In 2014, Hsiao Yun Liew, FP&A, FP&A manager of Wood Mackenzie, became one of the first finance professionals in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region to earn AFP's Certified Corporate FP&A credential.
Based in Singapore, she had been working in FP&A for several years and had been searching for a certification that would be able to showcase her knowledge and experience in the field. She found what she was looking for with the FP&A certification.
AFP recently spoke with Liew about earning the certification, her overall career, and the challenges that the FP&A function faces across industries and regions.
AFP: So you earned the FP&A certification about five years ago. How has your career changed since earning it?
Liew: I believe the certification does give me an edge over the other candidates. It doesn’t necessary show I am better qualified, but it does demonstrate how serious I am to focus in the FP&A area. I have moved from manager to senior manager, and subsequently a director-level role within five years of getting the certification.
AFP: You've worked in FP&A for quite a while, but did studying for the certification exam and taking it teach you anything new that you didn't know about the FP&A field?
Liew: It provides a more structured way to look at FP&A. Each industry differs slightly in their FPA needs, but over time, you can observe a certain structure/approach/commonality, which you can apply consistently.
AFP: Do you think the certification, over time, could help increase the FP&A department's prominence in organizations in the APAC region and in general?
Liew: Yes, just like the chartered accountant body.
AFP: Can you talk a bit about your early career? How did you first get into FP&A? What made FP&A stand out to you as an area you wanted to pursue, as opposed to other areas in finance?
Liew: I was with in internal audit and management accounting. In the days when the terms ‘FP&A’ or ‘finance business partners’ were not widely adopted, ‘management accountant’ is the term used to differentiate that from the ‘usual’ transactional accounting. After some time in management accounting, I was being poached to transfer to the sales and operational planning department. That was when I discovered that I was able to cross over to the operations department with ease, which I might not have been able to as a financial accountant. Hence the focus on moving towards FP&A.
AFP: Before you joined Wood Mackenzie, the company didn't have an FP&A team. What prompted them to add one?
Liew: I believe that was driven by the increased needs of the business to understand the financial performance in greater depths, rather than just being handed over a profit and loss statement at the end of the month. The business doesn’t just want to know the history, they want to know the key drivers and what can they do to intervene and influence the results prior to month’s end.
AFP: How does actually being the one to start an FP&A function at an organization differ from joining a team that is already in place? What are the biggest challenges?
Liew: Be it a new team or established team, I believe the key lies in the leader having a clear vision of the function of FP&A. I was lucky as the FP&A leader at Wood Mackenzie has a clear vision that a finance business partner is not an accountant. He has allowed time for me to understand the business needs and given me enough flexibility to modify the approach on working with the business.
AFP: How has FP&A's role differed from company to company in your work experience?
Liew: It varies from a full FP&A function in some companies, to a controller plus a function in others. The latter is at times frustrating as it could be hard to change the perception.
AFP: What are you focusing on now that you maybe haven't before? For FP&A specifically, does the work change depending on the industry that you're in?
Liew: My focus next is really understanding aspects of the business operation and how each step is interlinked to drive the result. The work doesn’t drastically change between different industries; some KPI measures could be different—manufacturing versus the service industry—however, the end objectives remains the same.
AFP: In a recent CFO Innovation article, you talked about the difficulty in recruiting people to the FP&A team, as they need to have a balance of being able to connect with other departments and being able to work the numbers. On the whole, would you say that FP&A professionals generally fall into the latter category? If so, what do they need to do to change that? Do you think that working cross-functionally is more important for FP&A than say, treasury or accounting?
Liew: Yes, FP&A professionals definitely have to be a versatile group to be able to look at a database, digest it quickly and turn it into a storyboard that makes sense to various departments. One has to be an analyst and an effective presenter simultaneously, in addition to working with various stakeholders to balance their needs—for example, different regions fighting over the same pot of funds.
Interested in becoming a Certified Corporate FP&A Professional? Learn more here.