The turn of November, with its dark nights and cold days, serves as a sharp reminder that the end of 2014 is drawing closer. For businesses and in particular their Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), this also comes as a sign that it is time to start planning for the year ahead.
2014 has been as much of a roller coaster as any for international businesses, with the markets reacting to political and economic unrest both here and overseas.
This, compounded with the resulting FX volatility, increased competition as internet start-ups revolutionise almost every industry and continued difficulty locating credit, have all had an impact on business operations. The New Year will inevitably bring with it a new set of challenges.
Businesses will have to deal with the immediate impact and the market reaction of pressing issues, such as the upcoming UK elections, a potential European Union (EU) in/out Referendum and a seemingly imminent German recession.
With this in mind, how can businesses develop a steadfast plan for 2015?
Review Your Financials
It is important to scrutinise the 2014 budget in intricate detail and pinpoint exactly what business operations worked, what failed and what needs more investment in 2015.
This is the time to pinpoint unnecessary overheads from last year and cut them down for the year ahead. Inviting suppliers to compete for your business can be a key way to drive down costs.
Rent, insurance and consultancy fees are just some of the overheads that can be renegotiated. Rewarding departments for driving down costs can also be an effective way to streamline the budget across every practice.
It is also important to review your pricing. If you are over servicing clients, consider increasing charges to ensure profit. Likewise, you may need to cut costs down if competitors are undercutting you on pricing.
Conduct a Foreign Exchange Risk Mitigation Strategy Review
While it is impossible to predict global events such as the Russia / Ukraine crisis or the outcome of upcoming votes, it is possible to mitigate against some of the risks that these may pose.
Markets hate uncertainty – the pound dropped to its lowest level in ten months on fears of Scottish independence and the currency is likely to show significant volatility again next year with the UK general election lined up and a potential EU in/out referendum on the cards.
Foreign exchange (FX) fluctuations such as this can have a significant impact on companies that trade overseas. Without the correct measures in place, businesses can incur sharp losses when converting profits made overseas back to their local currency if the exchange rate is no longer what was anticipated.
It is therefore integral that the CFO, along with the whole senior management team, develops a scientific FX strategy that considers the company's FX risk exposure.
Take Note of Regulatory Updates
Since the financial crisis, regulators have been increasingly honing in on banks and their activities.
As regulators inevitably continue to displace risk from the banking sector to the corporate sector in 2015, companies will need to move away from total reliance on the banks.
This could mean stockpiling capital where possible, in order to ensure sufficient liquidity and minimise gridlock in the company's cash flow. In addition enterprises will need to consider alternative means of financing.
Build a Sustainable New Year
With corporations and their investors increasingly concerned with creating a sustainable business and reducing its carbon footprint, the challenge of taking a lead on such initiatives has now largely fallen to the CFO.
Although this might seem an unlikely match, the reality is that lack of due diligence in matters of sustainability can lead to brand damage, potential legal cases if strict regulations are not met and ultimately rising costs or falling profits.
Since October 2013, UK incorporated and listed companies have been required by law to report their annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in their directors' report. It is essential that CFOs are on top of such regulations and plan for regular sustainability reporting in 2015.
Now is the perfect time for businesses to analyse results from 2014 and plan for the New Year. As chief strategist, the role of the CFO is to systematically run through the strategies of this year and explore new opportunities for 2015.
The key is to challenge everything and explore alternative approaches to business operations. No one can predict what the year ahead will bring, but by preparing for new opportunities and protecting the business from inevitable challenges, the CFO can take the lead on planning for a successful 2015.
Philippe Gelis is the CEO and co-founder of foreign currency exchange Kantox.