Starting his career in audit provided Kelvin Chu, CA, CFA, FPAC with first-hand insights into how different finance disciplines would collaborate and drive financial values.
He then moved onto corporate leadership roles in financial accounting and recently into financial controller position where Kelvin owns the treasury, transaction services and compliance functions of the largest seafood company in the country. And, by taking advantage of the wide range of opportunities available to him, this indirect route led Kelvin to FP&A. “I was involved in M&A activities, budgeting, forecasting, investment projects, regulatory projects, and the likes, all of which involved forward-looking and predictive work of some form. Being an advocate for modern accounting, extending beyond compliance and being multifaceted, I found FP&A to be my calling.”
Owning the different aspects of finance
As the group financial controller of Sanford Limited, New Zealand, Kelvin takes on three major responsibilities: treasury, transaction services and compliance. Within the treasury function, he is involved in the traditional treasury scope. Kelvin ensures that the company’s treasury policy is adhered to, monitoring and executing funding positions in accordance with the company’s borrowing needs and maintaining financial systems and policies that control the company’s treasury activities. He leads the back-office activities, ensuring that all treasury transactions are settled, accounted for, and reported in an accurate and timely manner. “FP&A capabilities are natural complements of treasury attributes – both are forward-looking skills,” said Kelvin.
Cash forecasting, borrowings, liquidity management all involve analyses of the present to project the future. This is an iterative process, making use of FP&A tools such as scenario analyses and sensitivity analyses.” With compliance, Kelvin ensures the integrity and validity of the company’s accounting policies, and that the published financial results are true and accurate. Transaction services, ensures that the company’s transaction policies (delegation authority, approval authorities) are complied with on a continual basis and the working capital is managed and optimized for the business.
The uncertainty is the hardest part
When it comes to the issues Kelvin has to contend with, uncertainty is the most critical. “We now operate in a world where historical trends and data are becoming less effective as a predictive tool for the future,” he said. “We have the pandemic that’s provided different surprises to different countries on different scales. We have climate change that is still a known unknown. We have a war that’s threatening the world’s food sources. We have new technologies surfacing while we sleep. These all make financial planning that much more complex, but also so much more challenging and intriguing.”
How does he handle it? Kelvin’s approach is to be very aware of the environment in which he operates (SWOT analysis is useful here, he said) and to dissect and prioritize the many uncertainties you need to tackle by impact and by your knowledge in that area. “Use the experts around you,” he said. “Stay informed. Stay inquisitive.”
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Looking to the future
Kelvin plans to extend his FP&A capabilities to the area of ESG (environmental, social and governance) in order to keep pace with the rapid changes in the world. “The pandemic sent shock waves of change to the way people live their lives, but if we look at a macro level far into the future, ESG is going to continue to dominate conversations between governments and countries and between companies and industries in economies,” he said. “FP&A is by nature a forward-looking discipline, and a primary focus of ESG is the future. As an FP&A and accounting professional, I believe I have role to play in helping my country shape and achieve its ESG objectives.”
Kelvin said he will also continue advocating for FP&A to be added as a core skill for accountants. He believes that at the pace the world is moving, professional, accurate and flexible financial planning are key to business and financial success. “With digital technologies making advances on a daily basis, FP&A is undoubtedly a key skill for accountants of the future to have,” said Kelvin.
Testing his FP&A skills
Kelvin came across the FPAC credential when he was researching professional qualifications for FP&A. Because he felt this was a discipline that would expand very quickly, he wanted to solidify his skills in a structural and academic way, which included formally testing his knowledge in the area.
The courses for the FPAC credential were something Kelvin said he found to be well balanced. There were areas he had not come across directly, either from other credentials or through his work, that looked interesting, so he decided to embark on the FPAC journey. And he’s glad he did.
“The FPAC program provided me with new perspectives on some areas of FP&A,” he said. “A good example is, in the areas of forecasting, the preparation materials provided good tips and strategies in obtaining and refining inputs from different experts and specialists. These soft skills have added value to what I do professionally. I also acquired different ways of modelling, which were valuable additions to my toolbox.” Kelvin added that knowing he holds a professional qualification in a specialized area provides him with the confidence to push himself further in his career.
Would he recommend the FPAC to others? “Absolutely.” Kelvin said he would encourage anyone with a serious interest in pursuing a career in FP&A to earn the FPAC credential. “First and foremost, every learning opportunity is an enriching experience, and I have already made use of some of the skills that I have acquired from the FPAC program,” he said. “The credential is a recognition of what you know and your experience in the field of FP&A, and if you hold other accounting and finance credentials too, it’s evidence that you have a multi-dimensional set of skills to tackle the many challenges faced by today’s finance professionals.”