In this section I will deal with some issues in a detailed and, at the same time, simple way about the world of controlling, its topics, both strategic and operating ones, both the current approaches and the future trends, that is the way the companies "do it" and are going to do it and, of course, my advice.
70. The Soft Skills of the "Budgeters"
69. Praise for the Activity-Based Management - More in Fashion than Ever
68. The Crisis of Net Present Value
67. The Correct Framework of a Cost Center's Manager Performance Evaluation
66. Valuation of a Company? Which Approach Makes Sense Today?
65. OKRs and their Strategic Use in the Finance Dpt
64. Flexibility in Real Investments, its Financial and Strategic Value
63. When Depreciation Does Make Sense for the Operating Decision Making
62. Variable Costing vs Full Costing for the Profit Center Assessment
61. The New Evolution of the Performance Indicators
60. Management Accountant Profession in the Spotlight - The Last Song
59. Digital Assets and Customer Data: How to Evaluate Them as Fixed Assets
58. How to link the Capital-Investment Decisions to the Strategy
57. A full view on the use of the Value Chain Analysis
56. Labor-Intensive Businesses and the Learning Impact on Cost Estimation
55. Strategic Reporting Adherence: Lean, from the processes to the accounting
54. Zero-Based Budgeting and its Strategic Sides
53. How Many Kinds of Overhead Variance Analysis!
52. Project Control and some Risk Assessment Methodologies
51. When the Operating Leverage is used as an excuse
50. A Common Manufacturing Accounting "Misundertanding"
49. Make the Right Price.
48. The Choice of the Kind of Bonus: Advantages and Risks
47. How Well is Your Company Using Its Money?
46. ROI: Some Strategic Sides about it and other financial performance metrics
45. Value Creation or Value "Invention"?
44. The Strategic Cost of Quality
43. The Rule of Thumb doesn’t exist
42. Why is the Healthcare Cost Accounting so peculiar?
41. The strategic sides of Target Costing
40. The great implications of the true Capacity Costs (PART TWO)
39. Which is the Most Profitable Customer?
38. The Game of the Ending Inventory
37. How the "work" of the Support dpts affects the Cost Accounting Settings
36. Only Just In Time?
35. The "Way" to spot the real profitability by product
34. Risk Management: some important metrics
33. Another useful "piece" of variance analysis for the BU
32. Budgeting process: not only a numerical issue
31. The great implications of the true Capacity Costs (PART ONE)
30. How does the Lean Accounting support the decision making?
29. The strategic interpretation of the productivity measurement (PREVIEW)
28. How deep you can dig and some strategic aspects in the variance analysis
27. Strategic distortions in the capital-budgeting project evaluation
26. Some errors in the capital-budgeting analysis
25. How and why to try to understand the real trend of the overheads
24. The cost variance analysis in the project control (INTRODUCTION)
23. The cost management and the customer-driven value model (PREVIEW)
22. What if you compete on timeliness and speed to customers?
21. The Strategic Fixed Overheads
20. The assessment of the State of the Work according to the activities
19. The choice of an appropriate costing system
18. How to deal with the uncertainty in the estimation process
17. The importance of the Product/Service Life Cycle costs
16. Resource Consumption Accounting: a comprehensive management accounting system
15. Strategic Transfer Pricing: Cost-based and Negotiated Price Methods
14. Motivation and other strategic factors in the Transfer Pricing: Market Price
13. Strategic sides of ROI
12. SBU's manager evaluation: - Nonfinancial measures and strategic structure
11. How can you evaluate your business?
10. How do you deal with the indirect costs?
9. A very useful "piece" of variance analysis for the BU
8. Are you getting right about the estimation of the overheads?
7. Constraints? Here is the way to make decisions
6. Are you customer-oriented? Here's how you can know about that
5. Global succes indicator
4. Which kind of standard cost is it convenient to set?
3. Joint products: how the contribution margin is calculated
2. ABC: - Great difference in calculating the financial variances versus the traditional costing systems
1. The cost of the complexity
70. The Soft Skills of the "Budgeters"
Lecturing in budget and its steps doesn't concern this article that focuses instead on what many top managers neglect when setting the financial and nonfinancial objectives to the responsibility center managers of the firm and to the firm as a whole.
The Budget process is long and takes a high level effort to translate the goals of a company into numbers that may reflect ambitions, the real capacity of the firm as a whole and with regards to each single unit, its weaknesses, market conditions and the ""will" of the business unit managers that put into play their expertise in exchange for the acknowlegement of their action by negotiating the resource amount they need.
The last element is the most difficult, that's for sure, and the result of this negotiation can distort the way of the business towards the execution of its strategy the stronger the internal power of the managers involved.
How can you lead this negotiation without damaging the company?
The main factors you shoud take into account are Motivation, Goal Congruency, Controllability, Strategic Consistency as the main features of budgeting.
What are they like?
As to the motivation, it consists of the push that budget should give to the managers of each business unit to achieve the goals assigned to them.
Of course the view of the top managers and a top-down approach, that means setting directly objectives for all the responsibility centers, can be risky since the targets identified couldn't be agreed by the people accountable for the activities and the resources used in the subunits concerned.
At this point the negotiation stage that all of us, finance people, know become longer and longer.
My suggestion is to adopt a mixed approach, halfway between the bottom-up and the top-down extremes, involving to a certain degree the managers of the responsibility centers that in doing so feel even more important their role within the entire organization and that at the same time allows the overview of top management able to coordinate all the business units towards the firm's objective achievement.
The second point I want to deal with is the goal congruency between the objectives of the business as a whole and those of the subunits.
An example can highlight this factor even more.
Let's suppose that the top managers of the X Group sets a sale increase of some brand-new products as a target for the coming year.
At the same time a strong cost reduction in the Marketing and Sales department is requested to the its manager.
The amount of resources that should be used by the Mkt & Sales function throughout the launch stage of a product/service is well-known and that's why a severe and indiscriminate cost cutting policy impacting all the business' departments is counterproductive for the goal of the sale increase achievement.
Here a cross-functional knowledge of the business processes comes in, since it is essential to those responsible for translating the strategy of the firm into consistent operating budget goals for the period concerned.
What about the Controllability factor?
In my opinion it is the most complex issue that requires a distinction between variable costs and fixed costs.
The example is my favourite approach.
Let's guess that a manufacturing cost center manager sees, as usual, a threshold put to its maintenance costs.
Many believe these kinds of costs are directly proportionate to the output expressed through either working hours or machine hours and that's the reason why in our example we suppose that they are allocated to "him" on the basis of the budgeted machine hours in that center.
This limit is beneficial to him since the budgeted hours are higher in comparison with those of other manufacuring centers that as a result cannot take advantage of a fair of maintenance costs.
Let's guess the manufacturing cycle is more complex and less productive in cost centers with fewer budgeted hours since the machinery is obsolete, for instance, and requires more interventions to check its working.
At the year's end these managers with fewer hours but more complex manufactuting processes see their maintenance costs overtake their budget amount and that is the reason why they won't not "rewarded".
The main reason for this perverse and unfair mechanism is that the real factors impacting the maintenance are hidden and as a resulted not controlled.
The solution is pinpointing the right cost drivers that in this example doesn't concern the machine hours but others to be spot so that maintenance costs can be controlled in the most fair way even by those who have taken advantage of the wrong allocation method used so far.
The advantages are two: a reduced cost of maintenance as a whole and a positive impact on the motivation side of the managers that were been "discriminated" by the old method.
The second aspect of the controllability concerns the fixed costs, involving the Investment/Profit Centers where you can find controllable fixed costs and noncontrollable ones.
The formers (such as some research projects, operating advertising, sales promotion....) can be directed within the budget period (one year) and as a result put under the responsibility of the respective managers; the latters (such as depreciation, insurance,....) cover more periods and usually depend on past decisions that weren't made by the present Investment/Profit Center managers.
When setting a cost target in those cases in view of a correct and fair manager performance evaluation the noncontrollable fixed costs must be taken off the performance basis.
In the end you cannot neglect as a soft skill of the budgeters the Strategic Consistency of the bugdet with the long-term goal of the firm.
The budget objectives for each business unit should reflect the goals of the organization set into a multi-year plan that gets the place where the firm wants to be at the end of the period indicated.
For instance if the top management wishes to differentiate the firm even more from its competitors after a lapse of time, it cannot put some severe evaluation basis for the performance of the managers period by period through the usual financial and nonfinancial indicators since the "leap" forward in terms of efficiency or profitability is achieved usually in the final years of the multi-year plan.
If you don't follow this approach, the mission itself of the business won't be accomplished.
The solutions to this aspect are not so hard to be found and a smart and forward-looking budgeter won't have any difficulty to apply them.
69. Praise for the Activity-Based Management - More in Fashion than Ever
After discussing many times with my peers, CFOs, top managers, partecipating in many virtual meetings, I came to the conclusion the Cost Management concept in this year, 2023, more than ever in these weeks, hit rock bottom.
The misleading idea that the allocation of the indirect costs to product, customer, distribution channel, etc. according to one or another approach is in the end an useless sum-zero game that doesn't bring value to the business not only has been spreading in these uncertain times across all the decision-making lays of an organization but it has been going with another unavoidable certainty: the present lack of governability of many direct costs.
This issue concerns both the volume of the resources involved and the outlay needed to grab them as the result of the supply chain troubles affecting many materials and commodities following mainly the current geopolitical standing that impacts quantity, timing of the delivery and the prices.
This situation crosses the most part of industries and lead the business' management to shift their attention to the most controllable (in their opinion) and predictable item: Revenue.
I have a different opinion about this aspect but reflecting on this general opinon trend it's natural to me to state this.
Today Activity-Based Management is the most "trendy" and useful cost management technique we know.
It's an approach based on the Activities and focus its "formula" on the ones that create value to the customers according to their perspective and not only to the internal view of the managers.
Following this link activity/value they generate Revenue.
Many consider the Value-Add Activity identification in their own company just as a procedure of difficult and/or time-consuming realization, not to say of the determination of the money spent on them.
Nothing more false.
At this point a recall of their meaning together with some examples is useful to the understanding of this category.
This category includes all the activities performed to meet the customer preferences about the attributes the product/service needs to have in order to persuade them to purchase it.
In other terms the resources and the related costs the companies spend on these activities generate revenue.
Of course, what I have just explained is good for both manufacturing businesses and for service ones.
These attributes vary from industry to industry and reflect the importance the customers give to them and may be several.
I want to make two simplified examples of what I have just written:
1° Example (Manufacturing business)
You are a manufacturing company and you know that your customers of a specific segment are sensitive to the Price and to the Color of the product.
All the manufacturing cycle performed to achieve the base product and its costs will be traced to the Price attribute, while painting phase costs will be traced to the Colour Range attribute if the customers give value to it as one of the main purchase reasons.
2° Example (Service business)
You are an engineering company and your strength is the skills of your people to customize the projects. Imagine you design train coaches and your customers want some of those ones with comfort equipment.
As a result, the hours worked by your engineers and the linked costs incurred to differentiate in that direction the original project are traced to the Comfort attribute.
An important punctualization must be made.
Not only the activities linked to the main functionalities of the product/service give Value Added to the customers.
We must consider also, as an example, the speed of the delivery when important, the after-sales services helping the customers better utilize the goods purchased and those activities on request.
The exhamination and the classification of the value varies from industry to industry.
A price leadership business will pay much attention to the activities identified, and their costs, with the “Price” attribute to which all the operating work performed to "bring to life" the core of the product/service are traced.
A company with a differentiation strategy, on the contrary, will pay much attention to other attributes.
After this explanation, it's fundamental to highlight that after the determination of the activities/attributes that create value and revenue and their evaluation, the Activity-Based Management determines the ratio between Revenue and Costs incurred on each Value Attribute allowing the management to see how much they are spending in the right direction and setting the corrections when needed in their decision making.
A most detailed dissertation on ABM could dig dip into the characteristics and the steps of this approach that is not just a fascinating exercise, but the content of this article was highlight how the features of this method contribute a lot to reduce the uncertainty of these times and fill the gap between the importance tha businesses' managers are giving to the governability of Revenue and the one they attribute to the governability of Costs.
If ABM receives more practical applications, the profitability mechanisms of a firm will become more clear.
68. The Crisis of Net Present Value
In one of my articles (n. 66) I wrote about the "crisis" of NPV when evaluating a whole business but the customer evaluation (CLV) could be even more complicated.
That's as more true as more indebted the firms are.
In fact, when you use NPV you should discount the future cash flows ALSO by taking into account the cost of debt of the business as a component of the whole cost of capital.
As you know the Cost of Capital formula is:
WACC= Re x E/D+E + Rd(1-t) x D/D+E
WACC = Weighted Cost of Capital
E = Equity
D = Debt
Re = Cost of Equity
Rd = Cost of Debt
t = Corporate tax rate
The cost of debt when you don't consider the accounting method, that provides a formula like Total Financial Interests to Total Financial Liabilities, is done by referring in one way or another to the predominant or expected interest rates for the time involved.
As you know the volatility of interest rates is extreme nowadays and it seems to me that it will endure for long.
In these conditions one of the most important factors in understanding in an accurate way the present and the expected standing of the economy, and as a result the time value, is the financial market expectations.
That's why I can guess to determine the cost of debt through the well-known yield curve by subtracting the interest rate (return) of the government bonds with maturity preceding where you are at a precise point in time from the interest rate (return) where you are at precise point in time.
This is to be done year by year, until you reach the maturity of the bonds with the same duration as the lapse considered as the average life of a customer/customer group.
That's a concept that needs an example to show how it works.
Exhibit 1 - Government Bond Yield Curve
Let's suppose you are evaluating the Customer LifeTime Value of a group of your Business' Customers through the discounted Cash Flow Method tha make uses of given WACC consisting also of the cost of debt.
The average Customer's lifetime is 5 years.
The cost of debt to which discounting the yearly cash flows (together with the cost of equity) must be calculated year by year this way (Blue Line):
Rd at year 1 = 1.5%
Rd at starting point = 0
Cost of debt to be used to discount the net cash flows from year 0 to year 1 = Rd1 - Rd0 = 0.8 - 0 = 0.8%
Rd at year 2 = 0.8%
Rd at staring point = 0
Cost of debt to be used to discount at year 1 the net cash flows from year 1 to year 2 = Rd1 - Rd0 = 1.5 - 0.8 = 0.7%
In so doing we arrive to the maturity of those bonds with the same duration as the lapse considered as the average life (5 years) of the chosen customer/customer group.
This is just a hypothesis but there isn't a rule of the thumb as there was in the recent past, instead.
My suggestion is that one should think of the right method according to the industry and some other factors that I would be happy to share directly with you.
67. The Correct Framework of a Cost Center's Manager Performance Evaluation
Throughout my experience i have just encountered just a few controllers aware of the appropriatness of the features of the cost center system in place that justified the kind of strategic evaluation of their managers' performance.
What was on place was unarguable and immutable.
Moreover the approach to measure and evaluate a Strategic Business Unit can be requested to change over the time due to some behaviours of the managers that try to elude their responsibility for the costs incurred or to be incurred in their cost center.
That's the reason why a smart controller should be monitoring the kind of costs into a BU over the time and set up the corrective actions either by requiring a change in the measurement and evaluation method or by making BU's managers "get back on track".
But let's make step by step.
Many companies have their measurement and evaluation system of the performance of the cost center looking at the short term and as result to take into great consideration the financial aspect.
At his point the basics of the cost analysis come into play.
We divide costs according to their sensitivity to the business's output variation into variable and fixed ones.
This sensitivity translates into a higher degree of controllability of the variable costs compared to the fixed ones and this, as we have seen in different articles on this webage, produces different impacts on the choices of the top management during the business's life.
One of these effectcs concerns the settings of the cost center's manager performance evaluation that shift their focus following the predominance of the variable costs over the fixed ones or viceversa.
Let's suppose that a cost center sees a higher share of fixed costs and the strategy of the business is to compete based on the Cost Leadership.
This strategy in practical terms should mean limiting the investments and the most attention is on the planning stage that is the beginning of the reference period when the forecast amount to spend on those costs is restricted.
The performance evaluation at the end of the period is less important since the variation of the fixed costs, within some ranges, is not linked to the variation of the firm's output.
Following the same principle, when the business'strategy turns to innovation/differentiation of products-services to the customers and the cost structure is again mainly "fixed", the manager's performance evaluation based on financial aspects at the end of period is even less important since the budgeted amount of cost is higher the the previous case.
Both in the former and in the latter case the strong suggestion is to accompany the evaluation system in place with nonfinancial performance indicators even the focus of all that is the short term.
What about the opposite case?
When the variable costs are predominant into a cost center the focus of the performance evaluation goes to the end of the reference period just because most part of their ongoing amount is to be traced back to the decisions and skills of the concerned managers.
All the kinds of the variance analysis take as a result more value in assessing the managers.
Be aware not to charge the responsibilty of some external causes to the accountabilty sphere of the managers because this could be see as unfair and bring about lack of motivation.
In the lines above I mentioned the attention a controller should pay also to the behaviour of the managers of the cost centers just with regards to the financial performance evaluation purposes.
Many managers choose to address spending decisions that consist mainly of fixed costs in order to subtract them from the basis of their evaluation.
This phenomenon is called Cost Shifting.
Another case to be considered is the Budget Slack that happens mainly when costs are mainly variable.
Many managers when negotiating the money to be spent on the activities of their cost center aim at setting a target as high as possible so that their goals could be hit more easily and this is even more true when the strategy of the business consists of the Cost Leadership!!
The most appropriate framework of a cost center's manager performance evaluation is to be taken into great account not only for rewarding them in a fairly and motivating way but even for the health of the whole company in view of the cascade issues potentially arising in a hyperconnected reality like a company.
Further details about this topic are to be considered and that's why I invite you to check the website publications out regularly!!!