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Can CFOs balance the books with rising operating costs?

Source: Finance Derivative

Mark Blakemore, Chief Finance Officer at Compleat Software, the purchase to pay (P2P) software house

As almost every single finance leader (98%) surveyed by Deloitte recently said they anticipated operating costs to rise this year, how can they balance the books in the face of some of the most challenging economic forecasts in recent history?

Almost half (46%) of the CFOs surveyed also said they expect these rises to be significant, while 71% believe operating margins will fall over the next 12 months.

High inflation and interest rates have overtaken concerns over brexit and the pandemic, putting the pressure on businesses to operate with fine margins.

The spotlight is on CFOs to balance growing operating costs while maintaining growth, but can it be done?

Is there an endgame?

With no exception, the day-to-day expenses associated with the maintenance and administration of a business are rising. From the cost of energy, to raw materials, labour shortages and rising interest rates.

Ultimately if businesses do not find solutions to deal with rising operating costs, businesses will fail, further compounding the issues faced.

In this era of predictable unpredictability, CFOs face an unenviable challenge that needs to be met, with both optimism and practicality – it is a good job that CFOs have broad shoulders!

Given the global, interconnected and data-driven way in which businesses operate, the pace of change is often rapid and long lasting, due to the relationship between the key factors impacting a business’s bottom line.

The hangover of Brexit and the pandemic have blended with rising geopolitical risks associated with the war in Ukraine, set alongside record inflation, globally – all are driving costs up for businesses.

Even if businesses provide and sell more services, they’re not making the margins they once did, which will see constant knocking on the finance door to provide answers to this significant challenge!

Donning the battle armour

CFOs are answering the door and facing the challenge head on. But what approach should they take? Tighten purse strings, reduce energy consumption, remove the dead wood, invest in better practices – all of the above?

It is not quite as simple as that.

CFOs are in a unique position to balance the books in the face of rising operating costs, as the scope of their roles allows them to impact upon all aspects of a business, from steering strategy around technology investments, to ensuring supply chain resilience, as well as influencing talent management and even organisational culture.

CFOs should not be scrambling to batten down the hatches and adopt simple cost cutting measures that they may have undertaken during the pandemic, such as reducing workforces, stopping bonuses and increasing prices and expect this to ride out.

There are simply too many factors involved, which are intertwined.

CFOs are presented with a great opportunity to introduce much needed innovation into their businesses. This could take the form of creating new products, or services, entering new markets, as well as looking to invest in technology to innovate and automate processes.

Unleash innovation by leveraging intelligent automation

In these times of narrow margins and increasing costs for pretty much every business commodity, organisations are increasingly turning to their CFOs for strategic direction and to drive business transformation.

The role of finance professionals has altered dramatically over recent years due to emerging and proven technologies, such as intelligent automation, AI and machine learning – all of which help CFOs to streamline processes, improve accuracy and maximise compliance – in short, CFOs can assist businesses to accomplish more with less by, investing in true automation.

Many financial operations can, and are fully automated, using currently available technologies.

CFOs which embrace emerging technologies to automate finance operations can free up significant resources within their organisations, in areas such as cash flow forecasting, invoice processing, accounts receivable – freeing up resources to add value in other areas of the business, as well as accessing vital business data gained from automation to help drive business decisions.

By ensuring that a business spends less time dealing with manual, time consuming tasks, CFOs can pave the way for the business to implement strategies to support their employees in reinvesting their energy into work that requires more creativity and critical thinking.

Adopting intelligent automation and emerging technology now allows forward-thinking finance leaders to remain competitive amidst today’s complex challenges.

CFOs have many solutions at their disposal to help balance the books in the face of rising operating costs.

By taking a holistic approach to the problem and fully embracing the benefits of automation, CFOs are able to free up significant resources in their organisations to focus on strategic leadership and innovation, helping them to balance the books in the face of rising operational costs.

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Business

Driving business success in today’s data-driven world through data governance

Source: Finance derivative

Andrew Abraham, Global Managing Director, Data Quality, Experian

It’s a well-known fact that we are living through a period of digital transformation, where new technology is revolutionising how we live, learn, and work. However, what this has also led to is a significant increase in data. This data holds immense value, yet many businesses across all sectors struggle to manage it effectively. They often face challenges such as fragmented data silos or lack the expertise and resources to leverage their datasets to the fullest.

As a result, data governance has become an essential topic for executives and industry leaders. In a data-driven world, its importance cannot be overstated. Combine that with governments and regulatory bodies rightly stepping up oversight of the digital world to protect citizens’ private and personal data. This has resulted in businesses also having to comply e with several statutes more accurately and frequently.

We recently conducted some research to gauge businesses’ attitudes toward data governance in today’s economy. The findings are not surprising: 83% of those surveyed acknowledged that data governance should no longer be an afterthought and could give them a strategic advantage. This is especially true for gaining a competitive edge, improving service delivery, and ensuring robust compliance and security measures.

However, the research also showed that businesses face inherent obstacles, including difficulties in integration and scalability and poor data quality, when it comes to managing data effectively and responsibly throughout its lifecycle.

So, what are the three fundamental steps to ensure effective data governance?

Regularly reviewing Data Governance approaches and policies

Understanding your whole data estate, having clarity about who owns the data, and implementing rules to govern its use means being able to assess whether you can operate efficiently and identify where to drive operational improvements. To do that effectively, you need the right data governance framework. Implementing a robust data governance framework will allow businesses to ensure their data is fit for purpose, improves accuracy, and mitigates the detrimental impact of data silos.

The research also found that data governance approaches are typically reviewed annually (46%), with another 47% reviewing it more frequently. Whilst the specific timeframe differs for each business, they should review policies more frequently than annually. Interestingly, 6% of companies surveyed in our research have it under continual review.

Assembling the right team

A strong team is crucial for effective cross-departmental data governance.  

The research identified that almost three-quarters of organisations, particularly in the healthcare industry, are managing data governance in-house. Nearly half of the businesses surveyed had already established dedicated data governance teams to oversee daily operations and mitigate potential security risks.

This strategic investment highlights the proactive approach to enhancing data practices to achieve a competitive edge and improve their financial performance. The emphasis on organisational focus highlights the pivotal role of dedicated teams in upholding data integrity and compliance standards.

Choose data governance investments wisely

With AI changing how businesses are run and being seen as a critical differentiator, nearly three-quarters of our research said data governance is the cornerstone to better AI. Why? Effective data governance is essential for optimising AI capabilities, improving data quality, automated access control, metadata management, data security, and integration.

In addition, almost every business surveyed said it will invest in its data governance approaches in the next two years. This includes investing in high-quality technologies and tools and improving data literacy and skills internally.  

Regarding automation, the research showed that under half currently use automated tools or technologies for data governance; 48% are exploring options, and 15% said they have no plans.

This shows us a clear appetite for data governance investment, particularly in automated tools and new technologies. These investments also reflect a proactive stance in adapting to technological changes and ensuring robust data management practices that support innovation and sustainable growth.

Looking ahead

Ultimately, the research showed that 86% of businesses recognised the growing importance of data governance over the next five years. This indicates that effective data governance will only increase its importance in navigating digital transformation and regulatory demands.

This means businesses must address challenges like integrating governance into operations, improving data quality, ensuring scalability, and keeping pace with evolving technology to mitigate risks such as compliance failures, security breaches, and data integrity issues.

Embracing automation will also streamline data governance processes, allowing organisations to enhance compliance, strengthen security measures, and boost operational efficiency. By investing strategically in these areas, businesses can gain a competitive advantage, thrive in a data-driven landscape, and effectively manage emerging risks.

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The Benefits of EV Salary Sacrifice: A Guide for Employers and Employees

As the UK government continues to push for greener initiatives, electric cars have become increasingly popular. The main attraction for both employers and employees is the EV salary sacrifice scheme.

By participating in an EV salary sacrifice scheme, both employers and employees can enjoy cost savings and contribute to environmental sustainability along the way! This article will delve into the specifics of how these schemes operate, the financial advantages they offer, and the broader positive impacts on sustainability.

We will provide a comprehensive overview of the mechanics behind EV salary sacrifice schemes and discuss the various ways in which they benefit both employees and employers, ultimately supporting the transition to a greener future in the UK.

What is an EV Salary Sacrifice Scheme?

An EV salary sacrifice scheme is a flexible financial arrangement that permits employees to lease an EV through their employer. The key feature of this scheme is that the leasing cost is deducted directly from the employee’s gross salary before tax and National Insurance contributions are applied. By reducing the taxable income, employees can benefit from substantial savings on both tax and National Insurance payments. This arrangement not only makes EVs more affordable for employees but also aligns with governmental incentives to reduce carbon emissions.

For employers, implementing an EV salary sacrifice scheme can lead to cost efficiencies as well. The reduction in National Insurance contributions on the employee’s reduced gross salary can offset some of the costs associated with administering the scheme. Additionally, such programmes can enhance the overall benefits package offered by the employer, making the company more attractive to prospective and current employees.

Benefits for Employees

1. Tax and National Insurance Savings

By opting for an EV salary sacrifice scheme, employees can benefit from reduced tax and National Insurance contributions. Since the lease payments are made from the gross salary, the taxable income decreases, resulting in substantial savings.

2. Access to Premium EVs

Leading salary sacrifice car schemes often provide access to high-end electric vehicles that might be otherwise unaffordable. Employees can enjoy the latest EV models with advanced features, contributing to a more enjoyable and environmentally friendly driving experience.

3. Lower Running Costs

Electric vehicles typically have lower running costs compared to traditional petrol or diesel cars. With savings on fuel, reduced maintenance costs, and exemptions from certain charges (such as London’s Congestion Charge), employees can enjoy significant long-term financial benefits.

4. Environmental Impact

Driving an electric vehicle reduces the carbon footprint and supports the UK’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Employees can take pride in contributing to a cleaner environment.

Benefits for Employers

1. Attract and Retain Talent

Offering an EV salary sacrifice scheme can enhance an employer’s benefits package, making it more attractive to potential recruits. It also helps in retaining current employees by providing them with valuable and cost-effective benefits.

2. Cost Neutrality

For employers, EV salary sacrifice schemes are often cost-neutral. The savings on National Insurance contributions can offset the administrative costs of running the scheme, making it an economically viable option.

3. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Implementing an EV salary sacrifice scheme demonstrates a commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. This can improve the company’s public image and align with broader environmental goals.

4. Employee Well-being

Providing employees with a cost-effective means to drive electric vehicles can contribute to their overall well-being. With lower running costs and the convenience of driving a new EV, employees may experience reduced financial stress and increased job satisfaction.

How to Implement an EV Salary Sacrifice Scheme

1. Assess Feasibility

Evaluate whether an EV salary sacrifice scheme is feasible for your organisation. Consider the number of interested employees, potential cost savings, and administrative requirements.

2. Choose a Provider

Select a reputable provider that offers a range of electric vehicles and comprehensive support services. Ensure they can handle the administrative tasks and provide a seamless experience for both the employer and employees.

3. Communicate the Benefits

Educate your employees about the advantages of the scheme. Highlight the financial savings, environmental impact, and access to premium EV models. Provide clear guidance on how they can participate in the programme.

4. Monitor and Review

Regularly review the scheme’s performance to ensure it continues to meet the needs of your employees and the organisation. Gather feedback and make adjustments as necessary to enhance the programme’s effectiveness.

Conclusion

The EV salary sacrifice scheme offers a win-win situation for both employers and employees in the UK. With significant financial savings, access to premium vehicles, and a positive environmental impact, it’s an attractive option for forward-thinking organisations. By implementing such a scheme, employers can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and employee well-being, while employees can enjoy the benefits of driving an electric vehicle at a reduced cost.

Adopting an EV salary sacrifice scheme is a step towards a greener, more sustainable future for everyone.

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Business

Machine Learning Interpretability for Enhanced Cyber-Threat Attribution

Source: Finance Derivative

By: Dr. Farshad Badie,  Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science and Informatics, Berlin School of Business and Innovation

This editorial explores the crucial role of machine learning (ML) in cyber-threat attribution (CTA) and emphasises the importance of interpretable models for effective attribution.

The Challenge of Cyber-Threat Attribution

Identifying the source of cyberattacks is a complex task due to the tactics employed by threat actors, including:

  • Routing attacks through proxies: Attackers hide their identities by using intermediary servers.
  • Planting false flags: Misleading information is used to divert investigators towards the wrong culprit.
  • Adapting tactics: Threat actors constantly modify their methods to evade detection.

These challenges necessitate accurate and actionable attribution for:

  • Enhanced cybersecurity defences: Understanding attacker strategies enables proactive defence mechanisms.
  • Effective incident response: Swift attribution facilitates containment, damage minimisation, and speedy recovery.
  • Establishing accountability: Identifying attackers deters malicious activities and upholds international norms.

Machine Learning to the Rescue

Traditional machine learning models have laid the foundation, but the evolving cyber threat landscape demands more sophisticated approaches. Deep learning and artificial neural networks hold promise for uncovering hidden patterns and anomalies. However, a key consideration is interpretability.

The Power of Interpretability

Effective attribution requires models that not only deliver precise results but also make them understandable to cybersecurity experts. Interpretability ensures:

  • Transparency: Attribution decisions are not shrouded in complexity but are clear and actionable.
  • Actionable intelligence: Experts can not only detect threats but also understand the “why” behind them.
  • Improved defences: Insights gained from interpretable models inform future defence strategies.

Finding the Right Balance

The ideal model balances accuracy and interpretability. A highly accurate but opaque model hinders understanding, while a readily interpretable but less accurate model provides limited value. Selecting the appropriate model depends on the specific needs of each attribution case.

Interpretability Techniques

Several techniques enhance the interpretability of ML models for cyber-threat attribution:

  • Feature Importance Analysis: Identifies the input data aspects most influential in the model’s decisions, allowing experts to prioritise investigations.
  • Local Interpretability: Explains the model’s predictions for individual instances, revealing why a specific attribution was made.
  • Rule-based Models: Provide clear guidelines for determining the source of cyber threats, promoting transparency and easy understanding.

Challenges and the Path Forward

The lack of transparency in complex ML models hinders their practical application. Explainable AI, a field dedicated to making models more transparent, holds the key to fostering trust and collaboration between human and machine learning. Researchers are continuously refining interpretability techniques, with the ultimate goal being a balance between model power and decision-making transparency.

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