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“The accounting close and financial reporting processes are critical foundational elements for a successful finance transformation. Additionally, these processes are leading indicators of overall finance department health and how efficient and effective the organization’s analysis and understanding of performance are operating. Operationally, the agility of these processes have a huge impact on the speed of adapting to changes and remaining competitive. CFOs are often too busy addressing priority strategic issues and responding to other departments’ needs to proactively improve the close and reporting,” says Gabe Zubizarreta, Chief Executive Officer & Financial Transformation Leader, Silicon Valley Accountants. “If they had proactive maintenance and continual improvement programs for these foundational processes, they would have operational savings and rarely need increasingly expensive major financial transformations. In a well-run department, the period close is a well-run process, which increases analysis, confidence and ability to understand performance,” he explains.  

Silicon Valley Accountants is a solution provider at the marcus evans CFO Summit XXXVI 2019 and the CFO Summit XXXVII 2019.

What would an optimized financial close look like after one years’ worth of foundational efforts?

In general, the characteristics of an optimized financial close would be smoother (less peaks and valleys), high visibility, well organized, quality metric-driven, adaptive to change, and continually improving. The quality would be increasing, and costs would be decreasing. We typically target effort savings of 20-30 percent in the first year.

To achieve goals, one must first define them, then break them down, create a plan and implement actions toward realization. However, because each close is unique and has its own unique challenges, most finance professionals have never questioned why the close has such few metrics and even fewer have monitored such metrics. It is hard to hit a target that has not been adequately described and defined.

In financial close, similar to successful race car teams, the right foundation of systems, processes, quality control procedures, personnel training, metrics and mid-race adjustment agility are required to overcome challenges and obstacles in a time-sensitive, regulated environment.

What is the danger of failing to examine your close-process performance?

There is no specific danger with an unexamined process since it is successfully completed each month, there is however significant wasted resources and missed opportunities. There is also absolute certainty that as your business environment and company change, your close processes will become less efficient unless you are examining and improving them monthly. Over time, any unanalyzed process may begin to contain unanticipated risks, reporting challenges and excessive built-in costs. Analysis and quality control should be performed as early and as often as possible, to help mitigate developing risks.

You say many finance departments want to make effective close process improvements, but they do not know where to start. Where should they start? 

First, understand the payoff. Unless there is assurance of attainable and sustainable benefits, it is not advisable to begin any improvement efforts as these efforts produce only temporary benefits. Potential long-term benefits range from increased time for other high-value activities, reduced cost and stress, continuous improvement, increased teamwork, improved communication, reduced turnover, increased analysis and significant compliance cost savings.

Second, educate the workforce. People are a department’s greatest asset and most significant challenge. Workforce transformation success begins with effective education. 

A strong close process improvement effort will also lead the way for a transformation from historical focus to more value-added analytics and proactive activities. It can also be a huge net cost savings and can be extended across many other intellectually intensive processes. In order to deliver a successful transformation, it is important to include the process owners, managers, supervisors and intellectual staff.

Additionally, foundational process improvement permanently lowers compliance costs. When performed correctly, financial transformation does not require significant investment of time or funds. If companies really understood the attainable benefits of a structured foundational approach, many more would embark on the efforts.

You suggest that finance executives should take extra steps to demand an ROI from improvement efforts and hold vendors accountable for results. What are examples of those extra steps? 

All improvement efforts should be based on realizable benefits from attained results, real savings. Improvement projects should be based on company specific improvement opportunities and challenges, and vendors required to provide specific details about the improvement process and expected results. Vendors should be required to pilot successful achievability and savings prior to commitment or payment. Multiple relevant client references should be able to attest to real net cost savings. 

Are smaller focused improvement projects better than larger improvement changes? If so, why?

Many continual small improvements to the close process are better for the following reasons. It is important to start with quick-wins, establish a methodical continuous improvement cadence and build momentum. It is critical to emphasize individual success with early wins and even more critical to consistently increase team momentum. In a dynamic environment like the financial close, unanticipated issues and environment changes are constant, so larger improvement efforts often have more cost, delay and success risks and generally require longer implementation periods. Often these larger projects fail to provide promised ROI or timeframes. The close process should be designed to adapt rapidly to changing conditions therefore a similar improvement project structure initiates a culture change.

Ahead of the marcus evans CFO Summit XXXVI 2019 and the CFO Summit XXXVII 2019read here 
an interview with Gabe Zubizarreta discussing how the financial close process can be transformed

Gabe Zubizarreta

Chief Executive Officer & Financial Transformation Leader

Silicon Valley Accountants

Understanding Effective Close Process Optimization

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CFO Summit Spring 2019 Speakers
  • Jacinth Smiley, VP and Chief Accounting Officer, LyondellBasell
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About Silicon Valley Accountants

Silicon Valley Accountants provides a customized Financial Effectiveness Framework to their clients. This Framework is an application of a balanced approach of teamwork enhancement, information integration and process optimization which enables sustainable financial transformations.

Their approach results in an increased ROI of your existing investment in systems, reducing turnover and compliance costs, improved collaborative task management, reduced SOX and Audit redundancy and promotes a dynamic knowledge management resulting in workforce enhancement and improved leadership. Silicon Valley Accountants is a unique CPA firm in that they guarantee their work, complete client satisfaction and deliver cost and time savings enabling your team to reinvest time into high value opportunities.

Silicon Valley Accountants' main offices are located in San Jose, California and Cleveland, Ohio.

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