Overcoming Roadblocks in Your Transition from Accounting to FP&A

  • By AFP Staff
  • Published: 12/12/2023
Overcoming Roadblocks in Your Transition from Accounting to FP&A

Many valuable skills from the accounting field can significantly enhance FP&A.

Many former accountants have risen to leadership roles within FP&A, demonstrating that the transition can be made and that accounting skills are valued in the FP&A world. How easily the transition is made, however, ultimately depends on the individual with their eagerness to learn and a natural desire to ask the “why” questions. But that is just the beginning.

Wassia Kamon made the transition from accounting to FP&A and is now Vice President of Finance and Corporate Controller of the Low Income Investment Fund. She found that accounting and finance value different things; accountants tend to focus on accuracy and compliance, while in FP&A, what will put you in the best light is anything that has to do with insights, strategy and cross-functional collaboration. She explained that when accountants transition into FP&A, they often face two primary roadblocks.

Roadblock 1: Self-Doubt

The voice in your head, the one that tells you that you don’t have what it takes, is called self-doubt. If you listen, you start selling yourself short, whether through interviews or your résumé, and you start highlighting all the things that evidence your inability to make a successful transition.

Shut that voice down by exploring what will put you in the best light for FP&A roles — i.e., anything you’ve done that has to do with insights, strategy or cross-functional collaborations.

“As an accountant, you have to remember that you have the foundation needed to succeed in FP&A,” said Kamon. “You know the mechanics behind the numbers, so it'll be easier for you to forecast them in the future.”

Kamon recommends the following two steps to begin your transition.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Learn what FP&A is truly about. Some of the best ways to achieve this are through networking and mentoring. Job shadow colleagues in FP&A, sit in on FP&A meetings, or join a project that overlaps with FP&A or that demonstrates the kind of effort required in the role.

Step 2: Fill in Skill Gaps

Second, based on your research, start making a list of your transferable skills and relevant experience — and address skill gaps. Two ways to help you fill in skill gaps include:

  • Earning the FPAC. AFP’s certification program can help bridge the gap between accounting and FP&A expectations. Areas covered include gathering and interpreting information, communicating financial concepts to people outside finance, and using technology to build and interpret financial projections.

  • Broadening your spreadsheet skills. Everyone in finance uses Excel, but FP&A takes it to another level using finance functions such as NPV, IRR, FV, PMT, Rate (time value of money concepts); data functions such as Index Match, Ifs, Offsets, Sumifs, multiple types of lookups (X, vertical/horizontal); and analytical functions through the statistical add-in feature. 

Roadblock 2: Embracing Uncertainty

FP&A has fewer frames of reference to organize your work and your thinking; sometimes, it means starting from scratch.

“In accounting, we have guidance,” said Kamon. “We have GAP and IFRS. We have predetermined financial statements that we can go through and make sure that the numbers are tied to the general ledger. When you get to FP&A, it's a 180-degree change. Now you're getting into operational focus.”

As an FP&A professional, you have to get both financial and non-financial metrics. It’s your responsibility to gain buy-in on different projects. You are charged with coming up with creative ways to tell the financial story to both finance professionals and non-finance professionals. That could mean using a pie chart or waterfall — whatever it takes to effectively communicate with your audience, because it is your job to deliver information in a useful format to foster strategic decision-making.

Kamon offered this advice: Improve your scenario modeling skills. Think about multiple potential outcomes and probability distributions. Learn how to use sensitivity analysis to show how best-case scenarios and worst-case scenarios can come together and be able to clarify your assumption.

“It will help you tame that inner accountant desire to be exactly precise, and move you toward ‘OK, I may not have a hundred percent, but here is what I think and why. Here are some tools. Here are some ways of seeing how to solve this problem,’” said Kamon.

Was it worth the effort to transition from accounting to FP&A? Kamon said, “It's absolutely worth it. It made such a big difference for me, and I encourage you to explore it.”

Do you want to learn more about how you can make a successful transition from accounting to FP&A? Check out AFP’s FP&A Guide: The Transition from Accounting to FP&A.

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