The last quarter of the calendar year is also the end of the fiscal year for most companies. For finance leaders that can create both financial challenges and opportunities, and 2021 is no different. Coming out of a year that certainly represented recovery but not total victory over COVID, the end of this year is unique for other reasons. Opportunities for financial institutions, corporates, and mid-market companies could arise from an infrastructure bill if it passes in the US. And at this writing, potential threats of inflation and even government spending shutdowns loom large.

For most financial leaders the upcoming quarter will be more micro than macroeconomic, especially for the mid-market where basic cash flow issues and fundamental receivables and payables will dominate. As the quarter gets underway, we recommend the following four areas of focus for Q4.

Cash, cash, cash

Understand the challenges of end-of-year liquidity and reporting. That reporting should, at this point, happen beyond manual processes and within the digital infrastructure within your organization to gain maximum, automated visibility into that cash. It’s essential that this visibility clearly defines cash positions to understand the health of the business in the short-term as well as the long-term. For companies that have not completed the digital transformation journey, don’t obsess over completing it in time for end-of-the-year reporting. Pick your priorities. Digital infrastructure is critical. But if you still have manual processes, manage them with the tools you have.

Forecasting

Pay close attention to your payments and cash lifecycle to find improvement opportunities. Forecasting is critical for organizations in the mid-market space, even more so than for corporates with deep pockets. Using the right payments and cash lifecycle platform will help on several levels beyond the obvious automation advantages. It will allow your organization to efficiently play out different scenarios of what’s happening in your business. Whether your business is cyclical or consistent through the year, being able to forecast those ups and downs in your cash flow are essential, and more efficient with a digital platform. Think about how to predict your outcomes. It’s here that it becomes important for finance leaders to know their customers and be able to forecast the patterns they have around payables and receivables. If you understand those patterns improved customer relationships, and a more accurate forecasting process will result.  

Fraud is everywhere, keep a holistic, diligent view

Fraud is tied to cash flow because it can be a substantial obstacle to liquidity and accuracy. Fraudsters are constantly looking at the different schemes hitting the market and creating new ones that can interrupt cash flow management perspective. Analyze the types of payments that you’re receiving or processing that have been the target of fraud or have the potential to be targeted. If you’re an organization, for example, that either issues a lot of checks to make your payments or receives a lot of checks, and you’re seeing fraud in those areas, think about a digital strategy to convert those payments. So again, it comes back to the different varieties of payments and cash management. There are so many different processes depending on the instrument that’s moving that cash, and the anti-fraud systems in place. At this time of year, analyze fraud rates, be diligent about identifying the risk and step up your defenses.

Assess your digital journey

And be realistic as to how it fits into your end-of-year plans and tee your progress up for the next quarter. Most mid-market companies can’t balance all the issues in their digital transformation when it comes to crunch time. Listen to your team, get as much feedback as possible from the rest of the company, and find the biggest pain point. Prioritize accordingly. We’ve found that some companies tend to find a disconnect between staff that is actually processing the payments and more senior finance leaders. Think about how to bridge that gap in between. If you really take the time to understand that you will find the area of your business that most sorely needs a commitment to a digital transformation journey. Otherwise, you will be stuck making make small incremental gains and get frustrated that you’re not seeing bigger ones.

The Bottomline

Make sure you’re connected to all of your business, not just the financial elements. That’s particularly important as the year comes to an end and get your digital transformation needs at the top of the list after the end of the year rush is over.

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Posted by Jill McFarland

Jill McFarland is the general manager of accounts receivable solutions for Bottomline and has spent over 20 years working in the payments and financial technology space, including in both accounts payable and accounts receivable for Bottomline and Paymode-X.