Last month, nearly 30 senior finance and financial planning & analysis (FP&A) professionals from across the UAE gathered in Dubai for the February FP&A Board roundtable. The latest in a series of regional gatherings organized by Larysa Melnychuck, managing director of the FP&A Trends Group, this particular meeting centered on the reasons why business partnering continues to prove such an obstacle for FP&A professionals.
The key takeaway from the roundtable was that building and sustaining internal business relationships—something many FP&A professionals struggle with—can make a real and valuable difference to the success of the organization. “The finance community is guilty of having an inward-looking approach,” said keynote speaker Samipendra Chaudhury, CFO at Nielsen Emerging Markets. “In my personal experience, I have seen the less we come across as watchdogs and more as enablers, it creates a more collaborative approach and FP&A is seen as problem solvers.’’
Critical attributes of the FP&A business partnership
Stewardship was a strong theme at the roundtable—the responsibility for providing a vital support and think center, driving increased success across all business units through combined business thinking and agile logic. The ultimate objective of FP&A is to empower the CEO to make long-term, informed decisions around the future of the business. All this, along with identifying and mitigating risk during the course of a business’ journey, firmly places FP&A in the position of business reconnaissance.
“The key challenge for FP&A professionals is to change the mindset from being a ‘partner function’ to a ‘business function’, working as one with the business seamlessly to drive business decisions, highlighting risks and opportunities and helping shape the future strategy of the business,” said Ramkumar Balasubramaniam, FP&A, head of financial planning and analysis and MI at Barclays.
FP&A is neither solely strategy or financial, rather, a healthy mix of the two facilitated by analytics technology and the ability to collate, qualify and disseminate information quickly and accurately for the overall benefit of the organization. Unfortunately, technology investment still remains a budget afterthought at many corporations.
According to the AFP FP&A Benchmarking Survey , only 30 percent of respondents say FP&A is a priority where accessing information and analytics capabilities is concerned. Jim Kaitz, president and CEO of AFP, noted that organizations that spend less than 10 percent of their budgets on technology say it takes an average of nearly 90 days to create a budget, 23 days to build a financial forecast and nearly 16 days to complete a rolling forecast. Meanwhile, companies that spend up to 49 percent on forecasting technology complete those same tasks in 75 days, 17 days and 12 days respectively. And, not surprising, companies spending more than 50 percent of their budgets on technology saw those numbers drop to 15, 3 and 2 days respectively. The numbers speak for themselves.
Investment in people and their professional development also contributes heavily to shaping the leaders of tomorrow; statistics indicate that over 33 percent of CEOs come from a finance background. Retaining the best talent plays a big part in the long-term success and value-add of the FP&A function. Fully formed business partnerships take time to shape and grow, they don’t happen overnight. Investment in professional development programs such as AFP’s globally recognized FP&A Certification help improve and standardize core competencies, retain top talent and build succession plans through reward and recognition. The cost of replacing FP&A talent far outweighs investing in keeping that talent onboard.
Starting the conversation
Fully integrated FP&A has a distance to go. Changing the mindset of how senior management teams and boards perceive and approach the value-add FP&A brings to the business will be the real boon. For those of us old enough to remember the two decades old British Telecom mantra…..’it’s good to talk’, maybe that’s exactly what FP&A professionals need to do when seeking buy-in from their business peers. Treating internal clients (business partners) as you would external clients (customers) is a good place to start and responsibility for driving that philosophy lands firmly in the lap of the CEO and CFO.
Encouraging FP&A professionals to ‘just talk’ with their business partners and take the time to present how FP&A can help those partners succeed can help negate a reluctance to cooperate. If you want to implement and manage change, then you need to sell the benefits of that change and keep business partners informed as you move through the process and achieve wins.