With summer a distant memory and Q3 2016 in the rearview mirror for most organizations, what are most CFOs focused on as we enter Q4 and look forward to 2017?
There’s plenty of work ahead in getting to the finish line of year-end 2016. What initiatives can you pursue to help your company achieve its revenue and profit goals for the year? How do you prioritize and balance all of the tasks you need to complete to close out 2016 while planning for 2017 and beyond?
That was the focus of the CFO Leadership Council’s NYC chapter event in September titled “Getting to the Finish Line,” where a panel of experts discussed the strategies and tactics they’re pursuing to help their companies achieve 2016 goals and prepare for 2017 and beyond.
The panel was moderated by Ori Winitzer – Investment Banker and Founding Member of LionTree. The panelists included Stephen Liszewski, CFO, AON NY Region, Stephen Milbank, Co-founder and Head of Finance, Button, Chris Springer, Principal, Clarity Services Group, and Christine Park, COO and CFO Chloe + Isabel.
Here are some of the highlights from the discussion.
What worked and what didn’t in 2016? What surprised you?
One of the panelists commented that he was surprised by the number of companies moving jobs out of the NYC region. He also commented that low interest rates leave many CFOs struggling with where to park their capital. Will financial institutions be there in the future? One panelist said that her company made an office move in 2016 that was more disruptive than expected.
For companies in the mobile applications and social media market, 2016 has been a good year for growth. More mobile phone usage and more transactions drive demand for more mobile apps. Users are also getting more savvy regarding mobile advertising, which is good for selectively driving traffic.
But 2016 has also been a tough environment for retail. With many competing retailers promoting to consumers, it’s tough to get through the noise.
How do you manage making 2016 numbers vs. 2017 and strategic initiatives?
For subscription businesses, the focus is on blocking and tackling for the remainder of the year and planning for next year. There needs to be a solid budget and plan by December. For a consumer business, the holidays are a big focus for closing out 2016 strong while also planning and designing products for next year. It can be tough to maintain balance between the two. Ultimately, it’s all about growth, finishing up 2016 strong. Most of the panelists are also focused on controlling spending in 2016, managing headcount. For some, Q4 is a big opportunity to focus on delivering for current customers and executing on existing contracts.
Looking at systems that support your business, how much will change in 2017?
One panelist commented that change is constant. Companies need to invest in technology and ensure data is available and can be leveraged by users. This means using friendly reporting tools that allow self-service for LOB users. M&A activity puts a lot of pressure on internal systems, causing constant change and new requirements. There needs to be outside resources who can help manage the workload.
Another panelist mentioned that, with many competing goals, CFOs need to focus on what they can do well. ERP upgrades are resource intensive and disruptive – they must be considered carefully. There’s also a need to focus on what’s critical to the goals for the specific year, getting departments to narrow their focus on a few key goals.
How much focus on compensation, changes for 2017?
The panelists agreed that, in a larger enterprise, people are the largest cost. Compensation discussions are increasingly focused on total value of compensation, not just salary and bonus, etc. Other benefits are key – recognition, awards, advancement opportunities. Flex-time and other lifestyle benefits are also becoming important.
In a smaller growth company, competitive compensation is important. Attracting and retaining talent, especially Millennials, is challenging – compensation, benefits, work environment are key factors here. Rewarding the top performers helps companies stay competitive. One panelist mentioned that his company performed a strategic review of compensation and a benchmarking exercise in 2016, focused on retaining engineers as they hit the 18-month mark. Hiring and retention is critical. One strategy is to make it difficult for employees to leave. To do this, one panelist’s company gave them control over their compensation in terms of mix of salary, bonus, and benefits.
How connected and aligned do you feel with the CEO, board, and investors?
All of the panelists felt very connected to the CEO and board. One mentioned that this is especially common in financial services, with the CEO taking a keen interest in helping to address an employee satisfaction issue with a certain level of managers. In a VC-backed business, the CFO needs to be tightly connected to the CEO and the board. Investors have different areas of interest – new investors may have new interests that need to be addressed.
What will you do differently in 2017?
Here are some key strategies the panelists cited:
- Need to instill ownership in managers of the business.
- Less focus on tasks, more on meeting and leveraging outside resources to be more productive.
- Avoiding the tendency to focus on near-term, putting more focus on longer-term objectives and initiatives.
- Expanding the Finance team, finding and managing top talent to expand capabilities.
- Staying on top of customer service, supporting key customers.
Want to Learn More?
This was a great panel discussion that generated a lot of challenging questions from the audience. As I think of the ways EPM applications can help CFOs get to the finish line for 2016 and plan for 2017, there are a number of opportunities. This includes enabling robust reporting and analysis of YTD results, supporting rolling forecasts that extend to year-end and into 2017, supporting the efficient creation of annual budgets for 2017, and supporting scenario modeling for the potential ups and downs that could occur in 2017 and beyond.
With budgeting in focus for so many Finance executives, here’s a link to a recent webinar replay focused on how to reduce the pain of annual budgeting.
Best of luck in getting your organization to the finish line and beyond!