For Irena Barisic, FP&A, deputy CFO for the Brookings Institution, financial planning and analysis is all about collaborating with staff across all levels of the organization in looking forward and anticipating over-the-horizon financial risks and challenges.
"Looking ahead allows us to be more proactive and prepared, while it also informs the strategic planning process and helps shape institutional operations long term," said Barisic, who holds the Certified FP&A credential. "FP&A plays not just a traditional role but also acts as a strategic partner."
The Brookings Institution is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization devoted to independent, in-depth social sciences research. In her role, Barisic serves as an adviser to the CFO, while also leading the FP&A function. She is responsible for the development of the operating budget, forecasts, the long-range plan and all underlying assumptions, as well as internal financial and management reporting to facilitate the decision-making process of senior leadership and the board.
Barisic began her finance career in the investment banking industry, quickly developing skills and expertise in all facets of finance. This led to her moving into FP&A. "After several years in investment banking, I wanted to take a different path," she said. "I absolutely enjoyed finance and working with numbers, but I wanted to develop more of the analytical and the people aspects in my work."
In 2004, Barisic was invited into an FP&A role in an international development company. So began her journey in a work environment that combined social good with financial acumen. The invitation was into a newly formed FP&A team of five, from a CFO who looked not only for finance skills but also analytical, presentation and communications skills. "I joined a team that was in its infancy that gravitated from a more technical entity to a finance group that was embedded within the company," she said.
Barisic continued to hone her skills, getting involved with AFP's Corporate FP&A certification program early on, volunteering to write and review the test questions. "Participating in the process meant dedicating time to strengthening my own technical completeness," she said. "More importantly, it has given me a distinct opportunity to meet fellow practitioners from many different sectors, to find out how they address daily issues, such as managing over-the-horizon financial risk and long term financial sustainability, as well as to shape best practices and collectively work on resolving challenges."
Meanwhile, "being certified has allowed me to look at my own work through a different lens," Barisic noted. "I am always looking for new ways to add value to the Institution, to improve our planning and analytical process, as well as to be more innovative with how we present data and keep our stakeholders informed," she said. "I want to remain confident that I am always aware of the cutting edge practices in FP&A and that I am applying those in my day-to-day work. It also helps me be a better mentor to my team by teaching them as I learn, and by doing so, growing them professionally and preparing them for their next big thing."
In her current role, Barisic faces two unique challenges: first, helping to drive collaboration among different parts of the organization for increased cohesiveness in working towards a common goal—continuing to be the leading think tank in the world. The second is providing all levels of the business with a solid understanding of financial decisions made and their impact long term.
"It goes deeper than just collaboration with FP&A," she said. "Senior leaders should also focus on breaking down silos, encouraging collaboration across all businesses and limiting disadvantageous competition. That also means understanding existing overlaps and coming up with more innovative and creative solutions," she said.
As to educating the business about finance, she wants to ensure that staff considers long-term financial implications when making decisions. "We need to be more deliberate when making decisions to ensure that financial decisions we make today don't have an adverse impact in the future," Barisic said.
Over time, she's seen the profession evolve from a purely centralized function with a mandate to provide senior leaders with insights into the numbers into a function tasked with providing all levels of the organization with information they need to make smart decisions. "FP&A is now more integrated into the various areas of the business and serves as a partner in the day-to-day decision-making," she said. "This trend will continue as FP&A continues to expand its skillset beyond just understanding the numbers."