Bigger Role, Budgets for Internal Audit
Internal audit is taking on more responsibility. In addition to dealing with increased compliance duties, internal auditors are increasingly contributing to strategic initiatives. And companies are taking steps to make sure internal audit has the necessary staff and resources to take on the expanded role.

Optimism in North America for internal audit budget and staffing is at the highest level since 2008, according to a survey by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Eighty-nine percent of respondents said internal audit’s budget remained the same (52%) or increased (37%) in the past year. That’s up from 83% in 2012, 81% in 2011, and 72% in 2010.

Staffing increased at 23% of respondents, up from 21% last year and a low of 17% in 2010. Seventy percent said staffing levels remained the same, matching the previous survey high set in 2008.

The full article, “Good News for Internal Audit: Bigger Budgets, More Employees,” by Neil Amato, is available at

Big Data, Little Governance
Big Data has the potential to provide powerful competitive advantages. But many companies are struggling to provide effective governance and manage privacy in connection with their data initiatives, according to a global survey by international IT trade association ISACA.

About one-third (32%) of respondents said their enterprise has a policy regarding how it manages Big Data. And just 26% said their organizations are adequately or extremely prepared to provide effective governance and manage privacy related to Big Data. Almost half (46%) said their organizations are just somewhat prepared.

The full article, “Big Data’s Big Potential Threatened by Weak Governance,” by Ken Tysiac, which includes findings from a recent CGMA survey, is available at

CGMA Magazine is published in conjunction with the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation, which was created through a partnership between the AICPA and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. The magazine offers news and feature articles focused on elevating and emphasizing management accounting issues.


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