CPA Congress: Strategic Financial Planning with Paulette Robinson
October 23, 2017
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The CPA Congress kicks off this week, and we’re bringing you an in depth look at the variety of topics we’ll be covering during the three-day Canberra conference. Next up, is one of Synergy’s partners, Paulette Robinson, talking about strategic financial planning.

Q: What is the overarching concept of strategic financial planning?

The idea of the strategic financial plan is to look at the organisation holistically, identify key priorities and work out how much it is going to cost the business to deliver those priorities.

The strategic financial plan looks at the challenges associated with budgeting and cash flow, as well as the costs for:

  • workforce planning
  • capital planning
  • information and communication technology (ICT) planning
  • accommodation planning.

Put simply, it looks at what an organisation does and what it costs to do it; the people, assets, processes and systems. It’s about discovering where the organisation should put its resources to achieve desired outcomes with the best bang for their buck.

Q: What is the purpose of strategic financial planning?

The purpose of the strategic financial plan is to provide strong, sustainable financial solutions.

Understandably, agencies tend to focus a lot on the year ahead because that’s what’s in their budget. And while this may be acceptable to some, we’re pushing for Chief Financial Officers (CFO) to become a strategic partner of the organisation. To do this, the CFO must look at the current year as well as the forward estimates.

Q: What is the key message for agencies when providing this service?

The two questions I would ask any agency are:

  1. What are your key challenges going to look like over the forward estimates?
  2. Do you know how much it’s going to cost to deal with those challenges and will you still be able to deliver your outcomes given your current funding?

If they can answer those questions positively, that’s good. If they can’t, then they certainly need our services. Recently, I’ve been working with an agency who has a decreasing budget over the forward estimates, they have a requirement to change their delivery activities and strategic priorities, and want to employ a different mix of skills to service new activities. So, the agency has to determine how they can make that work; remembering they have an ASL cap and budget restrictions.  In this case, workforce and ICT planning need to be a focus and solutions require full cost modelling across the agency to ensure changes are sustainable.

Q: How structured is the strategic financial plan method? Is it a ‘one size fits all’ approach or a case by case focus?

It is quite structured. We use key methodologies and processes to undertake strategic financial planning because the actual framework of delivering this service is much the same, regardless of size or complexity of the agency. However, the way a strategic financial plan looks at the end of the process varies significantly from agency to agency.

The line of questioning is always the same, to begin with; we want to know who the agency is, what they are responsible for, what their strategies and priorities are, and what they do on a day-to-day basis to achieve their outcomes.

After that, we focus on the detail around different areas within the organisation, their risks, budget details and business planning.  For a service agency, we might look at processes and procedures and how computer systems interplay with FTE to determine overall costs.

Q: Is there a particular level of agency using this service?

I would say it’s small to mid-tier agencies (but not limited to them), as they may not have the depth or breadth of resources to do this sort of work, and it often takes complex modelling behind the scenes to bring it all together.

Q: How is this a key part of Synergy’s offering?

The major part of this service is to provide the specialist skills in stakeholder engagement, cost modelling and, agency strategy and planning. This enables us to better understand how to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together and ask the perfect series of questions to provide sustainable financial solutions.

Q: How do agencies benefit from Synergy’s expertise?

It comes down to our in-depth understanding of the Commonwealth budget and financial framework. We understand how it works, how to get the best out of it, and how to apply it. This means that when we develop a strategy, we can look at the financials holistically, make sense of them, ask the executives the important questions about the future, and then apply that to a cost model to create a personalised strategy.

Q: How does this lead (or contribute) to high-performance in the workplace?

Having a good financial strategy means that everyone (from a financial perspective) knows:

  • what we do,
  • what we can afford,
  • what we must do to achieve our desired outcomes, and
  • how to do it in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Producing a strategic financial plan means that in answering the right questions, you identify what the best use of resources is on a holistic level. It helps agencies focus on specific outcomes and work on what’s the best resourcing plan to meet those outcomes.