Finance: Are You Ready for the Uncertainty that is "Brexit"?

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As the dust starts to settle on Brexit many organisations are beginning to come to terms with its implications. Of course businesses have seen profound shocks to financial markets before but nothing quite compares to the uncertainty and pervasiveness of Brexit for many countries are directly or indirectly affected.

There are numerous risks, for example, to the movement of capital, fundraising, interest rates, currencies and business growth - to name but a few - but there are also opportunities as supply chains adjust, new trade agreements are struck and customer buying patterns change.

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So how should finance functions respond to change and uncertainty on such an unprecedented scale?

The ‘usual’ response is that businesses forecast more frequently to keep testing the temperature of the water for early signs of change. But a ‘business-as-usual’ approach may be insufficient in the current climate. What’s quite clear is that CFOs who rely on gut-feel, a patchwork quilt of spreadsheets and out-of-date historic information leave themselves (and their companies) severely exposed.

Yet one of the largest global surveys of CFOs this year, the FSN “Future of the Finance Function Survey 2016” revealed that more than one third of CFOs rely on gut-feel for decision-making. And while there is, of course, a place for experience, judgement and gut-feel, the danger is that decision-making is wrong and response times are too slow to keep up with market trends.

In a nutshell, companies that do not use a more robust data-driven approach risk getting left behind. Conversely those that do leverage good processes, systems and data could gain market share.

Central to a more data-driven approach are unified corporate performance management systems in which all applications (planning, budgets, forecasts, consolidations, reporting) are brought together in the same environment. Equally, financial and non-financial data (structured and unstructured) can be leveraged productively to project future performance.

During past crises finance professionals did not have the CPM tools to respond, but with the advent of in-memory calculations, powerful calculation engines and scalable hardware it is possible to build highly granular and complex business models and churn the results to look at different planning scenarios in a matter of minutes.

Nevertheless, responsiveness is not just about systems. Responding to the risks and rewards of Brexit will need deft management and an abundance of analytical skills. But as corporates of all sizes square up to the challenge, companies that have invested in modern CPM systems will have a head start over those still relying on gut-feel and spreadsheets.