The field of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) is transforming from the traditional landscape of a reactive position to a forward-looking state. “Finance can become a next-generation value creation unit and have the opportunity to depart from a back-office cost center perception to a margin improvement and proactive changing agent,” said Hector Rubalcava, FPAC, FP&A manager and business partner at Amtrak. “The ongoing data science revolution is exciting, where finance can have an opportunity to take the abundance of information, leveraging systems and enlightened information with innovative visuals to explain results via driver-based variance narrative.”
Rubalcava is also a member of the AFP 2021 FP&A Task Force, the group of volunteers tasked with selecting content most relevant, timely and useful to treasury and finance practitioners attending the annual conference. We recently caught up with Rubalcava to discuss what the task force has planned for the FP&A track, and what he is personally most looking forward to about attending AFP 2021.
AFP: As a member of the AFP 2021 FP&A Task Force, describe the process for building the agenda and selecting the content for the conference.
Rubalcava: The FP&A Task Force strategically reviewed and discussed multiple exciting proposal submissions during the selection process. The submissions covered a variety of topics including data analytics, general finance, operations, professional development, strategic planning, data, visualization, technology and finance transformation. Just like in most corporate scenarios where finance individuals need to become dynamic business partners in order to further create value, every member of the task force had the opportunity to actively engage, provide valuable insights, debate on topics, challenge, bounce ideas and share best practices. In the end, members came to a mutual agreement on the best proposals to address and comply with our set goals.
AFP: What are you most excited about for AFP 2021?
Rubalcava: I am most looking forward to attending AFP 2021 in person and deploying my continuous improvement mindset and tremendous appetite to share my financial intelligence and learn from others. I also like that the conference is taking an agile approach this year by offering both in-person and virtual settings.
After reviewing the large portfolio of attractive sessions, I can assure attendees that the ones chosen are extremely relevant and in high demand with the FP&A community.
AFP: What will be the biggest takeaway for attendees during the FP&A track sessions?
Rubalcava: There are numerous beneficial takeaways from the FP&A track sessions, ranging from the opportunity to network within the FP&A arena with passionate business leaders who are committed to disrupting the traditional finance division, to being part of an excellent event that provides ample opportunity to upskill your portfolio of soft and hard capabilities.
Attendees will also get the chance to mingle with their peers, share related stories of success and struggles, find best practice solutions, and enhance their careers by way of exceptional professional development opportunities. Plus, the sessions help build and solidify an FP&A community that comes together based on unifying causes and the commitment to create value and results for attendees.
AFP: What is a common theme or issue within the FP&A track?
Rubalcava: The FP&A profession is going through a period of high demand and need for disruptors of the conventional ways of doing things. Based on my experience — and after reading numerous articles from subject-matter experts — chief financial officers (whom I now believe are chief value officers) have classified FP&A as an urgent area for transformation. Some of the common struggles in FP&A include:
- Spending too much time on the “F” and “P,” and not on the “A” and business partnership parts.
- Too much focus on the diagnostic view, which describes what and why it happened instead of migrating into the predictive mindset, which describes what would happen and anticipates realistic scenarios from a forward-thinking standpoint.
- Difficulty finding solutions and minimizing non-value-added tasks to eventually transition into more value-added responsibilities.
- Lack of agility on processes, systems and people, as there is a crucial need to become flexible and effectively pivot to address the latest market trends and customer disruptions.
- Still functioning in silos as opposed to having an open-minded approach and becoming tactical partners across the organization.
- Ineffective data visualization snapshot and lack of persuasive storytelling.
- Shortage of FP&A talent within a continuous improvement mindset and change management experience.
AFP: How can attendees bring what they learn at AFP 2021 back to their organizations?
Rubalcava: There are multiple ways to put conference learnings into practice. First, attendees can institutionalize best practices by sharing what they were taught with others in their organization. This could include creating some type of gathering with co-workers, or simply inviting them for coffee to discuss what you learned at the conference.
Another way to put your education into practice is to come up with a short-term plan to deploy learnings and monitor results. If attendees implement what they learn and find positive outcomes, they can communicate it to senior management for more support.
Furthermore, it is important to become passionately curious at work and to experiment to see how things develop. Play around with a new tool, process, roadmap, or anything else you learned at the meeting and see if gets adapted. Find ways to personalize best practices to your organization.
Finally, attendees should approach the right decision-makers at their organization about their creative solutions and ideas. Communicate to the individuals who have the power to make decisions about how your solutions can add value, based on what you learned at the conference.
AFP: How has attending these meetings benefited you in your career?
Rubalcava: Attending these meetings has favorably impacted my “people proposition,” as I have increased my motivation and engagement levels to make a stronger impact with my stakeholders at work.
Being part of the AFP 2021 FP&A Task Force has been a great opportunity to network with the other members, learn how they approach and tackle projects, become aware of the relevant challenges and needs in the FP&A community, and adapt myself to ongoing disruptors.
All the AFP experiences I have continue to provide me with opportunities to deploy my purpose and sweet spots, as well as to learn numerous tools, advanced techniques, innovative finance approaches and change-management development. These skills combined equip me to better address major disruptors — internally and externally.
AFP: What are you most looking forward to with meeting in person this year?
Attending AFP 2021 in person is going to be a great opportunity to disconnect from my current work setting and meet new people. I’ll also be able to get a better feel for how others are communicating their struggles, challenges and needs in the FP&A world.
In addition, I’m looking forward to brushing up on my presentation skills and pitching my overall brand. These are great benefits that need to be deployed in person as opposed to virtually.
I also get to learn more about a new city! I have only been to Washington, D.C., once, and this trip is an opportunity to explore and get to know great places around the area.
AFP 2021, an integrated in-person and virtual event, takes place Nov. 7-10 in Washington, D.C. Attendees will be provided with a diverse education around FP&A, including Creating an Agile Finance Team at Swiss Re, Beyond Insight: How ABM is Using Data to Make Smarter Decisions and Drive Impact, Transforming Finance with Machine Learning: From Data to Delivery, and more. Register here.