Andrew Jepson

Andrew is a Chartered Accountant with over 20 years of professional and commercial experience. After commencing his career in Assurance, he moved into industry and held various senior finance roles in several industries such as FMCG, food ingredients, software and property & construction. He has worked both domestically in Australia as well as globally in the UK and Europe.

Driving by a passion to improve the accounting industry Andrew is the owner of his own consulting business focused on Freelance/Part time CFO services, Revenue Management for FMCG companies, and Training and Development for finance teams.

Following this passion, Andrew has become one of Australia’s leading presenters and authorities on finance business partnering. He is a published author on the topic having recently released the book Compliance to Commercial: The QUIET approach to Finance Business Partnering and facilitates the Development Program of the same name in Australia.

 

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Want to be a better FP&A Business Partner… Speak their language

By Andrew Jepson, Senior Finance Consultant, Revenue Management Expert

Andrew is a Chartered Accountant with over 20 years of professional and commercial experience. After commencing his career in Assurance, he moved into industry and held various senior finance roles in several industries such as FMCG, food ingredients, software and property & construction. He has worked both domestically in Australia as well as globally in the UK and Europe.

Driving by a passion to improve the accounting industry Andrew is the owner of his own consulting business focused on Freelance/Part time CFO services, Revenue Management for FMCG companies, and Training and Development for finance teams.

Following this passion, Andrew has become one of Australia’s leading presenters and authorities on finance business partnering. He is a published author on the topic having recently released the book Compliance to Commercial: The QUIET approach to Finance Business Partnering and facilitates the Development Program of the same name in Australia.

LinkedIn account: www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-jepson-35635812/

Back in 2004 I spent a large portion of time overseas travelling around France. I would often find when talking to a “local” the first question I would ask was: 

“Do you speak English?” 

Most times, the response I got was a short, sharp “No!” 

At other times, when I was conscious of where I was, I would try “Parlez vous Anglais?” 

More often than not, the response to this was “Mmmm, a little”, and perhaps a gesture that they would be happy to help me because I had made an effort to speak their language.   

Spending more time in the country I found myself picking up more phrases and words of the language, and the more I learned and spoke of their language, the more I understood and became more effective with the locals.  

Being an FP&A Business Partner to non-finance people is just like this. Sales, Marketing, Supply Chain, IT…..they all speak their own language, and if you are not attune to it, you will not be as effective as you need to be. And if you are not effective, you are going to find it difficult to “live in their country”. 

You also need to be able to understand the world from their point of view. Accounting Standards, Debits and Credits and even the art of arithmetic are all things we as Accountants find familiar, and sometimes easy. It doesn’t mean Marketing does, it doesn’t mean sales does.  

They couldn’t care less that a new lease standard is going to be introduced in a few year’s time. They couldn’t care that your balance sheet is going to change significantly. They probably don’t even know what a Balance Sheet is (seriously they probably don’t!). And nor should they, that is Finances job. 

Sales and Marketing are interested in things that are going to improve the top line. How can we sell more, grow customers, realise better prices, develop new segments, etc. That is what you need to be talking to them about. They have lots of ideas and experience, get beside them and know what they know. Go to a customer meeting, talk to your businesses target market, and learn to speak their language

I.T. want to talk to you about “your project”, and BI envrionments and their new whizz bang toy they have found. They want to scope everything and work with certainty. They don’t understand the difference between capex and opex and the accounting standards that govern it. In their mind, they can capitalise anything and defer it to when they want to expense it. You need to find a way to translate your knowledge of estimate based accounting standards into something that makes sense for them. You need to speak their language

Supply chain and Operations are great at building efficiencies and cost improvement and lean processes. They are constantly under pressure to reduce costs. So help them with this. What drives their costs, what is variable, what is fixed. What costs reduce quality and what costs increase quality. Sometimes investing some money can reduce things by a larger amount in other areas. Use the extensive business knowledge you have developed through your CA and CPA training to help them improve things that they haven’t even thought of. And speak their language.  

As an FP&A Business Partner you have a unique position in an organisation to interpret some complex rules and regulations and access to a lot of information others don’t see or cannot understand. But if this is not what helps your partner, you will never do yourself justice as a leader in an organisation. And you certainly won’t be adding any value. So spend time with your business partners, learn their function and above all learn to speak their language.  

Carpe Diem! 

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Become a better FP&A Business Partner...avoid emails

Andrew Jepson, Senior Finance Consultant, Revenue Management Expert

Andrew is a Chartered Accountant with over 20 years of professional and commercial experience. After commencing his career in Assurance, he moved into industry and held various senior finance roles in several industries such as FMCG, food ingredients, software and property & construction. He has worked both domestically in Australia as well as globally in the UK and Europe.

Driving by a passion to improve the accounting industry Andrew is the owner of his own consulting business focused on Freelance/Part time CFO services, Revenue Management for FMCG companies, and Training and Development for finance teams.

Following this passion, Andrew has become one of Australia’s leading presenters and authorities on finance business partnering. He is a published author on the topic having recently released the book Compliance to Commercial: The QUIET approach to Finance Business Partnering and facilitates the Development Program of the same name in Australia.

LinkedIn account: www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-jepson-35635812/

The 21st century has allowed us to communicate in a number of effective and innovative ways. Email, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Tinder, Hashtags, the list goes on and on in relation to forms of communication which are anything but the simple and most basic form of communication; conversation.
 
The 7% rule (Dr Mehrabian 1971) tells us that communication is 7% verbal, 55% Body Language and 38% tone of voice. So in an age where we over indulge in forms of communication that have no ability to show body language or tone of voice, how can we expect to communicate properly. In addition to this these 21st century forms of communication allow us “thinking time” to craft a valid response and lose the benefits of instincts and spontaneity that often flow from the art of conversation. 
 
In business, and especially for finance staff wanting to become better business partners, there is a distinct advantage to using conversation over emails. They include:

1. Issues are dealt with quickly

Having a conversation with someone means any questions or issues are dealt with immediately. For some reason we as humans believe that if we are sending an email, the person receiving it is reading it then. They are not, and they may not read it until hours, days or even weeks later. And even if they do they don’t have an obligation to respond immediately. They can choose whether to respond or to file it away in the “To Do” folder (or worse the Trash folder). Even if they do respond immediately a 2 minute conversation can be an afternoons worth of emails back and forth. The average person types at a speed of 40 words a minute, whereas we speak at an average of 150 words a minute. Having a conversation is close to 4 times quicker which means issues are discussed and dealt with immediately or a plan is devised to resolve.

2. Reduced chance of Misinterpretation

Ever read an email from someone and thought “wow what does that mean”. Unfortunately, we are unable to convey tone over email and unless we have a degree in English and communication so often our written language is misinterpreted against what we were really trying to say - Language is important. I repeat LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT (and this is not me yelling it is me emphasizing it).
 
But so is tone and body language and with words only being 7% of the meaning wouldn’t it be wise to utilize the other 93% and have a conversation.

3. Talking builds relationships

Talking to someone helps to build rapport and relationships with them. Sight, touch, smell, and sounds are a basic human function and sense. By having a conversation with someone you are experiencing all of these which helps to build stronger relationships. Its why we shake hands with people when we meet or see them. 
 
For finance staff who are often dealing with problems or ensuring things are done a certain way, having this rapport to fall back on makes your message easier to deliver, and easier to receive. 

4. You don’t need evidence

Often people, and especially finance staff, will default to email to keep track of things and have evidence that they asked someone to do something, or for something, or to show they have completed something. Our training ensures we are like that. If you are working as a business partner and your relationship has got to the point where you need to refer to email strings to provide evidence of something, then it’s too late. Your relationship and ability to business partner them has failed.

Under no circumstance does a business partnering relationship work if one of the parties is trying to catch the other one out or unravel them. It needs to be developed on trust and alignment and no email string will provide that. Conversations and relationships will overcome any situation where you just forgot, or deleted something. Remember you work in the same organization as the other person. You are on the same team, this sort of approach should be left for customers, suppliers or other external parties who want to be combative.

So, next time you feel like you need to have a conversation, put the keyboard away and go and have an actual conversation with the person. If your email has more than two replies in it, that is a conversation, so go and have one.
 

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The Importance of Language for an FP&A Professional

By Andrew Jepson, Senior Finance Consultant, Revenue Management Expert

The English language is well renowned for being one of the most difficult languages to learn. So many words, with different pronunciations, meanings and sounds. 

How is it that I can spell the word that sounds “there”, three different ways. There, they’re or their. And they all have different meanings. 

How come some people think it is “could of” when the abbreviated word “could’ve” is a fair indication it is short for “could have”.

“I” before “E” except after “C”. Don’t tell my “neighbour” that one is “weird”.

I speak English and still find it hard to understand, so I guess that’s why I try and stick to numbers and became an FP&A professional. 

But English is one of the world’s most common languages. And it is the language the majority of the western world uses when communicating to each other in business and in organisations. Blend these words together into phrases and we have all sorts of miscommunication minefields to encounter before we even turn this language into numbers. Accordingly, to become a good FP&A professional we need to be highly attuned to what people are saying, what we are hearing and what we are saying in return. 

Language is important and the words we use are critical if we don’t want to be misunderstood. Being explicit and specific in the words and sentences we use, will leave less to interpretation and is critical in order to be effective. 

In this article I analyse three common phrases I hear regularly in the organisations I work with, what I suggest they really mean and how to break through the ambiguity of them.

Strange phrase 1: “The business...”

“The business needs to decide what they want to do here”

I hear people in organisations make this comment about “the business” on an almost daily basis, and it is a passive aggressive example of poor leadership. Instead of taking ownership for an issue or making a decision or working towards a solution staff will blame “the business” or use this fictitious character known as “the business” to avoid taking ownership.

The business will not decide. 

The business does not have a brain or the capacity to make decisions. 

That is done by people within the business. When you hear this try being the person to put your opinion about what should happen forward and make a recommendation or suggestion. All FP&A professionals are as highly trained as the other functions, the only thing we are missing is context from the other functions and by calling out something you think could be done you will draw out the opinions of others and accordingly more context.

Strange Phrase 2: “It’s complicated/It’s hard to explain”

Richard Branson put it perfectly when he said “Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to keep things simple”. 

In a world where time is of the essence and our superiors have less of it than us, keeping things simple, succinct and well-articulated is key for any FP&A professional. Unfortunately, we often run into situations where questions are asked of people and they either respond by going into a lot of detail in order to convince people of their knowledge. Or they struggle and default to “its complicated” in order to buy time or get out of a situation they don’t know enough about.

In my experience when someone says “It’s complicated” it is there way of saying I don’t know this well enough to be able to articulate it simply to you. Which is ok. We can’t all be expected to know everything at an advanced level, all of the time.

Next time you hear someone say this, use judgment to either probe a little more then and there (by saying things like “help me understand……”) or offer to assist them in finding a way to simplify it in another setting at a later date. Having an outside/in view of the world can often help someone articulate things in a more basic form and will give you a chance to assist them when they are struggling, which will help build your relationship and trust with them.

Strange Phrase 3: “I’m/We are keen to move on from this”

This is a phrase people often use when the forum you are in has taken a step sideways and is drifting into an unproductive space. Unfortunately, there are other situations where it is used when people wish to deflect from the issue at hand, feel uncomfortable and do not want to take full responsibility for something that may be in a position that it should be. This is a phrase that has entered the vernacular of sports people over the past 10 years and is pulled out in media conferences when a mistake was made and is usually coupled with “this is a great learning opportunity for us” (with an insincere look on their face that says “get me out of here quickly”)

Unfortunately, if that learning opportunity is not taken and is just language or words that are used, with no action, then this phrase becomes very dangerous. Especially for an organisation. Bad results, system/process breakdowns, errors, etc are all things that happen. But if we don’t understand what caused them, and are prepared for the future when they may happen again then, no, we cant just move on from this. If we haven’t learnt anything then how can it be “a great learning opportunity for us”? 

For an FP&A professional if you hear this phrase, it is important to judge if you are satisfied that you have an adequate understanding of the issue. The person saying it may want to move on, deflect, avoid, etc but as an FP&A professional, if you are not satisfied you understand the root cause, then it is important to stay with it until you do. If that requires you take it away from the meeting you are in or the current conversation, to delve further, then do so. Don’t become combative in the moment, just probe with socratic and open questions (no “yes or no” answers). 

Language, the construction of sentences, and the phrases we slip into the habit of using within organisations can be helpful, or they can be destructive. As an FP&A professional the above three phrases will have been heard regularly, and quite often we do not even consider them as odd. Language is important. The words we use are important and they can have an implied meaning, a hidden meaning and an explicit meaning. When you hear comments like the above, delve further and get clarity from people and you will be well on your way to understanding context and with that being able to add value in your organisation.


 

 
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Business Partnering: How Do I Make Time For This?

By Andrew Jepson, Senior Finance Consultant, Revenue Management Expert

Finance Business Partnering is not a new concept to the many who have been doing it for years. What is new is that it has recently been given a new exciting title, and with that comes the fear that accountants and finance professionals need to be doing something new and in addition to their current duties.  And that they need to find time for it.

I am lucky enough to be in a position of having done finance business partnering for many years, supported by organisations that allowed the structure and freedom to allow business partnering to flourish. The majority of my time was spent with non-finance staff (my business partners) rather than accountants and FP&A professionals. Taking this into the consulting world where I now coach, mentor and train teams and individuals on how to be a successful accountant in the commercial world (or finance business partner), I have learnt many factors that contribute to success. And many that hinder that success.

Most of those factors relate to the skills and behaviours of the individual. But before we can address that we first need to address the common hurdle of “How do I find the time?” 

First and foremost is the realisation that you will never find time to be a good finance business partner if you do not make some changes to what you are currently doing.
 
The funny thing about time is that it never changes. For all my years on this planet I have yet to find a place on it that does not have 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute. Time doesn’t change. It never will. You cannot create more, you cannot lose it. All you can do is choose what you spend your time on. So, if you want to make “time” for finance business partnering, you can only do it by prioritising it. When I say prioritise it, I mean making a choice that you believe is going to add value to your organisation.
 
Trying to layer it over the top of a standard FP&A professional/team that has the responsibilities of month ends, budgets, forecasts, etc will not allow anyone to be an effective finance business partner.

When I moved from a financial control type role to a business partnering role, the first thing I noticed was the lack of control I had over the work I was asked and required to do. My business partners “to do” list was my “to do” list. I had a finance “to do” list of my own but I never got to it and this frustrated me. I couldn’t get to everything I wanted to and I found myself thinking “I do not have enough time”. The requests from sales, marketing, IT, operations, etc kept coming and coming. And they were all urgent and rightfully so. They were often customer-facing and at the front end of the organisation.

This is not uncommon for finance teams who are trying to do both the traditional finance and accounting, and also attempt to do finance business partnering. It is near impossible to be successful at it if you have the burden of standard finance and accounting tasks to also complete that are deadline driven like month ends, budgets, forecasts, etc.

So how do you create the “time” to do effective finance business partnering?

1. Free up your structure/resource

Having a structure within your organisation that separates finance business partners into roles that are not burdened by standard accounting tasks is critical. Things like month-ends, budgets, audits, etc are all pieces of work done at a specific time, and are often time-consuming and deadline-driven. Closing yourself off and saying to your business partners “Sorry can you come back in five days when I've finished month-end” is not effective. It does not make you useful and can contribute to you not being bought into the loop on important decisions. Accordingly, free up the resource to be able to service the other functions, all of the time as they need it.

2. Systems and process

Good ERP systems and BI environments can be enablers to effective finance business partnering or they can be a hindrance. Where you sit on that spectrum depends on the quality of systems and processes you have in place and keep maintained. Robotics and Artificial Intelligence are all the rage at the moment but few finance teams have the budget to implement at the moment. Unfortunately, you may need to rely on good old excel to get where you need to and that’s ok if it is controlled. Minimise the time spent reworking and constructing numbers and maximise the time spent analysing and providing insight.

3. Get the right staff member

Not all accountants make good finance business partners. Being a good technical accountant does not equal being a good finance business partner. Accounting is a technical skillset that takes years to learn and study toward. Finance Business Partnering relies on different skills such as applying those technical skills, relationships, rapport, trust and behaving in a way that other functions want to work with you. You are not a policeman and some accountants struggle with this. Try to identify a team member who can wear different hats, has empathy, curiosity (without being confronting) and has the agility to view the world through the different lenses and functions of the organisation, weigh up those views and make a considered opinion. 

4. Inject that staff member into the other functions

Just as important as separating the resource to perform this task, is taking them out of the finance function and placing them within the teams of the other functions. If the finance individual cannot be seen as part of the other functions team, they will not be able to build the trust, relationships and rapport with the other functions team members to be effective. It will continue to be a siloed approach and at worse an “us v them” mentality. Physically place your finance business partners in the other functions teams with a mechanism back to the finance team. Not the other way around, in the finance team with the occasional journey into the other function. This physical act will help you find the “time” to finance business partner and will signal you are serious about it.

Following the above steps is critical if you want to have “time” to finance business partner (and indicates you have prioritised it). By getting the structure and resource in place to be successful, the concept of not “having time” will be avoided, your organisation will gain exponential value from a skillset that covers multi-functions, and your finance business partnering journey can begin.

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The Ancient Art of Stroytelling (for FP&A People)

By Andrew Jepson, Senior Finance Consultant, Revenue Management Expert

Being able to tell a story is becoming an increasingly popular topic in the finance business partnering space. As finance people, we are objective in nature, meritocratic, and fact-based individuals. Stories are for the creative people and have no place in a world of accountability and performance. “Stories” sound like things people make up when they don’t have the facts or are underperforming. Why tell stories when we have the facts? This is the way most of us approach this topic.

But that isn’t storytelling. Story telling is the ability to take pieces of information and join them together in a cohesive and compelling manner that either influences or entertains the audience. Now entertaining people may be great for the silver screen, but in the business world influencing the audience will suffice.

But how do we do this? What can we look to, to help us be able to tell better stories about the information we have at our disposal and provide some insight?

Greek philosophy may not be the space a lot of people would turn to for a story telling framework but the works of Aristotle in his work “Modes of Persuasion” is a great structure and framework to guide a finance person into storytelling. It helps distinguish the pieces we are good at and the pieces that we need to consciously work on.

"Modes of Persuasion" looks at three dimensions of storytelling which will determine the success of what you are talking about. They are Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Ethos

This talks to the credibility of the person telling the story. It is the ability of the person telling the story to convince the audience that they have the authority or are qualified to speak on the topic. Without this people may not be engaged with what you have to say. This is fairly simple and straight forward for a finance person talking numbers in an organisation. However, in business partnering you may often be speaking about areas not of your area of expertise. In order to combat this you can be introduced by the other functions (supporting your credibility), master the other functions “language” by understanding the terms they use or by using some reference that gives gravitas to the fact you know what you are talking about. Sometimes referencing past roles or jobs can assist but be careful with the audience and how often you do this. It can become tiring hearing stories about what you did or what happened when you worked at x. 

Ethos is often a given in presenting information and telling stories for finance staff. You have been asked to do it because you are the expert.

Pathos

This is the ability to use emotion to tell your story and is most effective when that emotion aligns to the audience. Telling a humourous story nobody laughs at because you are dealing with a sensitive issue, is a sure fire way to ruin your Pathos. Every good story teller has this in spades. They are able to identify the relevant emotion required for the story, and bring that out in a way that the audience also feels that emotion. Sales and marketing do this very well. A great example is the “deal on today only” emotion which forces you into a fear of missing out and forcing you to buy. Attempting to bring positive emotion to something when all of the facts and figures indicate a problem. Solutions attached to problems will fix this as will the excitement displayed in what the solution could be. Another way of bringing out the emotion is to use analogies, metaphor or simile. By taking a situation and comparing it to something the audience can relate to are ways in which you can do this. Being specific and personal about a situation will also help to bring emotion, if something happened to you and you are able to convey those feeling by being deeply descriptive and specific you will be able to deliver on your Pathos.

Finance people have the most difficulty with this dimension as we are a fact based function and objective by nature. We find it difficult to work in the subjective and potentially manipulate facts with emotion.

Logos

This is the ability to bring facts to support your story. This helps with the Ethos of a story as facts will help to support your credibility that you know what you are talking about. This is a strength of finance due to our objectivity and use of financial data to support a story. Every presentation we do will be supported by some form of table, graph, fact or data. The key is to ensure that fact or data is not misrepresented as can sometimes happen when Pathos takes over. 

Finance staff should find Logos the easiest dimension to work with. As opposed to sales who may use only a small part of the whole facts to support their story.

 

With those three dimensions in mind, it is also worth remembering the place you choose to tell your story. This can have an impact on the cut through of what you are discussing. When I say place, it could be time of the day, location of office, audiences preparation to receive the information, etc. Attempting to tell a bad news story about a business issue at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, dressed in corporate casual with a beer, when the executive team have been in a meeting for two hours previously celebrating something successful is probably not going to deliver on the correct Pathos despite all of your best efforts.

As difficult and challenging as story telling can be for a finance person if you are able to understand the above three dimensions and elements you should be able to draw on enough information to be compelling. Facts and figures (Logos) shouldn’t be a problem. You are often asked for your opinion when telling a story so that shouldn’t be an issue (Ethos). However, Pathos (Emotional connection to the audience) will always require work to bring the numbers and the finances, what some other functions may consider boring, to life. 

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Author's Articles

February 6, 2020

Language is important and the words we use are critical if we don’t want to be misunderstood. Being explicit and specific in the words and sentences we use, will leave less to interpretation and is critical in order to be effective.  In this article I analyse three common phrases I hear regularly in the organisations I work with, what I suggest they really mean and how to break through the ambiguity of them.

January 16, 2020

Finance Business Partnering is not a new concept to the many who have been doing it for years. What is new is that it has recently been given a new exciting title, and with that comes the fear that accountants and finance professionals need to be doing something new and in addition to their current duties. And that they need to find time for it.

October 5, 2018

Finance staff should find Logos the easiest dimension to work with. As opposed to sales who may use only a small part of the whole facts to support their story.

September 19, 2018

One of the biggest transformations in the finance departments recently, has been the shift for an Accountant to move from a compliance and governance based individual, to an insight driven value added business partner. In the past, accountants could get by doing monthly reporting, statutory accounts and tax returns and justify their role within an organisation.

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