In this article, I will discuss the challenges finance teams face in Asia Pacific and some insights into how we can manage remote FP&A teams. These challenges are mostly similar to other regions where teams are away from headquarters and scattered in various locations.
The most obvious challenge is managing teams remotely
Regional FP&A teams usually consist of one or two professionals who manage the FP&A function of each country. They are responsible for a wide range of activities, from basic management and performance reporting to business decision support. They will also have to participate in globally driven processes such as budgeting and forecasting.
Many times, such teams will feel understaffed and overworked, and even isolated if they are located in countries where functions like sales and marketing are the dominating ones.
As the leader, an important task is to provide guidance and a sense of belonging to the various teams located in different geographies with the help of:
- a well-defined structure;
- training and career development.
1. Clear roles and responsibilities
As discussed in the blog titled “3 ways to organize FP&A teams”, FP&A teams can be organized by function, by line of business or by geography. Whichever way the teams are organized, having clear roles and responsibilities are crucial to the success of the team.
For example, for processes like annual budgeting exercise or forecasting, regional FP&A teams should focus on adherence to global deadlines, ensure that deliverables are submitted in the right format and review all submitted financials for reasonableness.
If that is done correctly, functional or geographical finance teams can focus on discussions with the field in order to get the best information possible and to provide business insights to the regional FP&A team. Otherwise, all these different finance teams may end up spending time cleaning up templates, submitting non-value-add information and missing deadlines due to constant revisions.
2. Clear timelines and deliverables
This may seem obvious but having a detailed timeline and a list of deliverables can help avoid a lot of misunderstandings and frustration. They can also allow different teams in the region to collaborate effectively.
The finance teams should spend time upfront to get input and plan. Things like public holidays, data requirements for teams supporting different functions (e.g. supply chain finance versus field finance) can adversely impact the timing.
Below are a few things a finance leader can do to encourage communication within the teams:
1. Video conferences
With today’s technology, it is easy to have video conferences with teams across countries at least once a week. The objectives of such meetings are to update, inform, discuss and agree.
Discussion is probably the most important part of the meeting, which is to solicit input and have the team bring up various issues that can be shared across the geographies.
It is essential to bring issues to the table and let the team agree on priorities and actions. If done correctly, these regular meetings can bring the team closer together, will give an opportunity to the team members in different countries to interact with each other and will foster trust and collaboration amongst the team.
2. Face-to-face meetings
On top of video conferences, having face to face meetings is an important part of building trust and teamwork. If time and budget permits, the FP&A teams should get together at least once a year to reflect and plan actions. If getting the whole team together is not feasible, then the alternative is to have FP&A leaders from various countries meet to align priorities so that the message to the teams is consistent.
3. Transparency and accessibility
Most importantly, is for finance leaders to be transparent and accessible. Team members should feel comfortable enough to reach out and discuss any issues they face. This level of trust can be built only gradually until everyone feels like they can have open and honest discussions.
Training and career development
It will bring stability and retention to the finance team. Due to a lack of critical mass, it is often difficult to provide training and career development. However, finance leaders can leverage technology to provide better training to the team.
The following are some actions finance leaders can take:
Finance leaders can deliver different trainings either through self-learning courses or live trainings through webinars. A well-structured training program can add to the effectiveness of such initiatives and also allow finance professionals to develop technical skills (e.g. forecasting techniques, accounting updates etc.), soft skills (e.g. communication, business partner skills) or software skills (spreadsheets, various FP&A tools etc.).
2. Career development
This has always been a challenge to regional FP&A teams. Due to the smaller size and limitation of being mobile, FP&A professionals often feel “stuck” in certain roles and may look outside for different opportunities. As finance leaders, structuring a rotation program may help address this problem.
Finance leaders can find short term rotations within the region or even globally, allowing mobile professionals to gain exposures to different roles and networks within the organization.
Another way is to have shadow assignments across different functions to enhance business understanding. However, one key component is to be transparent and open to your team members trying different things. Even though there will always be inconveniences and disruptions when people in your team change roles, the benefit of having a more stable and knowledgeable team can outweigh those inconveniences.
Although regional FP&A teams are usually leaner and have less resources than finance teams back in the “mothership”, finance leaders can still manage the teams effectively by applying the same, effective principles that are applicable to other parts of the organization.
As long as the leader is conscious of the geographical and cultural challenges, he or she can find effective ways to manage and even take advantage of the diversity to improve team management.
The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog