Corporate Finance – Investments and Financing

Corporations want to be successful and grow by offering better products and services to their consumers and at the same time control costs for themselves. Corporate Finance is one function that assists firms in these goals by helping the overall organization to function effectively from an investment perspective. Corporate Finance is concerned with the future that the firm is looking at and the various strategies they will employ to get the best out of it.

The Chief Financial Officer or the CFO has the main responsibility for a company’s corporate finance function. At first look, the CFO’s job may look simple and defined. The overriding goal for a CFO is to maximize the price of firm’s stock shares. This seems like a very specific goal and stock prices are readily available for anyone to measure the degree and extent of success. However, in reality, the job is quite complex when the CFO has to balance various intertwined financial factors that have an impact on the overall performance of a company and the value of its stocks.

Depending on the Nature of a firm, there are around five to ten major financial functions that have to be managed in harmony to carry out the company’s corporate finance functions. Companies that are hiring for future leadership positions in corporate finance will often have new employees work in jobs that are ‘rotational’ in nature for about two to three years. The idea is that these future leaders will need to gain exposure to several different financial functions in order to work closely with or to actually become the Chief Financial executives who have to deal with a complete system of ideas. There are two main sub functions of Corporate Finance. These are: The Capital investment Function and The Financing Function.

The Capital Investment Function relates to building the firm’s investment strategy and portfolio and the selection of investment projects. In this department the CFO works closely with strategic managers and chief executives and reveals how financial principles can help a fir make the major decisions involve in corporate strategic policy. The capital investment function can range from small investments such as individual projects such as pursuing a new market or product, all the way up to acquisition of an entire company and its product line. Whether it is a small or a large investment the company is trying to make, their strategy will depend heavily on cash flows and expected cash flows. They will be paying a lot of attention to the Net Present Value of their investment proposition as el as the Internal Rate of Return that the investment is going to give them. Firm’s will continue to be successful in their investment decisions as long as they pursue projects where their internal rate of return is more than the market rate of return and the Net Present Value of the investment is greater than zero.

The Financing function relates to how a firm will need to raise capital from the financial markets. The CFO must ultimately decide when a firm should ‘go to the markets’ and what the securities are that it should issue in order to raise that money. Investors will buy securities from the company and thus supply the needed capital to it. Investors are basically trading current cash o capital for future flows. The CFO must be able to perceive how investors will react to different types of security offerings because this will impact what price investors will be willing to pay for stocks and bonds and how much capital the firm will be able to raise

Access to Finance Functions – Should Project Managers Have It?

“Nobody touches my accounts!” A statement often heard when planning implementations of integrated job costing and accounting solutions in organisations that previously ran separate systems for these. Finance teams are adamant that nobody outside of their team should be able to trigger any accounts postings.

What on first sight appears to be a valid concern by the finance department is nevertheless in many cases already being overtaken by reality in their current procedures.

It’s not an issue where job managers generate job budgets or purchase orders, which don’t create postings to the GL. But project managers often have the responsibility already to generate documents like sales invoices and send them out to their clients – rather than just drafting them – with the finance department then only recording those invoices in their financial software. The detail that these project managers don’t actually have write access to the financial software doesn’t alter the fact that the documents that they send out are legally binding documents and thus have to be recorded in the accounts. If a mistake has been made in any of those invoices, the wrong invoice still has to be recorded by the finance team and be corrected by generating a credit note and amended invoice.

Because of that reality in their current systems it would be paradox to introduce an integrated system with the purpose of streamlining the workflow and reducing the duplication of data entry, but then restrict the functionality job managers have access to, thus reversing these benefits. That is why many companies decide to give their project managers access to functions such as AR Invoicing, having put in place precautions to minimise the possibility for errors:

When the software is set up initially, accounts departments are able to construct the system in a way that postings to the accounts are under the complete control of the software and cannot be overwritten by project managers. Looking again at the example of a sales invoice, it is usually only a case of setting up a link to one GL account for the debit transactions (Accounts Receivables or Debtors) and – depending on the state – one or two for the credit postings (Sales Revenue and Tax*). If the integrated software does not give project managers the option to overwrite any of those codes, there is a good argument for them to be able to enter sales invoices.

If – in addition to the example of an AR invoice – users are also responsible for deciding which job related bought-in costs are covered by this invoice, there is not much to say against giving them access to this part of the accounts posting either. In many enterprises that use separate accounts- and job costing-systems the finance team will ask project managers anyway for details of what is and what is not yet covered by AR invoices (what stays in or comes out of WIP). Therefore again if project managers are restricted from overwriting the system controlled GL accounts for Work in Progress or Cost of Sales, letting them decide on a job level what should be transferred, will increase workflow with the risk of mispostings minimised.

There will of course always be individual cases of users who require – initial – handholding by the finance team and the finance team has to retain overall control and responsibility. There will always be human errors, but mistakes also happen within accounts departments AND mistakes can be corrected.

Companies that have given this kind of access to their project managers have all experienced an increase in work economy. Financial managers can spend more time managing finances rather than inputting data and project managers see an increase in their job responsibility and work satisfaction.

Summarising all the points outlined above, the answer to the question in the title has to be: It makes much sense when introducing an integrated job costing and accounting solution to give users outside of the finance department limited access to financial functions, if they have been laid out in the system and the system has been set up with a strict control over them.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.