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6 Things CFOs Are Looking For: Conversations from the World Finance Forum

Financial Reporting
Management Reporting
Addressing Key Concerns in Global Reporting Teams
7 min read
Published: 19 April 2023
Last Updated: 15 August 2023

Organizations today are stretched from a time and human capital perspective. As the architect of business transformation, how can CFOs use technology to automate the mundane and allow their teams to use their skills and experience to drive strategic value for their businesses? 

We invited CFOs and other finance leaders at the World Finance Forum in Sydney, Australia, to grill our technology experts on how their teams can deliver timely and accurate, board-trusted data across financial, management, and sustainability reporting.

Based on our conversations, here's what CFOs want...

“I have this amazing spreadsheet that I open on a very nice laptop, and it just crashes. It’s of no use to me at an executive meeting when all I've got is the wheel of death. I'm looking for something that's going to make it easier for me to see the numbers.” 

If you study the evolution of Excel, you learn that it was built for different purposes and has been over extended. Yes, it is still the best way to do a lot of things, but look at something like data preparation—that can be rather intensive and exhausting if you’re using traditional desktop spreadsheets. That is why you get crashes. We built the Workiva platform to take away some of that data preparation work that used to happen in Excel. You can build tables and do queries and things like that to reduce work prior to reporting, and do it all in the same platform as where your reports live. 

You'll also find the formulas and features in our spreadsheets, documents, and presentations that relate specifically to finance and risk-level reporting.

“It's difficult to get budgets these days, and we need a strong justification for any investment. How can we measure both the qualitative and quantitative impact of a technology for financial statements and reporting? How can we show how it is going to really affect our business?”

It is not so much about justifying the tools, but it is about the change you will see. Ideally, we want you to get to a state where you don't have to do the manual tasks that introduce risk and burnout but can still have 100% confidence in your data and focus on the value add. 

Everyone is used to doing Excel-based copy and paste and manually updating 20–30 locations, constantly going back and forth to make sure that the source data are reflected and to check formulas. And if you are doing this in the first round of reporting, you are probably doing the same thing in each subsequent round. 

Without the right technology, people do it the best way they can. It is very painful. It is mind-numbing. It is stressful. It takes long hours, weekends, and weeknights during reporting season. And it’s not work that finance professionals really look forward to. 

A modern, singular platform offers this unique value proposition. You reduce manual, intensive, non-value-add work and make that happen behind the scenes quickly. That way, when you get into a reporting cycle, you can start making sense of the numbers instead of just making sure they are correct. Finance teams actually start adding value to the business—by picking up the phone and trying to understand the story behind it all and helping drive decision-making more efficiently and quickly. 

“We have a very small finance team, and we are always pushed for resources. There is very limited time and it is a very routine type of work. I would love to see what type of digital answers there are to increase the pace of doing things, closing month end much quicker, taking away all the pain points that we have.” 

Automate where you can. For cloud-based systems like Workiva’s, you get a platform that sits over a number of core systems, allowing you to tap into those for streamlined collaboration and workflow. In Workiva’s case, you also stay connected to the sources of data and narrative. You don't need to go back and manually push data every time. You can stay connected to as many destinations as you want. 

If you update a particular net sales number in a spreadsheet that occurs in 70 different locations across 30 different reports, you can push a button and it updates everywhere in seconds. Not only that, but you can set up logic to automatically adjust commentary and narrative associated with each change as well. Your slides with charts will update. If you are rolling forward and using prior month numbers, they will automatically move with the net sales variation—even drive arrows up or down or switch colors from red to green, depending on the results.  

Reporting platforms in the cloud also provide built-in oversight and assurance into the process. There is no need to worry about saving, version control, who made a change to a cell in a spreadsheet because the spreadsheets, documents, and presentations all sit in the same shared, secure environment. All you need to worry about is finishing the work—the automated audit trail takes care of the governance.

These efficiencies add up. For example, Workiva customers have saved one week or seven days straight away in the first reporting cycle. 

“The complexity that we're facing is the volume of data that we've got. Because we work for a multinational, we cut and slice the data in 17 different variables. We want to see it by business. We also want to see it by region, by GL code, by day, by manager—a combination of those.”

FP&A tools are good for certain things—like really dynamic slicing and dicing and where you can double-click and expand and drill down. We work with companies that have that capability, such as Anaplan, Adaptive Planning, and others. But once it’s ready, how can you easily bring that same level of mapped and sliced data into the reporting environment? 

With Workiva, you can bring in the master data by columns and one column could be segmented by country, division, etc. Along with that, you get control and accuracy and traceability—and how quickly it updates is something you have to see to believe.

“We are in a highly competitive space—like everyone these days. The faster we get our numbers and analysis and story around those numbers, the faster we can move on an opportunity—and the happier our board is.“

Speed to insight is surely a competitive advantage. But speed means nothing unless you can trust that insight. There is nothing more career limiting than backtracking something you have presented to the board. The right technology should set you up with both the accuracy and transparency you need, but at the rate of reporting frequency you want. 

In the Workiva platform, for instance, your reporting can be as real time as your source systems—depending on where they are getting data from and how quickly they update. The most frequent data refresh we’ve seen a customer set up is every 20 minutes, but you can also update on demand at any time with the click of a button once your data connections are set up. 

“Coming from a big multinational, one of the issues we face is around data. We have a big data team who have governance and firewalls and all those things. Our organization can be very prescriptive and put lots of things in place to make access a challenge.”

Technology should fit the way you work—and that includes how you manage your data. It should adapt to your current state. It’s not about a new technology implementation dictating what you need to do. Research what security measures a potential vendor has put in place to determine if it is in accord with your own policies—the best software companies should be able to produce all the testing, certifications, data architecture diagrams, and other supporting material you need to bring to your IT team.

At Workiva, we have some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies, the biggest airlines, eight out of the top 10 global systemically important banks (GSIB)—the types of companies that have very stringent data requirements. We consistently hear from conversations with their cybersecurity people that Workiva is a gold standard.  

Interested in how other finance leaders are introducing technology to their teams—and the results they are seeing? See how CFO James Spurway helped lead the charge for finance transformation at Challenger Bank

Excel is a registered trademark of the Microsoft group of companies in the United States and/or other countries. 

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