Data is the key to agile financial forecasting

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The Covid-19 pandemic and its resultant impact on economies around the globe has understandably led to caution in spending as businesses have switched to survival mode. As the last year has shown, financial forecasting can be subject to unforeseen changes in circumstances that require a different strategy with little notice. This is where agility in financial forecasting is vital to ensure that businesses have the necessary resilience to prepare for the unexpected, and data is a crucial piece of the planning puzzleWith this in mind, how best can organisations plan ahead with their finances? 

Data insights

Accurate financial forecasting was previously a one-year projection for CFOs, but now, many are looking to forecast one to three years ahead in order to better predict the position their business will be in. While a longer-term view is beneficial, supplementing this needs to be the ability to adjust within a threemonth window to any mitigating external factors.Making tweaks within this timeframe means organisations can negotiate new contracts with customers and suppliers to counteract the negative consequences of decreased trading between businesses during a time of recession.

During periods of economic uncertainty, it is also likely that financial forecasting and the role this plays within the wider business receives greater scrutiny from the board, with leaders looking for robust financial information to drive decision makingIn order to enable agility within financial planning, the importance of access to real-time data and actionable data cannot be understated. Such is the pace of change in the financial industry that data that is even six weeks old may not provide an accurate picture for planning.

To have access to the relevant data required in a timely manner, organisations must ensure that internal systems are connected consistently across departments, with a common understanding of what drives future forecasting.With many organisations globally still working from home, and hybrid approaches to remote/office working looking likely to continue in the future, great emphasis has been placed on digitisation models, but there is still work to be done. 

Technology that enables better management and visibility of financial data is key to ensure businesses have access to more accurateperformance figuresto define their forecasting modelsAs digitisation moves forward, the potential of AI fed by accurate data from across the business could in future help organisations plan ahead for possible future crises

The human element

Despite the important role technology has to play, it’s crucial for organisations to remember not to rely on this alone to ensure agile forecasting. The human element remains key, but the change is in taking a collaborative approach and leveraging all available talent instead of gatekeeping the knowledge between senior leaders. Organisations must also learn from industry experts and monitor external factors to feed insights from the current landscape into their financial forecastsWhile it’s likely that we’ll see technology-powered data insight driving 90% of financial forecasting in the next 3-5 years, expect to see the human element still playing a crucial role.

A perfect comparison for this is the unique role that humans play in the accounts receivable process when communicating with customers. While data can give a real-time picture of a customer’s outstanding payment situation for example, it’s crucial for a finance professional to make an informed decision based on personal circumstances. Similarly, human experience can provide unique insights and valuable contributions as to how the financial industry will change or develop in the coming years, which data cannot provide on its own.

The need for agility

Undoubtedly, insights from data and human expertise play a vital part in effective financial forecasting, along with the enhancements of new technology in the coming years. What organisations need to keep in mind however is the potential for external factors that can’t be planned foras we have seen in the last twelve months. Here, a business which has factored in the need for agility will stand out.

To ensure this level of agility, organisations need to automate repetitive processes and ensure employees’ roles are focussed on the key decisionmaking areas of the business, allowing them to place priority on negotiating terms with suppliers and customers that can be adjusted quickly and efficiently in the event of an external crisis to help deal with a new situation. Making small but incremental changes such as thesecan help ensure success, and the sum of these improvements can lead to increased agility throughout every department in the businessremoving the need for large-scale changes that can prove disruptive to financial forecasting.

Blog posted on The accountant.

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