The following is the second part in a three-part series in which the AFP Advisors Network looks at the three core competencies of independent consulting: business, technical and consultative skills. Learn more about the AFP Advisors Network here.
The second core competency that any prospective independent treasury or finance consultant needs is technical competency. Oftentimes, based on the structure and function of many analyst roles, financial professionals focus on their technical skills early in their careers, but use them less and less over time. Many independent consulting engagements can be very technical in nature, so practitioners who believe they may eventually pursue independent consulting would be wise to keep those skills fresh.Basics
At the most basic level, consultants need to be very comfortable with desktop applications. They need to possess at least intermediate knowledge of the Microsoft Office suite – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Furthermore, consultants should familiarize themselves with workflow applications.
“When you’re in a consulting role, you’re often going into an organization that you’re not familiar with,” said Lauri Putt Needleman, manager, advisor relations for the AFP Advisors Network. “A lot of times what you’re doing is looking at a process—even if it’s more of a technical or operational process—and mapping it and revamping it. So workflow applications like Microsoft Visio can be really important. Project planning software like Microsoft Project is also very helpful.”
But consultants should have expertise that extends beyond software skills. Himashi Soriano, director of business development and marketing for AFP added that for a consultant to effectively map out that workflow, he or she needs to actually understand what it means to be a project manager. “There will be many moving parts and likely different people involved,” she said. “So it’s not only remapping or reengineering a process; it’s understanding what it takes to get to the end goal.”
Consultants should be able to set the project milestones are and produce key deliverables. Thus it is essential to ask clients the right questions; consultants need to understand the company and its goals in relation to the project. When a consultant even sits down with a potential client, they should have a list of questions ready, and they should be able to quickly get a grasp on the clients’ requirements.
Providing sufficient documentation throughout the process is also vital. Feedback that the AFP Advisors Network often hears from its customers, particularly when the customer is working with technology vendors, is that they receive inadequate post-project documentation. “We’re currently working with a client who is purchasing a treasury workstation,” Putt Needleman said. “The vendor told them that they would receive an electronic manual that tells them how to use the system. That’s the only documentation they will receive. But, what our client is looking for is something more customized that helps them understand their internal processes as they relate to the technology and develop the reports that they need. And that’s where a consultant can come in—to provide that documentation and develop the reporting.” Analysis
Qualitative and quantitative analysis is also very important, though it can vary depending on consultants’ backgrounds. The AFP Advisors Network works with a number of clients who are looking for consultants with a vast quantitative skill set.
“You definitely see that in a treasury role and it’s probably even more important to have a quantitative analytics skill set in the FP&A or corporate finance space,” Putt Needleman noted. “We have clients who are turning to us for help with either creating a new cash forecasting model or retooling an old one. A lot of what we see is consultants leveraging Excel and using the organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which is where they usually house their general ledger. But there are other modeling tools out there, so if they have familiarity beyond being an advanced Excel user, that’s helpful.”Leveraging tools and resources
Consultants need to be able to leverage the tools and resources available to them. AFP is a particularly good resource for consultants, specifically in the form of request for proposal (RFP) templates, Soriano noted. Consultants who are AFP Advisors can tap into this resource at any time when constructing an RFP for a client.
Leveraging those tools and resources feeds into consultants’ ability to do research. “When you walk into a situation, if you’re doing an evaluation of a treasury or cash management operation, you need to be able to evaluate what’s there and also do some benchmarking,” Putt Needleman said. “So leveraging your tools and resources to gather the information is really going to help with that comparison.”
Added Putt Needleman: “Much of a consultant’s technical competency going to be based on their experience and what they bring to the table, which is why most consultants don’t go into this line of work until they’re 15-20 years into their careers. But they need to be able to reach beyond their own personal experiences and work history.”