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AFP 2016: Will FP&A Be Handled by Robots in Five Years?

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 10/24/2016

ORLANDO, Fla. -- What is the real value that financial planning and analysis (FP&A) adds to the enterprise? That was the overarching question facing the two dozen participants at the FP&A Roundtable, Sunday at the AFP Annual Conference. Sponsored by Peloton, the roundtable offers a unique forum for FP&A practitioners to drive the conversation and exchange best practices with their peers.

According to participants, three trends are raising questions about the future of the FP&A profession:

  1. Digitalization is taking over many of the repetitive processes and reporting, as well as some basic analytics like forecasting.
  2. Offshoring is removing many of the low-value tasks that used to be performed by professionals at HQ.
  3. Self-service analytics tools and growing finance fluency are increasing business leaders’ ability to answer many of their own questions.

But finance professionals say that the 80 percent of finance activities that may be handled by robots or shared service centers (SSCs) in the future will not reduce the value of finance or the job to 20 percent of what it was. Instead, it will likely open up 80 percent of professionals’ time to focus on other, higher-value work, while admittedly changing the required skillset for FP&A toward more soft skills and business partnering roles.

To accomplish this, FP&A professionals will need to build personal relationships and professional collaboration with business leaders. Here are five tips on how to do that:

  1. “You have to be deliberate,” said one participant in the roundtable. “You have to build the relationship, ask about their families and get to know them, while listening to unofficial conversation to find out what’s really going on.”
  2. It is imperative to build credibility, particularly when trust is not present. This is accomplished by not only providing data, but asking why the business needs the data and sharing insights. “That’s how you build the relationship,” another participant offered.
  3. “Get out of your seat,” advised another. “Go to staff meetings if you can.”
  4. “Don’t just deliver reports, but translate them into the business language,” a seasoned FP&A professional suggested. He said this ability to translate goes both ways. FP&A’s job is also to translate management’s expectations in terms of hitting financial targets to the business in ways that they understand.
  5. Finally, recommended one of the participants, it’s helpful to assign particular finance partners to particular businesses. “Embedding finance is critical to learning the business,” he said.

FP&A practitioners should not fear automation; they should instead view it as an opportunity for the FP&A profession to become a change agent in the organization, summed up one practitioner. “It will change the role of finance and allow it to embrace the new 80 percent,” she said. The practitioner acknowledged that not everyone will be willing to come along on this new journey. Some people will have a hard time giving up on doing what is essentially busy work. “But for those open to change, digitalization, offshoring and the ability of the business to do more on their own are opportunities for finance to become more engaged, have better conversations with the business and connect the company’s overall strategy to what the various functions and units are doing,” she said.

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