Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

The 8 Questions You Must Ask Before Working With Any Business Credit Building Company

There are few business credit building companies out there, however, those that are out there are taking advantage of the lack of knowledge from the general public regarding business credit and how to get a business loan.DON’T LET THEM RIP YOU OFF!I’m going to try to show how to get unlimited capital for your business…Without risking your personal assets, lowering your personal credit score, or damaging your personal credit historyThese 8 Simple Questions will ensure Your Success Building Business Credit when looking for a Small Business LoanThere are simply too many people who hire business credit building companies that are not happy with the results. Before choosing another company, if you ask these 8 questions you will be assured that you will be working with a legitimate company who can help you build business credit and more importantly get the small business loan you seek. Getting that business loan is after all what you’re looking for, isn’t it?Why is it so important to work with knowledgeable advisor? Why can’t you do it on your own? The Fair Credit Reporting Act does not apply to the business credit bureaus; this means that if you make a mistake, skip a step, try and take a short cut, your business credit file can be “Red Flagged.” This means your company is prohibited from receiving credit and perhaps that elusive business loan.There is a proven step-by-step process that MUST be followed if you plan on properly building your business credit and getting working capital. If you don’t follow the proven process then you can be put into the “High Risk” category. When that happens, no lending institution will give you a cash advance or small business loan and there is nothing you can do to remove it.Make sure to choose a honest credit building company that has the knowledge, experience and proven systems to support you, before you decide whom you will work with, make sure to ask them these 8 vital questions.Question #1Will I be obtaining only trade credit or CASH credit?Be careful, there are a number of companies out there that will only help you obtain trade credit. Trade credit can only be used with the individual creditor, and nowhere else. This is great if you need $3000 of paper products, but is useless if you need payroll loans, inventory loans, or simply to cover business expenses or expand your company.And if it is CASH credit, will I always need to personally guarantee the application?”If the company says you will always have to personally guarantee all types of credit – then you are NOT receiving the full benefit of business credit. Keep in mind, the solution must introduce you to business funding services that will not require a personal guarantee, however these non traditional lenders will still be checking your personal credit and need your social security number. They do this to stay in banking compliance.Question #2:Will a trained coach show me, step by step, how to incorporate my business and build business credit with an eye to getting that merchant loan or business loan?My guess is that if you wanted to figure out the intricacies of incorporating your business, and building corporate credit on your own… you would have already done so. (I’ve done it. And believe me… this is NOT stuff you want to muddle through on your own.)So if you won’t be receiving step-by-step instructions supported by a trained credit coach, resulting in a predictable successful outcome, call another company. (I’ll spell out each step for securing business loans without traditional personal guarantees in crystal clear detail in a later article).Question #3:If I get stuck while I’m taking all those necessary steps, will I have to pay you hundreds or even thousands to help me figure it out?Many companies charge low fees up front and continue to tack on heavy, additional charges each time you call or write for help.Make sure they deliver everything you need to know to secure a bad credit business line of credit or high risk business loans, all without the traditional personal guarantee. Make sure you will have access to a dedicated coaching advisor and who places no limits on how often you can speak with them.Question #4:Will you have the ability to set up capital loans, and monitor the development of your business credit score with all major business credit agencies all within your coaching platform?Why work with an advisor who is trying to blindly lead you!Question #5:When companies promise to get you cash credit, ask them this pointed question: “What type of paperwork is required to get cash lines of credit?Beware of companies that say it is not required to furnish any financial statements, tax returns, business plans, bank statements, etc., to obtain a small business loan without a traditional personal guarantee. When it comes to getting approvals for cash advance without a traditional personal guarantee, you will need to show that your company is financially responsible and you do this by showing it earns revenue, pays its bills on time and has establish good business credit.If the company tells you that you can obtain this type of financing without providing any real documents, don’t bother working with them, they are not being honest.Think about it, is a lender really going to give you hundreds of thousand of dollars without a traditional personal guarantee without you having to show them that you are a “safe-risk?” Over time I will show you exactly what you need to do in order to become a safe risk and secure a small business loan.Question #6:How are your coaches paid?This is a really important question! How would you like to work with someone that could care less if you obtain the business loan you desperately need? Think about it!Question #7:When it comes time to apply for a business loan, are you going to pass me off from lender to lender?This is another very important question. Virtually every credit building company will, when it is time to apply for a business loan, pass you off to one lender to apply, and then tell you to go and apply at the next lender and so on. They literally end up sending you on a wild goose chase and just hope that one of the non traditional lenders can obtain capital loans for you. Does this sound like something a real business credit and financing expert would do?Question #8:What kind of a guarantee do you offer?”It’s critical to get the specifics about guarantees. Because most companies that offer guarantees or promise only that your corporation will get a 80+ Paydex score. While this is a start, it’s not good enough -If after completing your program, you should have:Corporate Compliance and documentation reviewD&B file and a D&B ratingD&B Paydex ScoreBusiness credit file with Corporate Experian with an intelliscoreBusiness credit file with business Equifax with the appropriate business credit score.Trade accounts and/or Vendor Accounts with and without a personal guarantee.A Business Credit that can be used to leverage financing opportunitiesThis is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of all the questions entrepreneurs should ask when it comes to building corporate credit. But if you address these costly and dangerous errors, you will be on your way to building a safe, secure, and financially sound business-the business you always dreamed of!Hopefully, these 8 questions will help ensure that you work with a credit building company that will be honest, upfront as well as help you successfully establish your business credit and leverage it into new small business loans and opportunities for your business.

Using The Internet To Market Your Window Cleaning Business

You’re tired of struggling financially and you need to create an alternative source of income. After considering the options, you decide to start a window cleaning business. You’ve scoured the internet for information on how to clean windows and you’ve practiced at home until you feel confident enough to offer your services to others. You have the money to invest in some squeegees, a couple of ladders and some business cards. Now what?Time To Advertise!Using the internet to market your window cleaning business offers a lot of advantages over traditional advertising. Advertising on the internet is absolutely the most cost-effective means of marketing available today and it can be very effective. In March of 2010, BIA (bia.com) and The Kelsey Group (kelseygroup.com) reported that, ”nearly all consumers (97 %) now use online media when researching products or services in their local area…”Having an internet presence means that your business information is available to anyone at anytime. As potential customers browse the internet, they can discover your business and the services you offer at a time that’s convenient to them and without any obligation or any of the pressure some people associate with ‘being sold’.If you’re starting your business with a limited budget, the most attractive advantage of internet marketing is probably the cost.Free AdvertisingIn some markets, using the free local listing sites on the internet may be enough to get you going. Potential customers are already searching for the goods or services you provide – they just need to be able to find you.Google PlacesSigning up for Google Places is simple and offers an opportunity to make sure your business can be found on Google and on Google Maps. With a Google Places listing, you can create an online presence even if you don’t have a website. It only takes a couple of minutes and it’s completely free.Start by reading the Google Places quality guidelines to make sure your listing will be approved. Then go to Google Places and sign in with your Google account. If you don’t already have a Google account, sign up for one, they’re free. Google keeps track of the number of times your listing is viewed during a Google search so you can track how effective the listing is. Once your account is verified, you can continue to edit the listing as often as needed to insure the best results.Yahoo Local ListingsYahoo local listings operates much in the same way as Google Places. Again, this is an opportunity to create a web presence that doesn’t require having a website. You can list your business name, address, contact information and the unique selling opportunity that your business offers. Your listing can include your products, services and brands in up to five categories.Start by going to the Yahoo Local signup page. If you don’t already have a Yahoo account, sign up for one. There is no charge for a Yahoo account and it only takes a few minutes to register.Bing Local ListingsMicrosoft also has a free local listing service similar to Google Places and Yahoo Local Listings. Start by going to the Bing Local Listings signup page and enter your information. Again, if you don’t already have a Bing account, you can sign up for one in a couple of minutes and there is no charge.Bing Local Listings lets users look for services in their local area which makes it easy for new customers to find you. Once your listing is verified you can log on to the Bing Local site and edit your listing to match any changes you may want to make as your business grows.Online ReviewsAll of the free local listing sites mentioned here also allow your customers to leave a brief review of their experience with you and your company. This can be a great tool to drive business from the internet to your front door. Most people today already have an email account with one of the ‘big three’, Google, Yahoo or Bing. Be sure to ask your customers if they would mind taking a few minutes and leaving a review of your company’s service on one of the local listing sites. If they’re happy with your service they’ll probably be glad to.After your window cleaning business has generated some income you may want to enlarge your internet presence with a business website. While the free listing sites do a great job of getting you started, a business website designed to target your local market is a definite must if you want to continue to grow your business and increase your income.More about business websites in the next article.