Security and data privacy, enhanced data analytics, process improvements and challenges with regulators are among the major overall priority items identified by private equity-owned organizations heading into 2022, according to Protiviti’s latest Global Finance Trends Survey.
The survey, which includes responses from nearly 800 finance leaders at organizations owned completely or partially by private equity (PE) firms, shows that transaction planning and readiness as well as the changing demands and expectations of internal customers are also among the top 10 biggest issues on PE-owned organizations’ finance teams’ agendas. When asked to select a single, most important finance priority to address over the next 12 months, a majority of respondents identified cloud-based finance applications as number one, followed by environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics and measurements, and, again, security and privacy of data.
The focus on cloud applications by finance leaders at PE-owned organizations aligns with a general trend among finance groups across all industries to continue to invest in workflow technologies and collaboration tools that support their organizations’ remote and hybrid working models. Another key factor that is driving finance organizations to migrate to cloud is ensuring that the data in their systems and those of third-party partners remains secure and easily accessible.
The survey’s findings on ESG aren’t much of a surprise. Many of the world’s largest PE funds are channeling millions of dollars into green asset funds, among other ESG-friendly initiatives, driven by strong institutional investor interest in sustainable investing, rising public consciousness, and various regulatory actions. Additionally, a growing number of smaller and mid-size PE-owned firms and portfolio companies are trying to catch up to their larger counterparts, which accounts for ESG being high on their priority list.
In a separate question, 76% of the respondents from PE-owned firms stated that they are involved in conversations with senior leadership and/or boards to develop ESG metrics against which their organization would track progress. Also, a whopping 77% of the respondents indicated that their organizations are investing in new technology to assist with measuring and reporting on ESG risks and issues, compared to just 45% for all other non-PE owned organizations.
Consistent with the findings from finance leaders across industries, enhanced data analytics shows up in the top five areas that have experienced significant budget increases at PE-owned organizations. Indeed, data and analytics dominate many of the survey’s findings, underscoring the importance finance leaders lend to quality and completeness of the data they access, secure, govern and use. Among other things, forecasting and planning capabilities are being enhanced to access more data from suppliers and vendors, and finance leaders are scrambling to get their hands on complete and timely data to help combat fraud and criminal activity (like ransomware) — major challenges the pandemic has exacerbated.
The respondents indicated that their PE-owned organizations are investing heavily in robotic process automation (RPA), data security and privacy, cloud-based applications and data visualization. These four elements are identified at the top of the list of areas that have benefited from the biggest budget increases in 2021. Across many industries, financial teams are migrating various functions to the cloud to improve customer experience, reduce burdensome financial reporting processes and protect customer data. The investments in RPA (and other automation and machine learning tools) specifically are driven by the need to increase speed and automate more accounting activities so that finance teams can invest more time and thought into real-time analyses tailored to the needs of various internal customer segments.
For PE-owned organizations, we expect this trend toward greater automation to continue. The survey confirms that much: Nearly 70% of the respondents indicated that that their organizations are likely to increase automation to perform critical business functions within the next year.
Interested in learning more? Further insights and our full 2021 Finance Trends Survey are available at www.protiviti.com/US-en/insights/finance-trends-survey.