It’s Never Too Late for Benchmarking

Benchmarking Webinar

Finance executives are busy people. But as we emphasized in a recent blog post, it’s still important that they take time to benchmark their accounting and finance operations against those of their peers.

Robert Half and Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), the research affiliate of Financial Executives International (FEI), together provide two easy ways for finance leaders to stay on top of trends in workforce management, accounting operations, financial systems, sourcing, and internal controls and compliance:

  • They can download a free copy of the newly released Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function 2015 report, which features data derived from a survey of more than 1,400 executives in North America. This is the sixth annual edition of this popular report.

  • They can listen to the complimentary on-demand webinar that examines select data points and key learnings from the Benchmarking report. The presentation is led by the report’s authors, Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, and Tom Thompson, FERF’s senior associate, research.

Chad Martinson, CFO for Minnesota-based Upsher-Smith Laboratories, Inc., and Tom Webster, CFO for First West Credit Union in Canada, also shared their insights during the webinar, which was held on June 11, 2015. Here are a few highlights from the event, by topic:

Workforce management

According to the Benchmarking report, general accounting (23 percent), accounts payable (15 percent) and accounts receivable (12 percent) represent the highest allocation of staff resources for accounting and finance functions. Percentages for general accounting and accounts receivable were up slightly this year — a trend McDonald says could be attributed partly to improving economic conditions and related business expansion.

On this subject, McDonald asked Martinson how staffing allocation at his company has been changing. Martinson said, “We are shifting toward team members with greater expertise in certain areas, and focusing more of our efforts on decision support and strategy support. More specifically, [turning] more toward financial planning and analysis … while reducing the number of team members [dedicated to] repetitive transactions or those that can be automated.”

Martinson added, “The mindset that I’ve tried to create within the team and within the organization is that finance should serve as a catalyst for value creation … and not just a team that reports numbers.”

Financial systems

Research for the Benchmarking report found that about half (49 percent) of U.S. companies and 55 percent of Canadian companies do not currently use cloud-based solutions — and don’t plan to do so in the future.

Webster, who works in the financial industry, noted that general security concerns, such as cybercriminals targeting sensitive data, and data security regulations inside and outside of Canada, have been primary reasons for First West Credit Union taking a cautious view of the cloud. But he says that now, “We are embarking on developing a strategy [for using] cloud-based solutions for finance functions and banking solutions.” Webster explains that the need to reduce costs and improve efficiency are motivating factors for his organization wanting to explore greater use of the cloud.

As for security concerns, Martinson suggests that companies — especially small and midsize organizations — wary of the cloud consider that the third parties providing this technology are likely to have security well covered. “It’s often easy to assume that maintaining control over security is best for the organization, but that may not be the case … a lot of these hosting companies [are able to invest more] than most small companies can or will make to ensure systems are safe,” he says.


Most companies in the United States (72 percent) and Canada (66 percent) surveyed for the Benchmarking report expect the compliance burden to increase over time. Some respondents noted they have gained a better handle on regulatory issues, but more continue to face a rising burden.

FERF’s Thompson asked Martinson what changes in the compliance landscape have had — or will have — the most impact on his organization. Martinson said that transitioning to the new revenue recognition standard could initially increase resource needs for the finance function. But he adds that it is not likely to compare to the level of changes that were required in the early 2000s to address SOX compliance.

Webster agreed that regulatory compliance pressures were becoming more manageable for his organization, as well. However, simply being in the financial sector means that the regulatory burden will always be a focus for the credit union.

“We are increasing staff considerably, especially in our risk department,” Webster says. “We even implemented a chief risk officer this year.” He added that these recent measures are driven more by “the uniqueness of our industry” than any financial reporting needs.

Don’t miss out

These are only a few snapshots of the discussion that took place during the 1-hour webinar. If you want to find out how your accounting and finance function measures up, it’s not too late. You can view the webinar or read the report from Robert Half and FERF at a time that’s most convenient for you:

  • Register here for the on-demand webinar.
  • Download the free Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function 2015 report.

We hope you’ll check out both of these resources, and share them with your colleagues. And when you’ve finished your review, let us know what you think of the research by providing feedback in the comments section below. We’d like to hear from you.