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Finance Talent: 7 Challenges FP&A Practitioners Must Conquer

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 11/16/2015

Talent ImageLAS VEGAS -- Last week at the SAP Conference for Financial Planning, Consolidation and Control, I co-led a workshop on best practices in financial planning and analysis (FP&A). Not surprisingly, the topic that drew the longest and most vibrant conversation was talent management.

Pinpointing the gap

There’s no question that the FP&A profession is facing a talent crisis, as evidenced by AFP’s latest FP&A Guide, Addressing the FP&A Talent Gap. Recent surveys have revealed that CFOs are not happy with the quality of their FP&A teams:

  • Nearly two thirds of finance executives report that FP&A positions are the hardest to fill. (APQC)
  • Under a quarter of CFOs think their team is up to the task of integrating enterprise-wide information. (IBM)
  • One third of CFOs will look outside their organization for their next finance leader. (Deloitte)
  • Three quarters of finance executives say FP&A is not well aligned with business strategy. (APQC)

The biggest gap, according to the workshop participants, is in the areas of data analytics (evolved technology and big data analysis skills) and soft/interpersonal/business partnership skills.

Another problem is that in many organizations, staff does work without understanding the context of why they’re assembling data or performing analysis. According to Karuna Mukherjea, senior director, product marketing at SAP, that knowledge must cascade down the organization in order for everyone to understand the purpose of their day-to-day jobs, which helps create excitement and motivation. A survey done by one large semiconductor company in the workshop confirmed the highest turnover was in the first-year employees.

Some of the challenges corporate practitioners noted included:

  1. Recognizing top performers. This is, particularly difficult in small companies with little room for promotions.
  2. Finding candidates with a holistic talent set. FP&A functions need candidates with both analytics and soft, people skills.
  3. Flipping the time spent preparing numbers and the time spent doing analysis and providing decision support. “Right now we spend 90 percent of our time creating the numbers and five minutes analyzing them,” bemoaned one practitioner. “I want to flip that to 80/20.”
  4. Getting people out of the weeds, expanding beyond Excel to see the big picture and spend more time storytelling.
  5. Stopping people from drowning themselves in data by asking IT for more and more points of information. One IT practitioner suggested moving the responsibility for pulling the data to the users.
  6. Competing for best talent. One company has reduced its hiring cycle to six days, and reduced the number of interviews by getting everyone together for the final interview up to director level.
  7. Improving the selection process. One practitioner said his organization uses the last interview to ask candidates to prepare a 30-minute presentation based on data they supply. That not only helps the company assess the candidate’s analytics and presentation  skills but also, while asking questions, how they think on their feet.

Lastly, the challenge of finding good candidates is also defined by the emergence of new technologies. There may or not be familiar to candidates, but the best ones will be willing to learn. In the past, business schools focused on the number-crunching courses. Increasingly, they’re adding technology classes. SAP’s Mukherjea predicted that future graduates will have more education in the area of technology to accompany their finance education.

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