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AFP-Supported FP&A Group Debuts in London

  • By Neil Ainger
  • Published: 2013-02-04

Editor's note: This article was originally posted at gtnews.com, an AFP company.

LONDON -- A new networking group and business best practice forum was launched January 31 at the prestigious City Club of London to support financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals and aid their career development. News about AFP's forthcoming FP&A certification program was also unveiled, alongside the establishment of the London FP&A Club, which aims to share case studies, contacts and knowledge about this growing finance profession.

Supported by AFP, the new London FP&A Club was officially launched by Larysa Melnychuk, director of strategy and FP&A at the Novolar Solutions consultancy and Club secretary, in collaboration with Siva Shankar, director of Segro. 

Melnychuk is a qualified management accountant and former group FP&A director at the technology and services firm, Invensys. She was also European head of financial planning and analysis at Combined Insurance (ACE Group). She opened the proceedings by asking the professional audience a pertinent question: "What is FP&A"? 

A gathering of FP&A professionals, including Chris Winter, head of FP&A at HJ Heinz, Ravi Kurani, budgeting and forecasting lead at Deutsche Bank, and David Allen finance director at the UK government's department for business, innovation and skills (BIS), considered how best to describe the emergent new discipline. 

FP&A has received a significant boost in recent years from the development of cheap computing and so-called 'big data' analytical techniques and tools that have enabled treasurers, accountants and others to use predictive software to truly look into the future. Cash management forecasting, visibility, real-time reporting, accounting, the supply chain and other finance functions, can all benefit from the advent of better FP&A technologies, skills and knowledge, but as yet there is no common definition of the discipline, or indeed any accredited FP&A qualification, which was why a program to introduce this was also announced. 

According to Melnychuk: "FP&A can be described as the more creative part of finance" and it has the potential to transform treasuries, banks and other organizations around the world so that they know what their exact balance sheet is at any given point of the day, what it will be next week, next month and so on - not to mention identifying future markets, niche audiences and other useful information via harnessing the power of predictive analytics. 

The objectives of the new London FP&A Club, as introduced by Melnychuk, will be to:

  • Share new ideas and best practice among FP&A peers 
  • Hear from thought leaders and follow professionals (not product pitches) 
  • Provide a networking forum 
  • Establish a LinkedIn discussion group and other online tools, conferences and aids to encourage the development of a coordinated FP&A community in London, and eventually elsewhere in Europe and around the world (mirroring this movement in the U.S. where other FP&A clubs have already been established). 

The Principles of the London Club agreed upon at the launch event were that it will be:

  • Not-for-profit 
  • Have an audience of senior FP&A professionals
  • Regular monthly meetings are envisaged, with 15-20 senior FP&A people in attendance
  • Democratic selection of debate topics will be encouraged. 

To this latter point Melnychuk urged attendees to "get involved" and to propose other venues where the Club could meet, volunteer to speak, suggest non-vendor presentation topics and so forth. 

The next planned FP&A Club speech before the end of this quarter will be given by Dr. Peter Bunce, a director of the Beyond Budgeting Partnership (BBRT) and key supporter of the new initiative, who will talk about the 'beyond budgeting' approach that emphasizes future-gazing and predictive accounting and finance. Future topics for the envisaged monthly meetings will address: 

  • How to set up rolling forecasts in your treasury or other finance departments 
  • Predictive analytics: how best to use the new 'big data' technologies available 
  • Driver-based modeling 
  • How to establish an independent review of FP&A systems 
  • Risk adjusted planning. 

"We are open to your ideas too and would love to hear more suggestions as the Club grows and attracts news members," said Melnychuk in her concluding remarks. 

FP&A Certification Plan Unveiled

The London FP&A Club is one of numerous such networking and discussion forums already established across North America, with many of them also supported by AFP, but this is the first such gathering in Europe. Similar events are planned for Berlin and other cities across the continent as interest in FP&A is expected to grow in a post-crash environment where predictive analytics can potentially help spot "black swans" and other dangers. 

In anticipation of this expected growth of the discipline, Brian Kalish, director of the AFP Finance Practice, made the second speech at the City Club of London venue, outlining the AFP's already well advanced work on creating a new FP&A test and certification to the London FP&A Club. The aim is to establish a professional standard for the growing field. 

Kalish has been holding FP&A roundtable events throughout North America, where a key topic of discussion has been AFP's forthcoming FP&A Certification. The certification is currently under development with a beta version of the certification test and FP&A program and tools due to be revealed in March 2013, when pricing will also be released. "As live" testing scenarios are also due to be run in August of this year. All of this is in preparation for the first real live exams in March 2014. There will also be FP&A events held at Microsoft's prestigious Seattle campus headquarters in the U.S. and elsewhere this year to help further develop the certification plan and invite feedback. 

The interactive and frank discussion of the AFP certification plans at the London FP&A Club involved Fabrice Domange, senior vice president and head of FP&A in Europe, Middle-East and Africa (EMEA) for the AIG Property Casualty insurance unit, questioning why a long-established FP&A professional such as himself needed a specific qualification for the field? Domange admitted it was a good idea, helpful to recruiters and could aid professional development and knowledge for younger professionals, but he was understandably not keen to sit exams after 20 years in the field himself or to go through laborious "back to school" study sessions without a clear purpose. It was a stance backed by Keren Oser, group FP&A manager at Hydrodec Group Plc and a qualified accountant, who was formerly employed by Barclays Bank. 

In response, Kalish said that these views were perfectly valid but that - like the London FP&A Club - the AFP was a not-for-profit organization that just wanted to serve the community. He also stressed that the beta exam procedures (and the live version to follow) would not be set at such a difficult advanced level that years of study would be required, nor would the exam be so easy as to be meaningless. The professional development and clear career progression benchmarks that Domange referenced were also things worth fighting for in his opinion. "A survey of 5,000 FP&A practitioners has also been carried out by the AFP," added Kalish, "and this showed that there was a demand for it." 

Reaction Quotes

The debate about the certification plan continued as part of an informal question and answer session at the Club, and indeed the conversation continued afterwards in the bar of the City Club venue as attendees stayed behind to talk about the formation of their new networking and professional group and of the new FP&A certification plan. 

According to Siva Shankar, director of Segro: "There is high quality expertise in FP&A around the UK, and from now on, there is a forum where this expertise can be brought together in one place to share best practice," he said. 

"This was a good networking forum and, because it is in its infancy, you can influence how it will grow and the topics that will be addressed, which is very attractive," added fellow attendee, Hans Gobin, head of FP&A at the McCormick Europe consultancy and formerly of BT. 

It will be interesting to see how the Club, and indeed the certification plan, develop over future years. 

Kalish added, “I continue to be impressed with the amount of excitement and enthusiasm for the FP&A Certification and for all our efforts in the FP&A field. This is truly a global initiative and the response of the worldwide FP&A community only reinforces that impression.”

If you would like to find out more about FP&A and the plans for the Association for Financial Professionals' certification plan please follow this link for information about signing up to the AFP FP&A e-newsletter

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