Around the world, many large companies that file financial information with regulators or government authorities are coming under pressure to repair the "last mile of finance." That phrase refers to the tasks that occur between clarification of the trial balance; the validation of data from discrete sources; and the filing of 10-Ks, 10-Qs, or other disclosure documents with regulators such as the SEC.

Until now, it’s been easy to postpone the road repair. After all, basic statutory reporting chores always seemed to get accomplished with a bit of luck and brute force. Typically, many people joined together in a race to beat the clock. But with pressure now mounting for faster and easier access to highly accurate financial information, CFOs and controllers might just conclude the time has come to face the glaring process inadequacies.

Just how bad could it be? APQC’s Open Standards Benchmarking in general accounting and reporting reveals marked performance gaps with time, talent and other resources squandered by many participating organizations. Take, for example, the number of days it takes to close the books and release financial results. The top performers, who do better than 75 percent of all organizations surveyed, run the quarterly earnings course in half the time it takes the bottom performers (15 days versus 30). As for releasing annual information, the top performers move more than twice as fast as the bottom performers (19 days versus 45).

Expanding this view of relative performance, APQC has identified two groups that deserve accolades and one group that needs attention. The first group, described as the all-around top performer group, includes survey participants who do better than 75 percent of peers when it comes to the number of days required to release earnings, both quarterly and annually, after all financial data consolidations have been completed. The second-best performer group includes companies who do better than 75 percent of peers when releasing either quarterly or annual information. The laggards, who do worse than 75 percent of peers, have the slowest speed when it comes to releasing either or both quarterly or annual earnings.

The all-around top performer group outshines the other two groups in terms of both staff productivity and costs related to the process of providing financial reporting. The all-around top performers deploy just 1.2 full-time equivalents (FTEs) per $1 billion in revenue, and they spend just 16 cents per $1,000 of revenue to get the job done. The second-best performer group deploys 1.6 FTEs and spends 54 cents, respectively. The laggards are not only terribly slow in reporting results, they also need 10.3 FTEs and spend $1.09 to perform this very basic financial management chore.