Sunshine is the best disinfectant: we trade anonymity for honesty to get an unfiltered look at the people, processes and problems inside financial planning and analysis.
This week an FP&A leader who has been in the field for nearly two decades building budgets and forecasts of more than $500million, analyzing variances, and providing strategic insights to leading companies.
I’ve spent the last 11 years of my life in FP&A. Two years ago, I finalized my master’s program by researching the budgeting techniques of top industrial companies. This involved speaking to countless CFOs, finance managers, and accountants from every country.
In a nutshell, I can describe myself as a FP&A professional who worked in globally known companies for a decade.
I have had ample chances to examine the profession closely with vivid examples of daily life in FP&A that I’d like to share with you. Unfortunately, some of these things will make you feel discouraged.
1. Willingness to work Long Hours
Yes, it is hard to consider FP&A as a truly dream job when these things happen.
Firstly, if you decide to do FP&A, you need to like numbers, systems,and finance overall. You must be a thinker and be willing to work long hours. Because trust me, you’ll be working a lot. In contrast, if you are a people person, and feel like talking all the time, if you cannot be left alone to do a long analysis, then this profession may not be suitable for you.
2. IT Proficiency
Secondly, you need to have a strong affinity with IT systems. That means, your brain is constantly working like a computer system. Scientific thinking is not a myth in this role. You need to connect the dots in your brain before hitting the start button.
3. Nerves of Steel
Most importantly, you need to have nerves of Steel. Like literally, steel. Because, as soon as you start the job, you will realize the majority of the people do not care about your outcomes as an analyst. The reason for this I believe is this plain fact: most people simply do not love their jobs. In my experience, the majority of the people you are asking numbers from are working for the money. They do not care about IT systems, solving complex problems in Excel and improving the efficiency of the company overall.
4. The FP&A struggle is real
There will be constant struggles with other people just due to the extensive processes required to get the data. Let us say you are the FP&A analyst of a European company. You need to collect information from ten different finance managers/accountants throughout Europe (this is very realistic in major companies). Your task is to report your data in a meaningful way to your manager or CFO. Your process will look something like this:
1. You need to collect data from ten entities,
2. You need to predetermine the format of collected data,
3. You need to control the collected data and see if it matches with your requirements,
4. You need to ask questions again from data providers to understand the story behind their data,
5. You need to bring everything together and report it in a clear, visual, and understandable way.
Seems straightforward and easy?
It is not. Let me explain the problems you face daily:
- The Data provider may not read your instructions at all
- The Data provider will forget the deadline!
- The Data provider may provide the data without using your format
- The Data provider does not care about your needs!
- The Data provider may think that your process does not even make sense and refuse to cooperate!
- The Data provider gives you unsatisfactory answers!
- The Data provider stalls your request until the last minute of the deadline with no reason!
- The Data provider may send you irrelevant information and try to convince you that it’s what you were asking for!
- The Data provider may get offended because you are asking him or her questions regarding the process and business overall and complain to your superior!
- The Data provider may ask you to pull the data because he or she is too busy!
And just imagine that you must be in control of this process at the end of each month, week, or day according to the process.
There are two possible solutions:
1. Accept the fact that not everyone deploys a scientific thinking mind-set, thus do not trust anyone’s input until you’re convinced with your own eyes and logic,
2. Work hard, that is the easiest solution for FP&A people.
But finally, the golden rule is that whatever processes you use in any company, make sure they are “Easy, Clean and Simple”. Believe it or not, keeping it easy, clean and simple, is good advice whether it is a small, medium, or global company.