Articles

Accounting to FP&A: A Career Path of Continuous Learning

  • By Joanne Oh
  • Published: 11/14/2022
Accounting to FP&A A Career Path of Continuous Learning

The career path of Scott Corvey, FPAC, is a compelling lesson in the value of continuous learning throughout a career. After climbing the corporate ladder in accounting, Scott decided to make the switch to FP&A and worked his way through new roles, adding additional proficiencies to his skill set with each new role that he tackled.

Scott, a member of AFP’s North American FP&A Advisory Council, shared with AFP the story of the rise of his career in accounting, his decision to transition to FP&A, and how accounting and FP&A skill sets work so well together.

A career in accounting

Scott W Corvey_FPAC  Scott’s introduction to accounting was a required class for his undergraduate Business Management program. Immediately (and unexpectedly), he completely clicked with the subject. “It was an intellectual awakening for me. It all just made so much sense,” he said. Within weeks, he switched his major to accounting. “I was absolutely in love with the language of accounting and even started tutoring classmates.

Upon graduation, his first job was at a small public accounting firm as a junior accountant. “The work was introductory and tedious, but it helped to install the basics in public accounting,” he said.

After a year, he moved to an entry-level corporate accountant job at Cardinal Health, a multinational healthcare services company, where he prepared financial statements for retail pharmacy franchisees. More importantly, he got the chance to read and truly interpret financial statements — and the story within the numbers.

In the process, he found himself explaining balance sheets and profit and loss (P&L) statements to the pharmacist franchisees, and he loved conveying practical applications of what the data was saying. This instilled a spark and a tiny voice in his mind: What the financials convey is as important as the minutiae of the numbers.

Over time, Scott worked his way up to senior accounting manager and assistant controller. And as his knowledge and communication skill sets matured, he got better at analyzing and presenting financial statements and gained a passion for cash flow and asset utilization.

But after six years at Cardinal Health, he faced a crisis: Did he want to stay in accounting? Where could he grow professionally? He was intrigued by the work that his colleagues in FP&A were doing. “It seemed like they were able to see the world through a different lens,” he said, “so I was attracted to the idea of going beyond accounting.

Interested in making the switch from accounting to FP&A? Learn the steps you need to take to make a successful change in the 2022 FP&A Guide: The Transition from Accounting to FP&A.

Transitioning to FP&A

While Scott did not have practical FP&A experience, he had a passion for the art of storytelling and felt it was time for a reset. His next stop was a financial analyst role at American Water, a publicly traded utility company that, through its subsidiaries, provides water and wastewater services.

The job was deeply analytical, and at first, he felt a little nervous doing models and scenarios instead of accounting. Fortunately, his deep accounting knowledge complemented other skills on the team, and fellow analysts turned to him for help to get a 360-degree understanding of the business. In this case, his accounting knowledge was sought after to ensure modeling and analytics were structurally aligned with financial statements and accounting theory.

As a financial analyst, Scott felt suddenly both stimulated and liberated by the FP&A disciplines. After several years, Scott moved to South Jersey and took on a leadership role as senior manager of FP&A for American Water’s shared services center. In this role, he added a few new areas of expertise to his toolkit: cost allocation and client operational knowledge.

It was also during this time that Scott went back to school and earned an MBA and an MS in Finance. “I was starving for every bit of relevant knowledge out there, and I wanted to remain competitive and relevant in a quickly changing ecosystem,” he said.;

Because water services are highly regulated within the U.S., in order for a company to internally allocate and share costs, it needs to be able to explain its basis and methodology to external parties to ensure proper recovery within water rates. This responsibility fell on Scott: “Suddenly, I'm writing regulatory testimony, and providing expert witness services on financial modeling and cost allocation theory. I'm talking to regulators; I'm defining and documenting these concepts.

When American Water underwent a business reorganization, Scott took a buyout and joined the Vanguard Group (mutual fund giant) in Malvern, Pa., where he oversaw the FP&A team within the Information Technology division. In this role, he learned about strategic internal investment and the capitalization of software development costs. He examined questions like, “What's the best and most effective use of your next dollar? How do we report on it? How do you know when to cut the cord?”

The value of the FPAC

It was at Vanguard that Scott saw an inflection point in his overall knowledge and professionalism.  “Vanguard is the type of organization where you bring your ‘A game’ daily,” he said. “There is such deep talent there, especially in the FP&A space. You can’t help but feel the growth.”

While at Vanguard, a discussion within the FP&A subdivision led him to the FPAC designation. “Several of us were discussing over lunch, and I was intrigued. My competitive streak kicked in, and I did my research on the designation,” he said. “I had to pursue this path, mostly to differentiate myself from the masses of FP&A talent.”

Scott’s research into the designation validated his earlier conversation and furthered his excitement: “The curriculum was quite comprehensive. The content was completely relevant to what I was doing. Additionally, I felt the certification would provide an academic basis for strengthening the soft skill elements of FP&A — areas such as business partnering, storytelling, project management, addressing uncertainty and communication.”

After intense study, Scott passed both exams and received the FPAC designation. Immediately, he put the knowledge to work in his role with Vanguard. “Suddenly, I was applying the framework of providing corporate FP&A as a service model,” he said. “My communication and planning were better organized, and my modeling was cleaner and more logical. Financial concepts that had grown rusty since grad school were suddenly crystal clear, and I could apply them directly to my work. I was the first to procure the designation, and after seeing my success story, multiple FP&A colleagues began pursuing the FPAC as well.”

A change of pace

Learn how the FPAC credential can help you stand out as a financial expert, strategic business partner and adept communicator.

After several years of working in Philadelphia, Scott was ready for a change of a different sort. “Too many brutal winters in Philadelphia, and I wanted to ride my motorcycle year-round,” he said. “I wanted sunshine and beaches, and I wanted to just be outside and absorb the energy.”

This change came in the form of an opportunity with the Naples, Florida-based software company FYIsoft which provides financial software to small businesses. As director of finance and resident FP&A expert, Scott wore many hats: “I helped demo the product and explain it to the CFOs that were interested in how they could use it. I helped with software product development and analytics. I wrote white papers on evolving issues in finance, accounting, reporting and impacts on small businesses. It was so much fun to put my voice out there. Their product suite is incredible and always getting better.”

Fast forward to 2021: Scott came back home to accounting. As vice president of finance for Consero Global, a Finance as a Service (FaaS) firm offering a fully managed back-office solution, he contributes to the Investment Manager Solutions tower. He leads teams that help clients — many of whom are management companies for hedge funds, venture capital and private equity — with back-office accounting and financial statements.

“The role is perfect for me, as it combines both my accounting and finance backgrounds,” he said. “As the Finance as a Service provider, we free them up to focus on their core investment portfolios and funds and provide the back-office Controller/CFO expertise as a service platform.”

As an FP&A professional, Scott consistently complements the accounting side of the platform with the FPAC toolbox. “There’s a theme here: Accounting complements FP&A which complements accounting,” he said.

Gaining skills with each new job

At each stop in his career, Scott gained functional expertise, even when he wasn’t necessarily growing from the perspective of escalating job titles. “I think the best FP&A professionals have a degree of working knowledge of what their client does, be it an internal shared service or an entire outward-facing for-profit company,” he said. “You can't treat your client's financials as widgets. You have to profoundly understand what the data conveys and what keeps them awake at night.”

Scott described this learning mindset as key to getting more involved in decision-making: “The most impactful FP&A professionals earn that seat at the table through constant communication with their client, earning that trust, asking the right questions, being conversant in what their client does.”

His career also proves that there are so many transferable skills between accounting and FP&A and that the two functions play complementary roles. For example, cost allocation has traditionally been thought of as something that uses simple methodologies and belongs in the domain of accounting. Scott, however, makes the case that FP&A can offer a more nuanced view.

“FP&A absolutely should have a role and be part of the conversation,” he said on cost allocation. “I say that because it’s quantitative in its very nature. So there’s likely a lot of work that FP&A should be doing to support it, such as understanding causation and understanding unit measurement.”

Scott’s diverse learning and expertise give him a complete picture of the company. He likes to talk about how P&L statements and balance sheets “provide the storytelling of what you’ve done, where you’re at, where you’re doing and alternatives to get there,” but it is clear that his continued professional growth is the key to opening opportunities.

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