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  • Writer's pictureAriel Menche

What is Strategic Finance?



This is the first of 8 posts about building a culture of Strategic Finance in your business.



I am grateful to have learned more from my clients than they have learned from me.


Here’s a conversation I had a few years ago with a particularly tall client that has stuck with me ever since. Let’s call him Maximus.


Maximus: “My accountant created us an amazing 5-year budget, but the investors want a model to support it. I heard you're good at modeling. Can you build us one?”


Me: “Sure let’s do it. But tell me, how did you come up with this budget?”


Maximus: “We just outlined our revenue and spending goals.”


Me: “I see. Could you describe your go-to-market strategy?”


Maximus: “We have 4 Account Executives (AEs) who handle all our sales.”


Me: “And your average contract value?”


Maximus: “$15k for annual contracts.”


Okay, I thought, interesting, and looked again at the model.


Me: “According to the model, you're going to expand your sales team to 50 by Year 5 to achieve that $300M Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) goal, right?”


Maximus: “What? No, I only have 4 AEs. I don't plan to hire more of them.”


Me: “Alright, I'm confused. How many sales are these 4 AEs expected to close each month?”


Maximus: “20 deals per month per person. It's easy, the product sells itself.”


If I wasn’t already skeptical, this is when I became downright incredulous.


Me: “Even if it does, your sales team won’t meet your goals. Even if they close 40 deals each month. Think about it. They would need to close even more. 80 deals every month per person from day one, assuming no churn. That's ridiculous…”


I looked at Sales & Marketing spend, which was even crazier.


Me: “And how are you generating leads? Your marketing budget stays constant at $10k a month for the entire 5 years.”


Maximus gets peeved: “Why are you asking me all these questions? Why can’t you just make the model?”



What is Strategic Finance?

This might seem like an exaggerated conversation, but it's an actual dialogue I had with my second client as a Strategic Finance Advisor when I started Raftel Strategy in Fall 2020.

As you can see, the client wanted me to just input numbers on a spreadsheet without considering the model’s actual use and potential. To him it was just a checkbox to secure funding. He didn’t care what it said as long as it got done.


This got me thinking.


How many of you view your models similarly?


Do you see real strategic value in your forecasts and scenario analysis, or are you just throwing numbers together to send to your board or investors?


There was a misunderstanding between me and Maximus. He believed he had an accounting problem while I offered a finance solution. He wanted data for the sake of data, I pushed him to leverage data to extract insight and (ultimately) make good business decisions.


This brings us to Strategic Finance, one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts. Here’s what it’s not. It’s not all the stuff you normally associate with finance teams, like processing payroll, managing receivables, and running the books. And no, it’s not chasing receipts either.


Strategic Finance is blending financial expertise with strategic guidance to determine how processes, investments, funding, and operational strategies can be advanced to improve the top and bottom lines.

It’s not just descriptive, but prescriptive. It’s not just identifying the right numbers, but using them to make recommendations and drive decisions.


That’s a huge world away from the usual stuff finance teams do (like receipt-chasing) which are primarily accounting, not finance and certainly not strategy.


That’s where the term Strategic Finance comes in. As finance teams shift focus to improving the bottom line, they are rebranding: from “Finance” to “Financial Planning & Analysis” — and now, oftentimes, “Strategic Finance.”


Despite the rebranding, finance teams still spend too much of their time reviewing invoices and receipts, chasing expense reports and managing budgets. They still don't spend enough time on strategy.


But the desire to change is there. A 2022 survey by Payhawk and Harvard Business Review revealed that 83% of executives believe “having a finance department that does not contribute to business strategy is a business risk.” 89% said that “finance teams offer a unique and valuable perspective on business challenges.”


Nonetheless, 67% admitted that their finance departments likely spend most of their time on tasks like chasing down receipts.


This gap is our raison d'etre at Raftel Strategy. We are here to close it.





How Does Strategic Finance Work?

Strategic Finance blends financial expertise with strategic guidance, determining how processes, investments, funding, and operational strategies can be advanced to improve the bottom line. It brings clarity to complexity, distilling large swaths of data into actionable insights that drive business decisions and create value.


In upcoming posts, I’ll explore the key components of an effective strategic finance team. These include:

  • Data Piping

  • Dynamic Forecasting

  • Reporting Automation

  • Business Acumen

  • Team Relationships

  • Culture


If any of these elements are misaligned, the team is likely to be bogged down in non-value-adding activities like receipt-chasing.


About me: I established Raftel Strategy after years at KPMG Strategy, where I collaborated with partners from top firms like McKinsey, Booz Allen, BCG, A.T. Kearney, Oliver Wyman, and Bain. I also managed the financial budgets of WWE-star and then Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon at one of the world’s most exciting public companies, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Since then, I've consulted for 70+ companies across various stages and industries to implement strategic financial functions. I’m eager to share both the successes and failures I’ve encountered.


Come along the journey.


Summary

  • Strategic Finance is different than accounting, focusing not on receipt-chasing but rather distilling data into strategic operational insight.

  • Strategic Finance is an integral part of the CFO's office. Too many teams neglect this.

  • Missing a Strategic Finance function poses a serious risk to any company because mere budgeting and expense management is not enough to sustain and grow a business.

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