Deloitte Belgium’s CFO says Anaplan plays a major role in her strategic vision
Kathleen De Brabander is Chief Financial Officer at Deloitte Belgium. In a recent interview, originally published in Dutch in CFO Magazine and on www.fm.be in September 2021, De Brabander explained how she sees Anaplan playing a major role in the future of business. The following excerpts are translations, reprinted here with permission.
As part of their embrace of digital transformation, Deloitte Belgium has implemented a number of major initiatives in the past two years, among them, the adoption of the Anaplan platform for Financial Planning & Analysis solutions. As the CFO of this regional division of the global business consulting giant, Kathleen De Brabander considers Anaplan’s flexible planning software as a critical tool in obtaining accurate analysis. “It’s important to go from data to insights, and thereafter from insights to impact,” said Ms. De Brabander.
In the following Q & A, Ms. De Brabander describes the role of Anaplan in her business transformation scheme, her responsibilities as CFO, as well as the importance of being in a strategic position.
When you received the offer to become CFO of Deloitte Belgium, you thought about it for a long time. What was the deciding factor?
De Brabander: “The initial job offer came unexpectedly, I had to search for confidence. Will I be able to combine this? Why are they asking me? Above all, I wanted to make an informed choice because such a role would have an impact not only on the organization, but also on my family and the clients I serve as an audit partner. Ultimately, it was Deloitte’s values that made the decision easy for me. The fact that people wanted to offer me this opportunity shows trust in me. Of course, diversity also played a role, and it was a good moment to show diversity for all my female colleagues. And then you just need to do it.”
Regardless of whether the new CFO is a woman or a man, is the role a major challenge?
De Brabander: “Absolutely, but over the years I’ve always been challenged. By projects, customers, and also in my work-life balance. I’ve always received a lot of support from within the organization and there was always great coaching. I’ve always been able to turn to someone, which has helped me enormously while giving me confidence. This is one of the biggest values within Deloitte: coaching and guiding people.The fact that I’m a mother of four sons and was therefore out on maternity leave four times has never been a hindrance in my career. I’ve always been given the same opportunities as my male colleagues.”
Deloitte Belgium underwent a digital transformation period that reshuffled the department into that of a business partner model. How important is this to you?
De Brabander: “Very important. You need to use the technology that’s available. I’m very proud of what we’ve implemented over the last two years. We started with the implementation of Salesforce two years ago, to collect data across all of our business units, capturing our opportunities and pipeline in the system. Also linked to this was the implementation of Anaplan, where we opted for a powerful and flexible budgeting module.”
Was this a necessary change in Deloitte’s budgeting processes?
De Brabander: “Our previous tool was too slow and didn’t have enough computing power. In a world that is constantly changing, and where so much data is present, it’s critical to be able to rapidly calculate multiple scenarios in a flexible way. We have rolled out Anaplan within central finance, in my team, but also in all our business divisions to make budgets and forecasts. In the past two years, we have also implemented S/4HANA and a ServiceNow portal where our employees can ask their questions.”
What was the value of finance through these implementations?
De Brabander: “Linking the systems. This is where the strategic role of finance comes through. What do we want to measure? What is our goal? What growth do we have in mind? How do we want to achieve it? In order to be able to report this, we have that pipeline from Salesforce, we can conduct a powerful budget in Anaplan that can be continuously updated, and we have the actuals from S/4HANA. Turning all that data into insights leads to impact. There is a huge amount of business data available to finance through these systems, and the finance function returns it back to the business, analyzed and with accurate insights that the business can use. So, on the one hand, the value of finance is there, but the fundamentals also remain important. We can implement many systems and treat data but we need to have the right data. Here too, finance plays a crucial role in ensuring that internal controls along with business processes are correctly in place. Only in this way do you get a complete, accurate picture.”
What is the advantage of a tool like Anaplan during long periods of disruption?
De Brabander: “In Anaplan, we have also integrated the entire workforce planning piece. After all, we are a people business, and our workforce and the correct use of it determine the success of Deloitte and the motivation of our people. Outside of measuring our pipeline in Salesforce, our people are the beating heart of our business operations. The weeks after the first general lockdown last year were remarkable. There was a lot of uncertainty about the continuity of our projects and general cash flow. Right before COVID, we had our cycle of evaluations, rewards, and promotions planned. We had to make important decisions.”
“Thanks to Anaplan’s powerful platform, we were able to immediately run multiple scenarios and estimate the size of the impact. We have been able to make well-founded decisions in the short term, one of which was not to change our promotion and reward policy. I am very proud that our team has been able to achieve this. We have taken our responsibility to our people and to society seriously. Modeling the various scenarios in terms of P&L and cash flow have also led to a very well documented banking file, with which we have negotiated loans to finance working capital.”
The future of decision-making is digital. And with the use of AI, little seems impossible. How do you view this?
De Brabander: “Artificial intelligence with ‘big data’ can certainly help, but I am mainly in favour of smart data. Structured information that finance can deliver in combination with controlling with the critical question: Can this be done? The healthy, critical reflex must always be there. You can’t lose touch with the data.
Finally, will the CFO have a more pronounced role in 2030?
De Brabander: “The role of CFO is already quite pronounced today. The role of CFO often depends on the situation in which they find themself. In times of crisis, the role seems to be growing, but the role can also change. It all depends on what responsibility the finance function takes in topics such as data management, ESG reporting, non-financial information, or the evolution in general compliance and regulation.”
About Kathleen De Brabander
Kathleen De Brabander is a certified public accountant who started as an auditor in 1996 at Deloitte Belgium. She moved up the corporate ranks going from manager to director and then to audit partner in 2010. In 2019, Kathleen was appointed CFO of Deloitte Belgium and a member of the Executive Committee. She is the proud mother of four sons and is surrounded by a strong finance team that is inspired by one of Deloitte’s biggest internal values, to take care of each other.
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