If 2022 taught us anything, it’s that we need to be ready for everything.
From supply chain breakdowns and the war in Ukraine, to rising inflation, interest rate hikes and predictions of a recession around the bend, the year has been defined by its unpredictability. And finance teams have been forced to keep up amidst all of that uncertainty.
More than ever, then, those teams have to become agile and proactive to empower their organizations to be the same. And for that, finance teams need to take a central role in their business.
The question is, are they up for the challenge?
We set out to learn exactly that in our newest industry benchmark survey. Now the results are in and available for download in our third annual benchmark report, The State of Strategic Finance: Vena Industry Benchmark Report 2022. It’s based on a survey of 132 business leaders and finance and operations professionals coming from organizations across a range of industries.
In this post, we’ll explore five highlights from this year’s findings.
- Both finance leaders and their teams are stepping up to embrace their role as strategic partners to the business. But there’s still room to add more strategic value in that role.
- To excel as a strategic partner, finance leaders are looking to add technical and non-technical skills to their teams—but there are some critical skills that still aren’t making those priority lists.
- Excel still plays a central role in most finance departments—even despite the presence of other planning technologies. A tried-and-true technology for most finance professionals, it can become an important building block for additional technology investments.
1. Today’s Finance Leaders Have a Seat at the Table
To drive organizations forward, today’s finance leaders need to become strategic partners to their business. But for that to happen, they require a seat at the table when key decisions are made. With this year’s survey, we wanted to find out if that was happening.
And the good news is that 40% of our survey respondents said they do have a seat at the table. Even better news? Another 28% have taken a seat at the head of the table. That means they’re leading strategic planning discussions.
But how are they using that seat?
While the respondents we surveyed said they’re creating value in a number of ways, at the top of that list is still costs and margins, where 50% say they’re adding value.
So are finance leaders really providing the top-line value they could be bringing as a strategic partner?
2. There’s Still Room for Teams To Grow
While we may have found that financial leaders could be adding more top-line value in their role as strategic business partners, what about finance teams? The data shows that there’s still some growth potential there as well.
While 41% of the teams surveyed are influencing and challenging day-to-day decision-making across the business, that leaves almost 60% that aren’t. And even fewer are building relationships with key stakeholders and enabling cross-functional collaboration.
It could be that data challenges are still getting in the way. As we’ve seen in past years, data has been a recurring problem amongst the organizations we’ve surveyed, and this year is no exception. Fifty percent of respondents are still focused on improving data-driven decision making and 46% are spending too much time wrangling data.
3. Finance Teams Aren’t Maximizing Their Strategic Value
All of the above is evidence that, while finance is embracing its role as a strategic partner, teams aren’t necessarily maximizing that position. And part of the reason why may be that teams are still spending too much time on manual processes—leaving less time for tasks that will let them provide strategic value to their business.
In fact, almost three-quarters of the organizations we surveyed said they spent too much time on the manual processes associated with planning and budgeting activities. They were spending time on data entry and validation instead of on activities that will continue to add value at the strategic level.
Thankfully, 61% of respondents said they were planning on increasing their technology investment—hopefully to take care of some of those more manual duties.
4. Leaders Are Building Their Teams—But Are They Focusing on the Right Skills?
To create that strategic value, of course, finance leaders need to build the right teams. That includes a mix of soft and hard skills that will drive strategy at their business.
So, report card time. How are leaders really doing when it comes to gathering the skill sets that will help them continue to build that strategic business partner role?
Let’s just say, it depends.
On the technical side, it’s clear that data analysis is a top skill respondents are looking for (60% called it a key priority). The same goes for financial modeling (55%). Other key technical skills—including data visualization—were less valued, though.
And it looks like leaders aren’t prioritizing non-technical skills in the same way. While 48% put communication skills on the top of their must-have list, not many valued negotiation, empathy or creativity.
Yet, to fully establish their role as a guiding force in the business, gain consensus for their decision making and collaborate across departments, finance teams are going to need those soft skills just as much as the technical competencies they most prize.
5. Excel Still Plays a Pivotal Role for a Majority of Finance Teams
Would it surprise anyone to know that businesses still rely on Excel to power their planning processes?
In fact, an exceptional 86% of respondents are still using Excel, despite the presence of other planning technologies. And 76% say it’s central to their financial and operational planning processes.
At Vena, we weren’t surprised at all. Excel offers familiarity and flexibility in turbulent times. It also offers strong modeling capabilities. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add to your Excel environment. Structured, database-centric controls, automations, data integrity and reporting can all add to its functionality and build a more agile, effective planning environment.
The kind of environment that lets you continue to evolve your strategic capabilities and stay ahead of market changes.
But that’s just the start of what we found in this year’s Vena benchmark survey.
We also delved deeper into the state of finance in today’s turbulent times, examined the processes that are helping teams plan their way through and asked organizations how they’re using data to help them do so. And finally, we explored how finance teams are helping their organizations become good corporate citizens in a world that expects businesses to step up.
Want to find out all of our results?