How to reduce the time spent in finance meetings

CFOs know better than anyone that time is money. So why do they waste so much of it in meetings? More than half of finance teams average nine or more hours each week in meetings, according to a survey of CFOs, and 25% sit through a whopping 13+ hours.

CFOs know better than anyone that time is money. So why do they waste so much of it in meetings?

More than half of finance teams average nine or more hours each week in meetings, according to a survey of CFOs, and 25% sit through a whopping 13+ hours.

The wrong way to provide financial data

The problem is that because finance teams have access to information and metrics across the organization, they serve as the gatekeepers to data. When you’re the information gatekeeper, you often become the information sherpa, too. In traditional organizations, this becomes a huge time suck, because finance executives have to guide their colleagues through masses of spreadsheets, addressing the confusion and doubts that proliferate in a disjointed system. They often have to referee debates about whose data is correct.

Traditionally, they’ve gathered PowerPoint slides from various departments and shoehorned them into a huge deck to present to the executive team. The slides are invariably a never-before-seen mishmash, with information taken from multiple spreadsheets, that leave attendees questioning the data and trying to understand formulas. Every number is explored and each assumption is challenged, which—let’s face it—rarely makes a big difference in the final budget.

As a result of these marathon meetings, CFOs often feel trapped, spending almost all their time looking in the rearview mirror, which leaves precious little time to focus on the road ahead through the windshield. And because they waste time that should be devoted to financial strategy discussions, those meetings also waste a stomach-turning amount of money: Some $37 billion goes down the drain every year during unproductive meetings.

Cloud-based finance tools help solve problems

Transitioning to a cloud-based financial tool from on-premises hardware and software can immediately help plug this cash hemorrhage. With easily navigable dashboards enhanced with visualization features, cloud-based finance tools provide a single source of truth that eliminates confusion and uncertainty.

When you use a cloud-based finance tool, everybody sees updated numbers ahead of time and can toggle back and forth between an original financial plan and the current version. They can drill down to granular source data to examine anomalies, variances, and outlier data. As a result, everyone comes to the table more prepared. That eliminates the whole “How did you reach this number?” discussion that gobbles up a substantial amount of time, and quickly elevates meeting conversation from a basic explanation to a higher-level financial strategy discussion.

A cloud-based finance tool also has an impact on an organization’s culture. Here is why. In the past the best executives and leaders had the best answers. Today this is no longer the case. Today the best executives and leaders have the best questions. There is too much volatility, complexity, and uncertainty for them to rely on their intuition or on the way they had answers in the past that got them promoted to the top. They need to create a culture in their organizations of investigation, analysis, discovery, and tolerance for making mistakes—as long as one learns from one’s mistakes. Reliable data enables this.

Active planning tools also make it easy to see what was shared at previous meetings, so historical comparisons are quick and painless. As a result, financial planning meetings can be short but incredibly effective.

Value-adding or value-detracting?

Together, this transparency and the creation of a single source of truth make nonfinance execs far more efficient and effective in understanding the data. This autonomy, in turn, frees up FP&A professionals to contribute higher-level value-adding strategy insight. And that’s critical, because the CFO role has transformed: Today’s finance leaders must provide forward-looking vision in addition to accurate financial forecasts. An Accenture survey found that most CFOs have seen their level of strategic influence increase as they take on concerns beyond number-crunching.

Active planning with cloud-based finance software, then, presents a win for everyone: It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s powerful, and it accelerates decision-making by providing clear, accurate information. That lets CFOs step into their rightful role as strategic advisors—and gets everyone out of that conference room ASAP.

Find out more about how active planning can help you save time and money—and become more strategic in your financial meetings.

Read Plan to Win—Achieving business agility in the age of urgency, a new book commissioned by Adaptive Insights.

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