In a recent AFP Conversations podcast, Anne-Marie Rice, director EMEA at AFP, provided the view from the UK and Europe on corporate treasury and finance. Specifically, she discussed trends in financial planning and analysis (FP&A), which she sees as the future of the finance function.
AFP Conversations: Let’s begin with your role at AFP. You recently joined a couple of months ago. What'll you be doing here?
Anne-Marie Rice: Yes. Well, rejoined about two or three months ago. I’ve worked quite closely with AFP for the bulk of about a decade and I recently completed a tenure as CEO for a couple of financial technology websites and treasury websites. My role is really to get out there and engage with large corporations across Europe, the Middle East and Asia to explore and identify areas, particularly within the FP&A function, where we can work closely together to basically improve the success of those finance professionals and the organizations that they work for. There’s a plethora of ways that we can do that—FP&A certification; training that helps organizations work on skill gaps that they have identified within their finance departments; and a couple of other areas around membership, our annual conference and access to content on the AFP website. So it’s multipronged approach to building relationships, hearing what's happening on the ground, and what pain points and challenges large corporations are having, particularly across the finance function. More importantly, helping solve those problems for them.
AFP Conversations: You're meeting primarily with FP&A professionals and executives. I'm curious, what has them concerned? What’s top of mind with them?
Rice: I suppose from a challenge perspective, what I’m finding from the CFO level right down to controller level is this kind of real desire and need for more investment in the personal development of FP&A staff, and more investment in analytics technology to help them do the jobs. I recently read a piece that Jim Kaitz, president of AFP, wrote about investment and technology and there appears to be quite an uplift here in the U.S. I don't think that’s being mirrored to the same extent in Europe and the Middle East. But for FP&A folk to do the jobs as effectively and diligently as they need to do in today’s economic and political climates, they need more technology and they need more investment in people.
AFP Conversations: Do you find that their challenge is actually just finding qualified folks to help run the FP&A department? Or is it more a case of people having the finance background and the skills, but needing to develop the soft skills?
Rice: A little bit of both, to be honest. We’re seeing this evolution within finance, this transition from historical accounting and finance practices to this new future of finance, really which is FP&A. And with that comes a need for a smorgasbord of quite different skills, so the business partnership element is hugely important. As chief executive of a couple of businesses, I’ve seen that kind of transition from finance folks sitting in the corner of the room who come out of their area once a month with management accounts to actually wanting to collaborate with and build relationships with heads of departments, members of the board and various business partners, because actually finance has changed incredibly, particularly since the financial crisis.
What we’re seeing now is the evolution of a different type of finance person—somebody who has those accounting skills and a love and an understanding of basic accounting practices, budgeting and forecasting, but actually somebody who wants to embrace technology and sees the value add that it brings to a business. For example, the production of real time data is very similar actually to an evolution I saw about 10 years ago in publishing, which is where I cut my teeth originally. That point when print publishing moved to digital publishing was actually quite painful for quite a lot of big publishers. But once the transition happens, you end up with a different business structure and a leaner, fitter, more agile kind of FP&A function with the technology and with the people that can drive it forward.
AFP Conversations: Have you found that today some CFOs are still clinging to the old ways and saying ‘Oh, you know, we just need to do accounting and we need to just focus on the numbers that we have in hand”? Do you find that mindset of clinging to the past?
Rice: To a certain degree, but surprisingly, this myth around the division between millennials and older folks like myself is not really as obvious or as strong as you would imagine. Yes, I am meeting with some senior finance professionals who feel that a lot of this technology talk and analytics talk is just bluster and all we’re here to do is produce numbers and give them to the board. But surprisingly, some non-millennials are actually some of the greatest advocates of analytics technology, digging down into the numbers and anticipating what’s going to happen so that they can put contingency plans in place that make their businesses fitter and more agile. Yes, of course, there is that element of ‘We don't like change. We don't want to embrace it.’ On the other hand and more so, there’s an excitement about what technology is allowing and where the FP&A function has a value add to the business. It’s the future of finance.