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FP&A Roundtable: 6 Key Skills Practitioners Must Possess

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 7/15/2016
In June, over a dozen financial planning and analysis (FP&A) practitioners gathered in Boston for an AFP roundtable sponsored by Peloton. This was the third in a series of roundtables AFP has held across the country in 2016. The conversation quickly turned to the skills FP&A executives need to have in order to succeed in their evolving role as strategic partners to the business.

Six key skillsets

According to the roundtable participants, FP&A executives today must be able to:

1. Go beyond the numbers. One of the key skills FP&A must possess if it is to deliver on its mission of providing value-add advice is to be “puzzle solvers and not number crunchers,” said the vice president of FP&A at a pharmaceutical firm. While professionals need to have the technical competency to know when “dive into the weeds,” they must also have the ability to solve problems.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Another key skill is communication, added the FP&A head at a law firm. “FP&A needs to be able to communicate back out to the business and up to leadership,” he said.

3. Know the business. “If you want to be a trusted business adviser, you need to know the business as well as your colleagues,” added another finance executive. That means visiting the store, or the plant, taking a personal interest in the business partners’ lives, making small talk and socializing, as well as asking questions about their job and business operations and getting invited to staff meetings. Another way is to embed some FP&A staff in the business units.

4. Be intellectually curious. Business partnership comes from having the intellectual curiosity to want to understand what the business is doing. That’s a quality unique to FP&A professionals, according to the roundtable attendees. It’s hard to teach. It’s something that’s innate to the personality of the professional. “We hire more for potential than anything else,” said one participant from a software vendor.

5. Tell stories. Sharing numbers doesn’t win minds and hearts; FP&A professionals need to know how to tell stories and draw pictures to help support budget or investment requests or provide investment advice. “Don’t just give the data; help explain your business partners’ story to management and explain management’s view to your business partners,” said one participant. “Being a business partner means bringing the business message to leadership and bringing leadership message to the business.”

6. Be politically savvy.
Finally, FP&A needs to find the fine line between acting as the business advocate and communicating the organization’s big-picture goals to the businesses. It’s not always easy to do because FP&A needs to be viewed both as part of the team and as an objective bystander, without losing the trust of the operations or management.
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