On the path to finance transformation: How three organizations succeeded



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Hear from some of our leading financial services customers on how they transformed their organizations with connected finance planning.

As anyone who has attempted to transform their finance organization knows, it can be tricky and time-consuming. It requires careful planning, resources, communications, and a strong team to get everyone on board. But, done well, it can help you better plan for the future, manage costs, minimize risk, and make more informed decisions for your business. 

As part of last year's Anaplan Connect event series, we had the opportunity to speak with executives from three major financial services organizations about their finance transformation journeys. All three cited siloed data, a lack of transparency, and disconnected business units as reasons for their transformation. 

In this blog, we’ve organized their insights into four top tips for a successful finance transformation. Spoiler alert: the key is in connectivity.

1. Align your business strategy: understand the gaps and the goals

For a successful finance transformation, you need to shift your focus from finance teams operating solely at a corporate level to connecting and becoming strategic partners with the business units across the organization.  

Once the finance function is operating as a strategic partner within the business, then you can get the most out of your digital transformation, providing synergy, better decision-making, and access to more detailed information like business drivers. This in turn enables you to adapt to market volatility, allocate resources better and ultimately improve your bottom line. 

A common challenge you may be experiencing is disconnected finance processes, and so your roadmap for embarking on a finance transformation is to understand the culture of your organization, the gaps, and the wider goals as a first step before you begin any planning, budgeting, or model-building.

“We took the time to step back and define what a best-in-class finance function would look like,” says a VP at a global investment company. “We didn’t just want to run into a solution and start throwing models in place without getting feedback, communicating to our stakeholders, or driving the principles of what change would look like and how they would benefit from it. So, we really took our time, three months in fact, to process map our current system, document the current pain points, and get feedback from stakeholders.”

For one multinational insurance company and financial services provider embarking on an expense transformation, how to handle the data integration was a big issue. To put this into context, the company manages $8 billion a year in general expenses, has 5,000 cost centers, and 38,000 employees. Previously, everything was managed in spreadsheets, so the aim was to streamline expenses across the entire organization and get onto a standardized platform. 

The organization’s finance executive recommends to, “really look at what type of data you need to source in, understand your data requirements, and start working with other teams — particularly if you’re in a large company like ours — to try to get that data integrated. There were a lot of players that were involved in order to get some of this data into Anaplan. Our lead times were a lot longer than we expected because there were so many teams involved, bureaucracy and red tape that we hadn’t thought through.”

2. Prioritize: take small but ambitious steps

Finance transformation is a journey and does not happen overnight. It demands a major change of mindset. First, you have to focus on process standardization and data governance before any kind of transformation can be rolled out.

Successful transformations should take an iterative approach, with small and continuous improvements taking precedence over “big bang” style change. This approach provides greater agility to test the data and the system, react to change, and quickly make adjustments as you go. It also enables you to showcase quick wins to the business and demonstrate the value of the transformation by delivering more insight. 

As the finance executive at the multinational insurance company and financial services provider says, “Prioritizing prioritization is huge. We always get a ton of requests for different enhancements and changes, and we worked to make sure that we were prioritizing effectively. That involved coming up with clear requirements, trying to prove out those requirements using prototypes and proof of concepts to make sure whatever we were putting down on paper was actually going to work before putting it into Anaplan.”

Taking small steps doesn’t mean thinking small though. The VP at the global investment company says, “We had tried to start these types of initiatives in the past, but we weren’t ambitious enough. We weren’t willing to rip the band-aid off. We would take about 5% of our processes and try to automate, but then we were trying to fit the old with the new and it created a lot of frustration. So, we were pretty ambitious this time and set a goal of 80% of our P&L in a driver-based model in Anaplan across the firm and we were successful in doing so.”

3. Change management: include the business

With any change, there is resistance. For some ditching the spreadsheets and stepping out of their comfort zone can be tough, but the key to change management is clear and consistent communication, collaboration, and demonstrating value.

“We did as much as we could to socialize,” explains the VP at the global investment company. “Whether it was through town halls, active live demoing during development, and really getting user feedback. This was a gamechanger from our finance associates’ perspectives. They were genuinely shocked and happy to sit next to a model builder, in real time, side by side, developing something and being part of the solution.”

Involve business stakeholders as early as possible in the planning process itself,” says an Anaplan partner, “so that they get what they need from the user experience at the front end.” This will save time later with regards to rebuilding or making adjustments at the back end.

With regards to demonstrating value, a senior business analyst at a multinational asset management company, “A big pro of Anaplan is the transparency that it gives us when it comes to calculations. Our teams can now drill down and see where the numbers come from, and what drives the calculation and the output. Another thing we did was automate a lot of the reporting, so people don’t have to spend time copying and pasting from Excel into PowerPoint, and this also helped to convince them to get on board.” 

Collaborating with the business is important but remember to assign a decision-maker and have clear parameters. Don’t get bogged down in details that are not going to make an impact and move on. In large, complex businesses like financial services organizations, it’s important to ensure there is a clear framework for feedback and requirements, so the project does not stall.

4. Next steps: never stop evolving

Finance transformation has been a gamechanger for these three Anaplan customers in terms of moving away from disparate spreadsheets, having reliable, real-time data they can hold accountable, and gaining instant analysis that has enabled these organizations to be more productive and creative in how they build upon their finance transformation. 

The senior business analyst at the multinational asset management company says, “We use the Anaplan app to showcase to our clients the portfolio and capabilities we can provide, as well as reporting, and they like that. It is more interactive to use Anaplan than traditional reporting, whether it's PowerPoint, Excel, or a Word document.”

For the multinational insurance company and financial services provider, Anaplan shaved two months of their annual planning cycle last year. The global finance transformation lead, explains, “It really helps put us in a better position when we get into the annual planning cycle that we are already forecasting another year out.”

The VP at the global investment company says that the standardization of data has allowed his organization to plan much more efficiently, but now it’s time to look at getting into the “predictive space.”

While these three organizations have achieved a great deal with their finance transformations, they all say they have not finished yet.

The VP at the global investment company says, “We're continuing to evolve, learn, and enhance in ways that continue to add value. We're building an ecosystem. It's a living, breathing thing. It’s not static. We’re not going to just put it on the shelf and say, mission accomplished. So, we have that continual drive of how do I improve it? How do I learn and get more data to get better insights?”

For a business manager at the multinational asset management company, the aim is to scale the business. “With Anaplan, we don’t spend that much time on the preparation of analysis anymore. Hence, we have more time for the analysis itself, and that allows us to scale our business. It doesn’t matter if we have one property or 100 properties — we can onboard them quite quickly.”

Whether it’s reducing complexity within the organization or providing accurate and accessible real-time data for better and quicker decision-making, these three financial services organizations aspire to better, driver-based forecasting. All aim to use their data and connectedness to improve the accuracy of forecasts, mitigate risks, enhance agility, and ultimately grow their businesses. With that kind of data at their fingertips, they can continue to formulate winning strategies to drive enterprise value well into the future.

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