The Financial Planning conundrum
The vast majority of Providers with a direct SFA contract invest a lot of resource and planning to ensure their contract allocation is reached. Along the way there are a number of assumed factors such as numbers of starts on certain programmes, percentage achievement rates, indicative funding rates and how all these in turn affect funding.
Invariably, a large amount of this work tends to be carried out via spreadsheets, but this data then needs to be reported on against the data held within the MIS to work out whether or not the plan has been met. Only at this point can Providers then factor in changes to the plan and amend as necessary. All of which puts those leading on Financial Planning in a bit of a conundrum…they are endeavouring to plan in a constantly changing environment, using a static tool (e.g. excel) and starting with a snapshot of the business taken just before the funding return.
This approach, although widespread and often the best work-around available, does enable Providers to ‘do it’ when it comes to Financial Planning.
Financial Planning done well
Those Providers that do it well take steps to adapt the plan on a monthly basis as the data changes so the business has a clearer idea of what might be required to hit that allocation figure. However, the resource required to maintain these plans to a high standard and in a suitably timely manner to inform business decisions is incredibly intensive.
Also, in many cases there is still a great amount of tolerance in the final planned values versus the allocation. For example, a good case scenario might be that the plan indicates coming in +/-5% of allocation. So the business is looking at making decision based on a range of values and therefore risks running too large a surplus or falling short of the allocation.
For lower cost programmes this may be sustainable, but if the Provider is sending learners out to training academies 2 out of every 6 weeks and also incurring the associated Assessor costs, then this tolerance soon impacts the bottom line in a significant way.
Financial Planning that impacts the bottom line
Ahead of all these Providers are those that conduct Financial Planning that makes a real difference to the bottom line. They give the business a month-by-month picture of how the contract is performing financially and they do so with confidence levels that enable the business to objectively identify what is required to hit the allocation in the most efficient way possible, and ultimately affect the bottom line of the business.
One way they achieve such a level of confidence is by integrating their Financial Plans into the MIS that manages their learners. In this way, they are building a live picture of performance against plan using the very data that drives their funding position. The more sophisticated MIS solutions will allow the initial plan to be created in the system, preferably using in-built funding formulae to reduce the resource required.
They will also be modelling the impact of fluctuations in learner numbers and achievement rates so they can reduce the ‘tolerance’ of the plan and give the business an accurate analysis of exactly how it should be meeting its allocation. This brings objectivity to the decisions made around the number of starts required or how much achievement rates may need to be improved.
How far should you take Financial Planning?
To reduce the levels of uncertainty further, the Provider’s ePortfolio should be integrated into the system too. Any ePortfolio of substance should be giving the Provider, the Learner and the Assessor a live view of progression against time on plan, so combining data from the MIS, the ePortfolio and the Financial Planning tool should give the business the clearest picture possible of how they are meeting their allocation. They should be able to factor in live data from learners’ predicted (not assumed) completion dates from the ePortfolio and combine with historic achievement rates from their MIS and use modelling capabilities of the planning tool to arrive at a figure of which they are confident.
This is likely to be an easier objective to realise where all the MIS, ePortfolio and Financial planning tools are all contained within a single system that requires no data transfers or other manipulation of data sources between disparate systems. For Providers running disparate systems, then it may be time to assess the cost to the business of Financial Plans that cannot provide such accurate results.
So whether you’re a Finance Director of a large Provider or the MIS Manager responsible for the planning in a smaller Provider, reducing the effort required to maintain an objective plan that impacts the business shouldn’t be an impossible task. But moving away from spreadsheets is certainly the first step.
To find out more about how to improve your Financial Planning as part of single-system strategy, call us on 0845 3133 151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Maytas is a flexible learning management solution for work-based learning providers and employers. With an integrated ePortfolio, Maytas tracks every element of delivery, giving a live view of performance from a single data source and tailored dashboard views for all stakeholders.
Through automation and streamlining of processes, and advanced Financial Management capabilities, Maytas helps Providers engage with their learners and impacts the bottom line of the business.