Clearly, there are a lot of valuable skills accounting professionals can bring to the FP&A role. Yet there’s also a lot they must learn. They need to develop the business partnerships and the analytical skills required to connect the dots and see the bigger picture. They need to shed their allegiance to rules and think outside the box, and they need to shift their mindset from reporting on what happened to why it happened—and what’s likely to happen going forward.
According to Michael Trzupek, group vice president of finance at Providence-St. Joseph’s Health, when accounting professionals make the decision to switch to FP&A, the first piece is to engage in formal continuing education programs. Right now, the only corporate FP&A-specific certification program is offered by AFP. “It gives accounting professionals a chance to delve into the FP&A world and learn the required skills in a very concise and organized manner,” Trzupek said. The second piece is acquiring skills through training—internal and external—and developing the necessary soft skills through leadership courses.
The third piece is identifying mentors within the organization. “A mentor can talk through some of the difficulties early in the career,” he said. Trzupek has had several mentors throughout his career, and now he happily mentors others.
Gaileon Thompson, CTP, FP&A, senior vice president of business planning and analysis at Citibank Global Consumer Technology, also strongly believes that continuing education and programs like the AFP certification can help accounting professionals make that necessary switch. “I often think that accounting professionals may not fully realize just how different FP&A is,” she said.
“Training and certification can help to raise awareness around those differences and help accounting candidates understand whether FP&A is truly a good fit for them. If, after understanding the nature of FP&A, the accounting candidate wants to pursue the transition, then training and certification also helps to deepen their understanding of FP&A, and helps the candidate understand where they have strengths, and where they need to perhaps expand a skillset or two.”
The other piece is developing the softer skills that allow FP&A professionals to put themselves inside the business partner’s framework. “You start with figuring out where you can add value,” said Jason Logman, principal of Digital Enterprise Analytics at The Hackett Group. “To figure that out, I suggest you get into the business. Visit the store. Or the plant,” he said.
David Buley, CFO of the Association of Independent Schools in Australia, believes in the process of continual learning. “I think it is imperative for your career to not only keep ‘sharpening the saw,’ but to occasionally ‘change out the blade’ or even ‘replace the saw with an improved model,’” he said. “What this means is continually scanning your industry and exposing yourself to new things, attending conferences you might not ordinarily go to, and contributing to forums and blogs to test out your ideas.”
Skillset: A checklist
- Focuses on the “what”
- Looks at the past
- Number cruncher
- Works within the function
- Focus on G/L, financial statement
- Internally focused
- Focuses on the “why”
- Looks at the future
- Number interpreter, storyteller
- Comfortable with ambiguity
- Sees the big picture
- Business collaborator, partner
- Thinks outside the box, creative
- Knows the business, KPIs and metrics
- Understands the market and economy