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Case Study: Dynamic FP&A at Abt Associates

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 8/13/2019

FPA

Abt Associates Inc. is a social impact organization that supports international development activities in more than 50 nations around the world focused on moving people from vulnerability to security in areas like education, food security, and housing. AFP 2019 speaker Mike Powers, senior manager of treasury and risk, shared some insights about the role of FP&A in Abt Associates’ key processes.

FP&A’s presence as a strong business partner, its key role within the organization’s planning processes, and the flexibility of its practitioners have made the department one of the strongest arms of the organization, Powers said. “FP&A is the lever that the CFO office has to drive change and help manage the business,” he said. “It’s a power concentration that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the organization, except for at the CEO or general counsel level, and has a tremendous amount of influence.”

Some key takeaways include:

Think long-term, operate short-term. While quarterly forecasts and monthly reviews track the shorter-term progress of the organization, the five-year plan helps the organization to think strategically and with a longer planning horizon. “In terms of the activity, everything is oriented around the five-year strategy. The five-year plan also helps the organization’s management think strategically for each year or quarter,” Powers said. “We make investment decisions and decisions about the business with a much longer viewpoint than other organizations.”

Hiring for adaptability. The most valuable attributes for incoming FP&A talent include a collaborative mindset and skills that are transferable between departments. These attributes are especially critical given the fact that job rotations are a key part of an FP&A practitioner’s career trajectory in the organization. “We need to be able to move people from one area to another as the business requires, so we’re actively trying to encourage a transfer of skills, as well as portability for a given role,” Powers said. The organization is most attracted to FP&A talent who have experience rotating through different roles in similar organizations, especially those with an international focus like Abt Associates. A toolbox of flexible, portable skills not only ensures a strong career trajectory for FP&A talent but also helps the organization continue to grow as new opportunities arise that may pull people into new assignments.

A broad definition of FP&A: FP&A has a strong presence across the organization. Powers estimates that there are approximately 80 people engaged in work related to FP&A, including the FP&A function itself, as well as analysts and support staff embedded throughout the business more broadly. “They wear multiple hats,” Powers said. “They're doing finance work, helping with bank account activities, and even doing some light paralegal and HR work, but their job is predominantly on the finance side. They run the projects and budgets associated with them, which eventually go to the domestic-based international finance team and ultimately feed into the FP&A team.”

Crossover between FP&A and treasury: “We operate in over 50 countries, each of which requires discrete balance sheet cash accounts and other consolidations on the balance sheet to track our organization’s activities. As a result, our balance sheet is a little heavy in terms of how many cash accounts we have,” Powers noted. For example, under the bank account area of responsibility, the organization has more than 200 active accounts. These bank accounts, Powers said, come primarily from the types of contracts the organization has with sponsoring governments, as well as the host countries that the organization operates within. Drawing from his experience in treasury, as well as FP&A, Powers manages the balance sheet because he has the institutional knowledge and unique skillset needed to navigate intercompany and cash accounting requirements.

Maximize the tools you have. Abt Associates works to leverage the fullest capabilities of its existing technology solutions. For example, the organization has made significant investments in Oracle, its main platform for financials. “We’re at a very high point release, not the top point release but only the next one back.” Abt recognized that it has also outgrown some of its older systems and is transitioning away from the planning tool it has used for the last five or six years. While the organization remains heavily dependent on Excel, Powers also said that FP&A “tries to minimize that by leveraging the Microsoft suite better,” through tools like Access, Power BI, Power Query, and Power Pivot that provide dashboarding and visualization capabilities.

This case study was part of the Preparing for the Next Level of FP&A study. More details, including survey results, a white paper, interactive findings, and industry data cuts can be found here: www.afponline.org/nextlevelofFPA

Mike Powers will be presenting “Speedy Metrics” at AFP 2019, a tactical demo/tutorial about how to visualize and create dashboards and metrics that convey information quickly and clearly.

 

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