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Articles

The Future of Finance is Tied to 3 Core Themes

  • By AFP Staff Writers
  • Published: 1/27/2021
iStock-1182789567 (1)

The evolution of the FP&A profession can be seen when the practitioner community submits proposals to speak at AFP conferences. After the AFP FinNext Virtual Conference Planning Task Force met in January to select the sessions, a few of the members sat back to reflect on the larger trends evident in the multitudes of proposals. What they found were three core themes that reinforced the need for finance to hold multiple points of view simultaneously.

Integration and overlap with the IT function

“I'm seeing more integration of FP&A and the IT function,” said Raja Ramachandran, CTP, FPAC, director of Financial Planning & Analysis, Pyxus International, Inc. “It is getting to be an overlapping sphere of influence. FP&A folks are getting a lot more into IT than ever before.”

“They're [IT] really pushing back on us as finance to make sure that we are the ones validating the data, whereas in the past, that would have totally been an IT thing,” said Camille Felton, CTP, FPAC, senior lead analyst, Financial Analytics & Automation, Chick-fil-A, Inc. “They would have had to make sure all the dots are connected and made sure all the connections flow correctly. They're asking more of us. And, therefore, we're having to hire people with different skills than we had in the past.”

The Task Force also noted an increase in finance professionals taking ownership of traditional IT within the finance office. This is often due to the lack of capacity of their IT partner to meet internal needs, and was evident in the substance of the submissions. Betsy MacLean has lived the problem herself: “I wanted to build a dashboard and IT said to me, ‘OK, in three months, we can talk to us about maybe putting it on the schedule for three quarters from now.’ Instead, in a week and a half, I could have it scoped out, built it on Power BI and published.”

Soft skills are more critical than ever

As the FP&A role continues to evolve into a partnership within the organization, the ability to communicate the findings of your data is becoming as important as financial acumen.

“I think it's the softer skills that are something that we really have to make sure that we excel at,” said Betsy MacLean, board member and chairman, Audit Committee, mCloud Technologies. “If you're going to partner, you need to be able to come with solid data, but also have the softer skills so that you are conveying the information from the data in a way that is natural for the audience you're talking to.” “Is it about the message that we're delivering? Are we sometimes too technical?” asked Bryan Lapidus, director, FP&A Practice, AFP.

“It's the ability to read the room and figure out, okay, how am I getting my point across in a way that's effective for this audience, and still leverages the data,” said MacLean. The finance community included several submissions about business partnering, emotional intelligence, and effective communication in a digital environment.

C-suite demands for delivery of faster insights

The third theme that emerged to the Task Force as the fact that the C-suite is pushing FP&A to provide insights much faster, to balance the need for real-time information with long-term strategy.

“We're being asked to drive toward insights faster, which is making us think more forward-looking than I think we necessarily had to in the past,” said Felton. “My role used to be to build the board deck the same as it had always been built. My role now is to think about the questions that might be asked as a result of external pressures or external pieces, and kind of going from there.”

“We are definitely moving well beyond the basics of data gathering, consolidations, and reporting,” said Ramachandran. A large portion of the submissions focused on how practitioners had increased the velocity of their decision by adding automation to speed their data ingestion, analysis and time to insight.

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