Beyond Payables: The Evolution of the Modern Financial Ecosystem

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1 Beyond Payables: The Evolution of the Modern Financial Ecosystem Contemporary business management has grown more and more complex as organizational objectives and goals evolve. Back-office and traditional functions that were once considered simple costs of conducting business now hold true strategic value. The aspects of the modern financial ecosystem, which integrates attributes related to accounts payable, accounts receivable, trade finance and global payment management, can drive operational efficiencies when supported and managed by effective capabilities and competencies. The average organization, focused on driving down operational costs related to invoice-processing and settlement, as well as improving visibility into corporate cash flow, can benefit from proficient management of this ecosystem. The Value (and Future) of the Financial Ecosystem One of the more intriguing aspects of analyzing traditional corporate processes is gauging the true perception of items that were once considered back-office with little-to-no strategic value. According to Figure 1, the majority (61%) of organizations in the Beyond Payables survey pool indicate that the modern financial ecosystem is considered a critical component of conducting global business. September 2012 Analyst Insight Aberdeen s Insights provide the analyst's perspective on the research as drawn from an aggregated view of research surveys, interviews, and data analysis The Financial Ecosystem The financial ecosystem is a broad term meant to describe the complex series of functions within modern financial management, such as A/P, A/R, trade finance and global payment management. Figure 1: The Value of the Financial Ecosystem 2% 4% High value; critical component of global business 33% 61% Moderate value; only some units view as integral Low value; considered a cost of conducting business No value Percentage of Respondents, n=60 This document is the result of primary research performed by Aberdeen Group. Aberdeen Group's methodologies provide for objective fact-based research and represent the best analysis available at the time of publication. Unless otherwise noted, the entire contents of this publication are copyrighted by Aberdeen Group, Inc. and may not be reproduced, distributed, archived, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written consent by Aberdeen Group, Inc.

2 Page 2 This revolutionary new overarching view of processes related to A/P, A/R, trade finance / trade partner management and global payment management enlightens the business world to one predominant notion: the linkage between these processes is more than operational. Maximum efficiency across all of these attributes can help organizations truly understand cash flow and how they are managing their finances (both spending and receivables). Top Priorities Although each component of the financial ecosystem carries its own unique set of intricacies, when viewed as a single, robust infrastructure of processes, one significant priority arises in the eyes of organizations across the globe: improve overall visibility into cash flow and cash management (78%, Figure 2, below). Figure 2: Top-of-Mind Aspects in Managing the Financial Ecosystem As discovered in the A/P Invoice Management in a Networked Economy report (May 2012), there is a reliance on interconnected financial systems (internal accounting platforms, trade partners, banking and payment institutions, etc.) for not only managing the receipt and approval of invoices, but also other financial management processes that have the same level of criticality across the organization. This networked economy influence (described in the previous paragraph) reduces the executive view into available cash and its flow throughout organizational functions. Also, an impedance in one phase of this networked ecosystem (i.e. manual inefficiency in the settlement process or poor invoice approval processes) will effectively shatter visibility into the implications of proper cash flow.

3 Page 3 Similarly, by lowering invoice-processing costs (44%), organizations can increase the level of cost savings and boost operational value across this financial supply chain. The Future of the Financial Ecosystem The financial management processes associated with internal relationships (A/P and A/R) and external relationships (banking, trade finance / trade partner management and global payment management) that are now linked via the networked economy effect may be connected by traditional workflows, however, the failure to manage these aspects in a strategic, integrated manner has directly resulted in the organizational pressure to improve visibility into cash. As unveiled in this Beyond Payables research study, the Aberdeen Group has found that less than half (45%) of organizations currently manage the strategic aspects of the modern financial ecosystem in a centralized manner (Figure 3). Figure 3: Current and Expected Structure of the Financial Ecosystem However, when we look to the future of this financial ecosystem, the vast majority (70%) of organizations are expected to manage A/P, A/R, trade finance / trade partner management and global payment management under a centralized, single umbrella. This finding proves that financial executives, realizing how these processes are already inherently-linked via complex workflows, are prepared to encompass these attributes under a centrallymanaged program / division to improve operational performance and achieve a much-heralded state of extraordinary cash flow visibility.

4 Page 4 Leaders and Followers Framework Within the set of respondents for the Beyond Payables benchmark survey, Aberdeen has identified a series of leaders and followers based on performance results as indicated in Table 1 (below). Table 1: Leaders / Followers Performance Framework Definition of Maturity Class Leaders: Top 30% of aggregate performance scorers Industry Average: Bottom 70% of aggregate performance scorers Mean Class Performance 87% rate of visibility into overall organizational cash flow on a day-to-day basis Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) rate of 22.3 days Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) rate of 25.8 days 20% rate of visibility into overall organizational cash flow on a day-to-day basis Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) rate of 35.7 days Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) rate of 34.4 days Leaders are known for their top-tier level of visibility into overall organizational cash flow, a factor that proves that these companies are actively and strategically managing all components of the modern financial ecosystem in such a way that they are still able to control their knowledge of cash management. These organizations are also achieving leading rates of both Days Payable Outstanding (DPO) and Days Sales Outstanding (DSO), further quantifying the notion of effective management of the modern financial supply chain. As we will learn in the corresponding sections, these Leaders are leveraging a wide swath of core capabilities, competencies and technology enablers to reach this level of financial success. Effective Capabilities in Managing the Financial Ecosystem It is only through the continued reliance on key programmatic capabilities and competencies that Leaders are able to full maximize the value from strategic management of the financial ecosystem. These capabilities are outlined in Table 2 (below). Table 2: Core Competencies and Capabilities Capability Leaders Followers Standardize payment processes (to ensure consistency in discount capture and accurate cash flow) 77% 50%

5 Page 5 Electronic payment requirements established as a standard means of conducting business with key suppliers Visibility into all stages of the electronic payment process (from payment origination to settlement) Documented process for payments that is shared internally and externally Cross-functional coordination of payments management between procurement, finance, treasury, IT Ability to measure cash flow performance across the organization (standardized cash flow analysis) 77% 43% 62% 36% 61% 44% 54% 49% 40% 23% Standardization of payment processes sets expectations with regards to the protocol and processes, enabling organization to pay at scheduled intervals of time, which if timed correctly, can help companies capture early payment discount. According to the survey, Leaders are 54% more likely to standardize their payment processes compared to Followers. Uniformity and consistency in the accounts payable and the accounts receivable side can reduce guess-work out of the cash flow position, which in turn can enhance an organization s forecasting ability. Furthermore, Leaders are over 1.7 times as likely as Followers (43% vs. 20%, respectively) to track cash flow performance across the organization via standardized cash flow analysis. The ability to assess and improvise cash flow performance only fosters the bond in the financial ecosystem, where AP, AR, trade finance, and global payments are all intertwined. Leaders also outpace Followers by an overwhelming percentage (nearly 80%) in regards to setting expectations and establishing a set of electronic payment requirements for conducting business with key suppliers. The ultimate goal within A/P is to pave way for straight through processing (STP) by reducing manual intervention as much as possible and expedite / standardize processes via automation. In order to accomplish this objective, it is not only important to ensure adoption of electronic payment capabilities internally but also to enable trading partners and encourage key suppliers to embrace similar platforms. In fact, according to the A/P Invoice Management in a Networked Economy study, 26% of Best-in-Class companies (top 20% of enterprise performers based on a series of performance criteria) cited devotion of resources for supplier enablement for electronic invoice submission as one of the key strategic actions for facilitating AP improvement processes.

6 Page 6 Financial Technology: Giving Leaders an Edge Although much of the focus on the financial ecosystem lies within the organizational attitude and management strategies applied towards this arena, the fact remains that leading organizations have found inherent value in leveraging technology and other tools to boost the effectiveness of financial management processes (Figure 4). Figure 4: Technology / Solution Utilization Full accounts payable automation, in place in 46% more of Leaders than Followers, can be considered a foundational form of technology that affects the full spectrum of financial ecosystem processes. A/P automation includes digital scanning for invoice receipt phases and sets up an automated series of processes in which invoices are collected, information is extracted, invoices are approved and then set up for settlement. Many of the inefficiencies within the financial ecosystem lie within the initial steps of the A/P function. Payment factories, utilized by nearly 70% more Followers than Leaders, eliminate manual settlement processes and align payments to specific formats (ACH, wire transfer, etc.) for full operational efficiency. These factories harmonize payment workflows, reduce costs associated with payment processes and enhance protection against compliance risks. Trade financing technology, leverage by 45% more Leaders than Followers, allows financial executives to improve A/R and collection processes by offering a portal in which to send and receive electronic payments and invoices, thus reducing operational costs and improving mitigation of financial risks. This technology solution will also ensure real-time visibility into cash flow as a result of the crucial finance information that flows through the portal.

7 Page 7 The CFO s Evolving Role in Managing the Financial Ecosystem The office of the contemporary Chief Financial Officer is traditionally focused on supporting organizational strategies and serving as a conduit between spend management stakeholders and the executive office. In light of economic conditions and the need to ensure agility within the dynamic framework of the financial ecosystem, it becomes critical that CFOs expand their responsibilities for the greater good of the enterprise. Aberdeen research has found that CFOs in leading organizations are 72% more likely than those CFOs in following companies to hold the main responsibility for cash flow analysis, a factor which speaks to the fact that Leaders have markedly superior visibility into organizational cash flow. CFOs typically hold a vast array of knowledge of their enterprise s financial dealings; with this intelligence and access to a wide framework of processes, CFOs can gain an accurate picture into available cash and link that information to the executive office to allow for enterprise-wide planning, budgeting and forecasting. Figure 5: Financial Ecosystem Attributes in Which the CFO Holds Main Responsibility An organization and its business units are only as strong as its weakest link. This adage couldn t be more applicable than it is to today s business environment (as well as the networked economy) where cross-functional and inter-departmental collaboration is an assumed mode of operation. Therefore, involvement of senior-level executives can no longer be relegated to one core function or department and for a truly cohesive organization, CFOs are now showcasing a high level of interest across the key financial functions, such as A/P, A/R / collection activities and global payment management, as well as the evolving concept of the financial

8 Page 8 ecosystem. By grounding these responsibilities into such a high-profile role, leading organizations are actively able to dissect their cash flow and execute informed business decisions based on that intelligence. Key Takeaways and Recommendations for Program Improvement In order to thrive in this intricate financial ecosystem, organizations need to embrace a holistic approach for conducting business, where A/P, A/R, trade finance and global payments are functionally integrated. The following recommendations can assist organizations in improving visibility into cash flow and gaining more value out of the financial ecosystem: Place emphasis on how aspects of the modern financial ecosystem are linked and managed as a means of pinpointing gaps and opportunities for improvement. Support management of this ecosystem with specific enablers, such as payment factories, full A/P automation and trade financing tools. Put the power of liquidity and cash flow analysis in the hands of the CFO. Maintain a strategic outlook for managing the financial ecosystem.

9 Page 9 For more information on this or other research topics, please visit Receivables Management for the Long Term: Balancing Collections and Customer Service; August 2012 A/P Invoice Management in a Networked Economy; May 2012 Related Research Treasury Strategy and Operational Cash: The Importance of A/P and A/R; May 2012 Effective GRC Management: Strategies for Mitigating Risks and Sustaining Growth in the Tough Economy; May 2012 Authors: Christopher J. Dwyer, Research Director, Global Supply Management and GRC / Financial Ankita Tyagi, Senior Research Associate, GRC / Financial Management For more than two decades, Aberdeen's research has been helping corporations worldwide become Best-in-Class. Having benchmarked the performance of more than 644,000 companies, Aberdeen is uniquely positioned to provide organizations with the facts that matter the facts that enable companies to get ahead and drive results. That's why our research is relied on by more than 2.5 million readers in over 40 countries, 90% of the Fortune 1,000, and 93% of the Technology 500. As a Harte-Hanks Company, Aberdeen s research provides insight and analysis to the Harte-Hanks community of local, regional, national and international marketing executives. Combined, we help our customers leverage the power of insight to deliver innovative multichannel marketing programs that drive business-changing results. For additional information, visit Aberdeen or call (617) , or to learn more about Harte-Hanks, call (800) or go to This document is the result of primary research performed by Aberdeen Group. Aberdeen Group's methodologies provide for objective fact-based research and represent the best analysis available at the time of publication. Unless otherwise noted, the entire contents of this publication are copyrighted by Aberdeen Group, Inc. and may not be reproduced, distributed, archived, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written consent by Aberdeen Group, Inc. (2012a)

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