CFMA’s annual conference & exhibition provides direction for the industry
by Kathy Wells
August 12, 2019

The Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the educational needs of the construction industry’s financial professionals. With more than 98 CFMA chapters in major cities from Maine to Hawaii, the organization offers a conference, workshops, seminars and more to over 8,600 members in the United States and Canada. This year’s Annual Conference & Exhibition was held at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, June 1-5, in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

Note: this conference was not created for the faint of math. These people are experts—advanced professionals who have undergone significant training to get to where they are now. They are controllers, chief financial officers (CFOs), managers, accountants, vice presidents (VPs), and more, all from general contractors, sub-specialty contractors, public accounting firms, heavy-highway contractors, construction management firms and others. 

According to CFMA President and CEO Stuart Binstock, “We continue to ratchet up our content to provide more advanced sessions—members who attend the annual conference tend to come from larger companies that understand the knowledge transfer and networking that makes the conference so valuable.” 

And this year’s conference drew record-breaking attendance totaling 1,888 attendees. In its eighth consecutive year of rising registration numbers, CFMA continues to ride a streak of success—it’s something they know a bit about.

Success Encompassed 

The theme of “Success Encompassed” was threaded throughout the conference’s content and designed to remind us of the important roles we all play in the success and development of industry professionals. CFMA 2019-2020 Chairman Michelle D. Eastman, CCIFP, CFO at North Mechanical Contracting & Service in Indianapolis, Indiana, (pictured top right) came to hold her position by a combination of determination and happenstance.

As is the case in many of our careers, we’re often steered in one direction, but end up going another. In her speech, Eastman recognized several occasions when her career destination was driven by her own goals, rerouted by someone else’s suggestions, or even halted by unforeseen circumstances. What’s important to note is her determination to continue on thejourney.

Eastman advised attendees to only pursue career destinations that they’re truly passionate about (not just the next-highest title and larger paycheck), which sometimes requires a little extra support.

While conference sessions offer continuing professional education (CPE) certificates, for some CFMA members, it’s about arriving to the destination with a few additional letters behind their names: CCIFP. The Certified Construction Industry Financial Professional (CCIFP) is someone who has voluntarily met the required certification criteria with regard to education, experience and a demonstrated understanding of the industry’s body of knowledge.

The CCIFP designation is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) under ISO 17024:2012 and provides third-party verification of an individual’s knowledge—essential to ethical financial management in the industry’s complex environment.

The education offered by CFMA is used by construction financial managers (CFMs) to grow professionally and make strategic business decisions, and providing that education is a responsibility, the organization does not take lightly. Some of the top-attended sessions at this year’s conference included:

  • “The Power of One: How One Attitude, One Action & One Person Can Change the World”
  • “Advanced Work-in-Progress (WIP): It’s Not as Simple as a Spreadsheet”
  • "Build Your IT Factor”
  • “Accounting Is More Than Numbers: How Finance & Accounting Can Add More Value” 

In addition to the conference’s four dynamic general sessions, 11 mini-conferences and 49 breakout sessions (including six advanced sessions and eight peer groups), CFMA reinforces its value with a great deal of resources, including a magazine, financial benchmarking studies and its CONFINDEX Quarterly Reading, a proprietary confidence-index survey of CFOs in the commercial construction sector.

Possible Economic Recession & Tech

According to the June 2019 reading, “CONFINDEX saw a small increase during the second quarter of 2019; however, it will be remembered for what failed to happen as opposed to what did. 

During 2019’s initial quarter, CONFINDEX continued a collapse that began in 2017, but which gained momentum in late 2018. The first quarter reading on CONFINDEX was the lowest in many years (2012). Many construction CFOs have been unnerved by the combination of rising costs of delivering construction services and a sense that the current construction expansion is approaching its conclusion.” 

The full report goes on to deliver a verdict of “cautiously pessimistic,” representing the feeling that CFOs are “concerned about broader macroeconomic forces in light of the fact that many economists and businesspeople are predicting the onset of recession in the U.S. sometime next year.”

CFMA Economic Advisor and Sage Policy Group CEO and Chairman Anirban Basu (pictured on page 22, bottom right) advised during his economic update session that several indicators point toward the possibility of an economic recession, based on factors such as U.S. unemployment rates, the gross domestic product, construction materials costs, global debt and the Architecture Billings Index (ABI). 

For exhibitor Ajoy Krishnamoorthy, VP, platform and technology, and head of construction at Acumatica, attending the conference is an opportunity to learn more about the factors shaping such economic trends. “We gained an even greater understanding of today’s economic trends and what to look for in the coming months for the construction industry,” Krishnamoorthy said. 

“In particular, many contractors now have a strong backlog, and it’s a great time to prepare for the future and leverage technology to build an even more efficient business,” he said. 

A relative newcomer to the construction market, Acumatica has delivered enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to manufacturing, distribution, retail, service, software and technology industries since 2008. Now navigating an industry filled with burgeoning backlogs, Krishnamoorthy and his team will deliver cloud-based software to general contractors, subcontractors and home builders, and get them the information they need, such as job costing, reporting and customer relationship management data. And keeping an eye on the health of the industry is key to doing that well.

According to Basu, the industry need not melt down at the suggestion of a recession. Economic recessions have come and gone, and just because we’re seeing some of the indicators we’ve seen before does not mean the construction industry’s certain doom. Of course, it all relies on the outcome of several developing factors, including trade deals, an infrastructure spending plan, tariffs on steel, aluminum, etc., and the tightening of the fed.

“Much of the negativity reflected in forecasts and in financial market volatility relates to things people believe will happen,” Basu said, “But, important parts of the U.S. economy continue to perform well (e.g., consumer, corporate earnings, construction).” 

The best way to safeguard your company against an impending recession is to make sure you’re fit for defense, if or when the direction of the market changes. Make good use of the resources available from CFMA and visit cfma.org/kifi to keep up with the regularly tracked and reported performance of several key industry financial indicators.

CFMA’s 2020 conference will be held May 30 - June 3, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Visit cfma.org to register and get more information.