Two new reports ranking the speed of closing of the world’s largest listed companies have just been published – Close Cycle Rankings 2013 from BPM International and the Close Cycle Report 2013 from PWC – (registration required). For folk who like lists, rankings and ‘Best of’ charts, they make fascinating reading and enable you to benchmark your performance against your peers in your region – global rankings being largely meaningless due to the differences between local reporting requirements.
Both reports show that the steps change reductions in reporting times that were common 5-10 years ago seem to have washed through as most companies have now addressed the major bottlenecks that delivered the big wins. If companies want to make further progress, then it probably means fine tuning the process particularly around the ‘last mile of finance’ - disclosure management. SAP itself is a perfect example of this. The company comes second in the FTSE Europe Top 100 rankings by Public Announcement date and 29th in the rankings by Audit Date reflecting steady gains of a couple of days on each measure that came after implementing SAP® Notes Management to gather financial data, such as pension disclosures, that is not available in the company’s accounting records from its 235 subsidiaries around the globe. At the same time, SAP also implemented SAP® Disclosure Management to automate the data transfer from the company’s accounting and consolidation systems to generate both internal and external reports. The combination of these two applications supports SAP® in the preparation and generation of reports in compliance with key regulatory requirements such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Form 20-F and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
Other companies, many of them SAP’s customers, have made similar progress, but both reports point out that the global financial crisis has made companies hyper-cautious about risking re-statements. So the good news is that companies’ underlying capabilities could well be much better than the results shown in the tables. And as long as they haven’t been hampered by integrating a major new acquisition, most companies that made the step-change a few years back have since sustained a fast close.
Being ranked at the top of these tables should give most CFO’s and their corporate finance teams a nice warm feeling. But you should also reward yourselves with a glass of bubbles. You can certainly afford to because, unless you are one of the newer companies such as Google or Amazon with a simple reporting structure that will automatically take you to the top of these tables, speed of closing is a good proxy measure of the overall health, efficiency, effectiveness and quality of finance processes and systems. PWC also write that they see a ‘close correlation between the speed of year-end external reporting and the speed of internal reporting used for decision-making, analytics and insight in organisations’. So if you are fast at external reporting, then you are typically fast at internal reporting – and if anything that’s more important as it’s the foundation of good performance management essential for driving the business forward. That makes your success, doubly worth celebrating.