Make 2019 the year of striking a balance in a changing world

At KPMG’s Global Financial Reporting and Valuation Conference (GFRVC), attendees learned about striking a balance in dealing with current realities and rapidly evolving future challenges.

Balance in business, as in life, is key. For example, every part of a cheetah is designed for speed – except its long, almost bulky, tail; that’s designed for balance. It lets the cheetah change direction at top speed without losing its footing, ensuring its success and survival.
Admiral James Stavridis

In business, there’s the constant battle between acting for the now and preparing for the future. You need to fulfill your current business commitments, deliver promised returns to shareholders, meet payroll, pay creditors, and so on. But doing business as usual won’t cut it in this constantly changing, disruptive, and sometimes threatening world. The ability to strike a balance between delivering on today’s commitments while anticipating and preparing for a constantly changing tomorrow is a key to survival and success.

KPMG’s 10th annual Global Financial Reporting and Valuation Conference held in Miami last week shone a spotlight on how companies can maintain this proper balance. The conference brought together 200 finance, accounting, and tax professionals from more than 150 companies across numerous industries, as well as 90 KPMG partners, for two days of learning, dialogue and networking. Almost 60 percent of the participants had attended the conference in prior years.

The conference’s theme – the need to strike a balance in a changing world – was reinforced in the keynote address by Admiral James Stavridis, U.S. Navy (retired) and former Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Admiral stressed the need for organizations to stay prepared to meet all current contingencies and threats. At the same time, they must take steps to position themselves so they can respond to both expected and unforeseen risks from all corners of the globe. Striking the balance between these dual responsibilities is a difficult yet critical task.

The Admiral took the conference on a fascinating journey through the many threats and challenges the world is facing; terrorism, economic and military threats from world powers like Russia and China, and disruption from rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. And he addressed the newest weapon on the block – cyber security attacks – that can be wielded by individuals, organizations and/or countries. “The threat of cyber security hits the highest level of our national concerns – it has the potential to bring down our power grids, the financial and other industries, our national defenses – and on a more personal level, it can expose the most intimate details of our lives.”

What can financial executives and their organizations do in the face of all these potential changes and threats? This is where the concept of balance comes in. The Admiral offered some overarching principles that businesses can follow to help them strike the proper balance between dealing with the present and preparing for the future:

Study the environment: Continual education is a necessity – for individuals and organizations, alike. Change is a constant, and it’s happening more rapidly than ever. The more you know, the less likely it is that you’ll be surprised or caught unprepared by disruption. Go to industry conventions, open an office where cutting edge technology tends to spring up (e.g., Silicon Valley, Boston, Dallas, Pittsburgh), plug into universities renowned for innovation and thought leadership, and be a voracious reader.

Think outside the box: Innovation doesn’t just mean technology innovation. Sometimes it means finding a different approach to achieving your goal. The Admiral related how his troops had attempted a number of tried and true methods to gain the trust and support of a foreign fighting force. Finally, they succeeded by providing classes that taught the foreign soldiers how to read. Reading was a rare commodity in their country. By teaching them this skill, our troops elevated their status in the community – and won the support of local citizens and soldiers alike.

Build coalitions/partnerships: The Admiral spoke glowingly of the post-World War II Marshall Plan and how, instead of humiliating our beaten enemies, the U.S. helped rebuild those countries (e.g., Germany, Japan). These countries flourished and have become some of our strongest allies. Partnering or collaborating with even adversarial businesses can strengthen your position in the long run.

Don’t minimize “soft power”: There are times when you may need to play hard ball to win in business. But don’t minimize the effectiveness of soft skills, like communication, listening and compromise. “My philosophy has always been, confront when we must but cooperate when we can,” stated the Admiral.

Implementing some of these principles may require a reexamination and, perhaps, a revamping of your current financial, business and operating models. But doing so can help you maintain proper balance, anticipate change, and be prepared and agile enough to meet any challenges you may face – now and in the future.

The GFRV conference also took deep dives into a number of critical business topics that impact financial professionals. These sessions not only uncovered interesting, sometimes surprising, and always useful information, they delivered practical, actionable strategies that attendees will be able to go back and apply in their own organizations. Here’s an overview of the sessions:

  • Domestic and international tariffs have been in the headlines over the past year. A panel of KPMG professionals and commentators walked through the minefield of geo-political disputes, global trade concerns, and punitive and retaliatory tariffs, and offered an assessment of where these issues are heading over the next several years. The panel also offered some rapid-response tactics companies can – and have – adopted to generate a competitive advantage. Bottom line: You need to factor in tariffs, quotas and trade restrictions when you assess your supply chains and potential M&A deals.
  • KPMG professionals and a panel of CFOs discussed the changing role of the CFO in today’s tumultuous business environment. CFOs can no longer just be “scorekeepers;” they have to evolve and become more strategic and knowledgeable about the business, technology and cyber issues than ever before. The CFOs on the panel discussed how they’ve balanced the need to meet current challenges while positioning their organizations for future success.
  • The evolving nature of technology, including cloud, blockchain, robotic process automation, artificial intelligence and cognitive, is transforming the way companies do business. It impacts who you hire, how you do business with vendors, what metrics you need to link and analyze, and much more. KPMG’s technology professionals explored the potential benefits – and pitfalls – new tech offers the finance and accounting functions as well as the profound impact they have on the everyday life of the CFO.
  • The new tax law has been in effect for almost a year. A panel of KPMG tax experts examined some of its intended – and unintended – consequences, and its likely implications on businesses in the future. They also addressed the impact that the recent Congressional elections might have on future tax and other legislation. The panel weighed in on tax planning, structuring and M&A opportunities that CFOs might want to consider in light of the current business, political and tax environment.

The conference also featured several breakout sessions that covered a variety of critical business topics, including M&A opportunities and pitfalls, SEC enforcement trends, valuation guidance, and talent acquisition strategies for the finance function.

Stay tuned for a deeper dive recap of the 2018 GFRV conference.

Plan for next year’s conference: KPMG’s GFRV Conference is an invitation-only event. If you want to stay ahead of your competition, maintain your balance in this changing world, and remain on the cutting edge of new developments, please connect with one of us and request an invitation to next year’s event.

Kevin Voigt (KPMG US) and Dean Bell (KPMG US) providing welcome remarks at the 10th annual Global Financial Reporting and Valuation Conference.