The AFP 2021 Conference Planning Task Force is made up of experienced practitioners tasked with selecting the most relevant, timely and useful content to treasury and finance professionals. At AFP 2021, taking place November 7-10 in Washington, D.C., attendees will learn from a full agenda covering innovative solutions and areas of concern within the industry.
We recently caught up with the task force co-chairs, Kayla Davis, vice president and head of M&A at ABM Industries and member of the Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) track, and John Nielsen, CTP, chief financial officer at FloraCraft Corporation and member of the Capital Markets and Investments and Risk Management track. Davis and Nielsen discuss what the task force has planned for AFP 2021, and what they are most looking forward to about attending the big event.
As the task force co-chair, describe for us the process of building the agenda and selecting the content for AFP 2021.
Davis: My group of volunteers included FP&A practitioners representing companies from diverse industries of varying sizes. This range allowed us to have different perspectives as we reviewed each submission and decided on what content should be prioritized.
The FP&A track had close to 40 submissions, and each of us reviewed and scored them based on the topic relevance to practitioners, innovation and content effectiveness. It was important that we selected topics practitioners could take back to their organizations and put into action.
In some cases, the group scores were fairly aligned, which made it easier to filter the top contenders. However, I was surprised by the diversity in perspective for other topics, and I appreciated getting to hear different perspectives as we debated what should be presented.
Nielsen: I have been fortunate to have been asked for the second year to be a volunteer member of the AFP Conference Planning Task Force. The task force is made up of fellow AFP members who are assigned to review the submissions for the session tracks. Initially, each task force member reads and reviews every proposal, provides feedback and scores them according to the criteria. Following that exercise, the members meet to collaboratively review the submissions again. It is a three-day, iterative process that begins with reviewing every submission to understand the message the presenter is looking to share and how that message can help our membership.
We also seek diversity in the presentations, especially proposals that solve a common issue in a different way than practitioners normally approach it. We make sure the content includes material that applies to the full range of the AFP membership — from people just entering the treasury profession and beginning to learn about cash positioning and hedging, to those in intermediate positions seeking to round out their treasury toolboxes with more advanced topics, and finally to those who have been in the profession for several years and are seeking to focus on strategic treasury problems.
Is there a common theme the sessions are tackling this year? What do you think will be the biggest takeaways?
Davis: The task force reviewed a large mix of topics that are of high interest with the advancement in technology, such as technology transformation and data. I was also pleased to see a good amount of traditional FP&A topics, such as how to transition to an FP&A organization if it has never existed in the organization before. The varied mix of topics will offer something to all practitioners, whether they work in a large corporation with a well-established FP&A, or if they are just starting the FP&A journey.
Nielsen: In the Risk Management track, there are always great proposals that cover hedging, cyber risk, pensions and investment committees, building a risk management program, and how automation can help achieve goals. In the Capital Markets and Investments track, there are several sessions on environmental, social and governance (ESG), which helps us learn more about understanding and building criteria for sustainability and societal impact when looking to invest in a product, business or company.
The best takeaways are those sessions that will help you look at your business in a different light. Of course, there are the Mindshift sessions that force us to look at things in a different light or through different lenses, but sometimes the best sessions take the form of a group of your peers on a panel discussing how they have worked through a common problem.
What about AFP 2021 are you most excited about?
Davis: I am most excited about being back in person this year. I have been to many conferences before, and I enjoy the energy and attending different events where I am exposed to new content and ideas, whether it is at one of the sessions, the exhibit hall or chatting with other practitioners.
Nielsen: I am looking forward to a session in the Risk Management track titled, “Human Factors: The Greatest Threat to Your Cybersecurity Strategy,” which is planned to include a corporate executive, cybersecurity professional and an FBI agent. These types of sessions always help me understand fraud situations that other people or companies have experienced, and how I can think about protecting that in my own organization. Beyond that topic, I always enjoy listening to and learning from my peers in other sessions and networking situations. I also enjoy the Exhibit Hall and learning about how new technology, companies and products can help me with problems in my own business.
Did you attend last year’s AFP 2020 Virtual Experience? If so, please share your experience and any tips for attending a meeting virtually.
Davis: I had the opportunity to present at the AFP 2020 Virtual Experience. It was my first time presenting at the conference, and the process seemed to be very well organized. Although content was delivered virtually, I was pleased to see that we received many questions from practitioners regarding the topic. From what I heard from attendees overall, they felt the AFP 2020 Virtual Experience was beneficial because it provided them with the flexibility to attend sessions and make the event work around their own schedule.
Nielsen: I attended the AFP 2020 Virtual Experience and thought it was a success, especially since it was spread across two weeks. There are and will always be challenges in the digital age — my IT department pushed a patch during the conference, and it severely slowed things on my end. I learned from the AFP 2020 Virtual Experience conference that I needed to dedicate time to the sessions I chose to attend. Initially, I tried slipping in some sessions while I was doing work on my other screen. However, I found out quickly that it did not work, and that I was not able to retain the information presented. So, whether you join this year’s conference virtually or in person, make sure you are fully committed to the time you have set aside.
How can attendees bring what they learn at AFP 2021 back to their organizations?
Davis: The AFP 2021 Task Force made sure to select content that was not only relevant to practitioners but also applicable to their day-to-day jobs. There is something for everyone to learn and put into practice at their organizations, especially in the FP&A track, with content covering traditional FP&A topics like how to stand up an FP&A function, to more mature topics where practitioners will hear about advanced analytics from Microsoft and McKinsey speakers.
Nielsen: Take advantage of the online and downloadable handouts on the conference website and save them to your local or shared drive, even for the sessions you do not attend. In the future, you might be faced with a situation and need to reference one of the presentations. It takes a simple search on your computer, and you are instantly one step ahead! Even better, now you have a source to reach out to for initial questions. Also, take time to meet with the vendors in the Exhibit Hall, even if their offerings are not immediately on your radar. By doing so, you are further building a network of people, products and companies that you can access in the future.
How has attending these meetings benefited you in your career?
Davis: There is comfort in learning that we are not alone in some of the challenges we face, and it is refreshing to get other perspectives to help solve day-to-day challenges. Collaborating with practitioners having diverse experience is eye opening and it helps us collectively come to better answers.
Nielsen: Attending these events has vastly helped me expand my understanding of the treasury realm. If you are in the early stages of your treasury career, take time to understand the potential true depth of your role. I also find it fascinating how the strategic side of treasury continues to evolve using new products or technologies. Attending the AFP conferences for many years has helped me stay in front of these topics, and I have been able to call upon a network of people when I am faced with a new problem or situation.
What are you most looking forward to with meeting in person this year?
Davis: I am most looking forward to networking with other practitioners. There is such an amazing energy at these events, and it is great to be surrounded by others that bring in their own experiences and are united in the desire to learn and bring new ideas to their organization.
Nielsen: While many of us have endured hundreds of virtual meetings over the past year, I am really looking forward to going to this event and being “part of the crowd.” Sitting in sessions while people raise their hands and ask questions is much different than multiple people stumbling over themselves in Zoom or Teams calls. I am also looking forward to events that allow me to build my network and meet up with vendors in person rather than taking multiple phone calls.
AFP 2021, an integrated in-person and virtual event, takes place November 7-10 in Washington, D.C. Save $375 when you register by June 25. Register here.