Over 70 percent of finance executives say financial planning and analysis (FP&A) positions are the hardest to fill. A recent AFP FP&A Guide, Addressing the FP&A Talent Gap, explains what has changed in the external and internal environment to make this such a difficult time to find FP&A professionals.
Among the reasons:
- The growing unpredictability of the business environment
- The expanding role of the profession
- The advent of big data
- The evolution of new technologies.
What to seek?
The new face of the FP&A profession means senior FP&A directors need to look for different skills when hiring staff, i.e., a combination of hard analytics and finance skills and soft communication and collaboration skills. How can you do it? Here are a few tips:
- Of course, get the good analysts. The basic skills set remains the same. Candidates need to demonstrate good Excel skills and the ability to analyze and build models.
- Seek an inquisitive mind. As FP&A is called upon to do more analysis and provide greater decision support to management, one of the most important skills FP&A professionals must have is intellectual curiosity. The idea is to ask the next question, look beyond the obvious and be willing to learn new things, new tools and methodologies.
- Look for diplomacy. Up-and-coming FP&A professionals need to possess a talent for understanding the outside environment, and they need to have good business intelligence tools, such as efficient research skills and the ability to communicate their findings in a timely manner, according to Vic Datta, CEO of consulting firm Resilicore. “They also have to be diplomats,” he said. “You’re basically the voice of the CFO.”
- Find a diverse background. Ask candidates about their background and look for ones that have worked in various departments and environments. According to David Axson, managing director of CFO and enterprise value at Accenture, diversity of one’s experiences and their rotation outside of finance are increasingly valuable. That means looking for stints in operations, logistics and marketing. Candidates who spent time outside of finance are better at drawing a line between what’s happening in the business and its financial impact. “They can swim upstream to understand the factors in the business and marketplace that drive the results,” he said.
- Look for the ability to influence. According to David Pinkley, managing director of the recruiting firm Executive Insight Inc., FP&A professionals straddle the finance organization and operations. “They’re dealing with a lot of internal customers,” said Pinkley. The key is that FP&A’s livelihood depends on the department’s ability to procure information from other parts of the organization—a task made more difficult by the fact that many managers are not interested in speaking to them. “The only way to reconcile that is with people skills,” said Pinkley.
- Make sure they can articulate. You want to look for FP&A professionals who can articulate their own experiences, according to Phil Murphy, a consultant with Spencer Stuart. “While this is not a totally new phenomenon, it has become more apparent in recent years. FP&A leaders who wish to position themselves for higher-level roles have to do a better job at articulating their experiences than their colleagues in, for example, treasury or internal audit,” he said. “The interviews can be more rigorous,” he said. “Those searches are often more challenging for companies and for the search firms that advise them.”
- Identify that special something—motivation. When hiring, it’s also important to look at a candidate’s motivation, according to Jim O’Connor, a principal with The Hackett Group. “You want to hire a professional who has the ability, but who is also absolutely excited about the role and wants to develop his or her own professional career,” he said.
- Communication, communication, communication. Finally, as more advanced technology is freeing FP&A professionals to move away from day-to-day number-crunching into decision support roles, their core skills are also changing to require closer working relationships with management and business leaders. “They are moving away from mastery of data collection to mastery of communication,” Accenture’s Axson said. The key is to identify the right analytical framework, apply it to the data, and interpret the output. “And most importantly,” he added, “it’s being able to articulate not just the results but also the implications and actions the business should be taking to follow up.”
The topic of FP&A talent management has a strong and increasingly important sense of urgency around it, with a focus on skills, competencies and even developing the right pipeline of qualified candidates, according to Philip Peck, vice president of Peloton, an enterprise performance management, business analytics and information management consulting firm.
According to Axson, new skill requirements parallel changes in the behaviors and responsibilities needed in finance. Far more than just a steward of the company’s financial well-being, finance also helps protect the business’ profit against risks, assesses new avenues of growth, and drives innovative insights and value-added analysis to improve business performance. Good FP&A professionals are the ultimate storytellers, providing the meaning behind the financial figures. Owing to this expanded role, finance professionals often now balance core business and finance responsibilities to help the business as a whole, thus putting a premium on skills beyond those traditionally valued by finance.