Kedar Kale

Kedar works as Manager - Financial Planning & Analysis at Godrej Consumer Products Limited, India's largest homegrown consumer products company. He has previously worked in various finance roles at Colgate-Palmolive and EY. He is an Indian Chartered Accountant, has cleared all levels of the CFA course and has an Advanced Diploma in Management Accounting from the CIMA. He has a keen interest in the future of finance as a function and analytics and loves to write. 

 

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Why so many Chartered Accountants are becoming FP&A professionals

By Kedar Kale, FP&A Manager at Godrej Consumer Products Limited

Every large organization in the world today, from Apple to P&G and from Ford to Goldman Sachs has a dedicated Financial Planning & Analysis team with bespectacled finance professionals claiming to be “more than mere accountants” or even “value-adding business partners”. What is FP&A and why has it become arguably the most important function in a company’s finance organization?

While Investment bankers may scoff at any acronym that ends with “&A” other than their all-too-glamorous “M&A”, the FP&A buzz has surely caught on within young finance students and professionals. FP&A Heads are being looked at as the CFO’s right hand and in many instances, their potential successors. What is it that FP&A professionals really do? Let’s try to demystify the buzz.

What do FP&A professionals do?

The work profile of FP&A Professionals can be divided into two broad components clearly indicated by the name – Planning & Analysis.

1. Financial Planning:

  • Every business organization operates according to clear Operating Plans and Budgets. FP&A professionals are responsible for drawing up these Plans and Budgets.
  • This involves a range of activities starting from analysing business trends and past company performance to working with cross-functional teams across the organization to develop plans for the upcoming period which are realistic and ensure optimal performance in terms of company’s objectives: revenue growth, margin expansion and other strategic goals.
  • For example, FP&A analysts would typically work with Marketing to forecast potential growth for a product category or brand and the marketing expenditure that would entail. Using financial metrics such as ROI, revenue targets would be set along with the allowable expenditures towards their achievement.

2. Financial Analysis:

An ever-increasing amount of analysis and insightful inputs are expected out of FP&A teams today. Let me categorize this broad analysis function into three heads –

a) Actual Performance vs Budget / Past Performance:

  • This is the more traditional analytical work FP&A teams are responsible for.
  • It involves tracking the company’s performance vis-à-vis Operating Plans and Budgets laid down during the Planning Stage and analyzing variances to identify causes and highlighting to senior management.
  • The performance is also tracked vs past corresponding periods.
  • Such analysis often takes the form of periodic flash reports and monthly review decks (MIS).
  • The inputs provided through this analysis are very critical to ensure business performance stays in line with plans and any corrective actions needed can be promptly taken.

b) Real-time ad hoc analysis:

  • Business environments are changing rapidly and there is an increased expectation from FP&A teams to provide real-time strategic inputs to leaders and decision-makers to ensure quick responses and best results to changing circumstances.
  • For example, when a competitor launches a new cheaper product or slashes the price of an existing one, an FP&A analyst is expected to be ready with a shadow P&L of the competitor product, likely impact on market share and thereby, revenues and margins as well as probable response scenarios to protect the company’s business and P&L.

c) Other Value-adding analytics:

  • Today, there is no dearth of data available with business organizations and it’s becoming more and more difficult to make sense of the vast data to make better tactical and strategic decisions.
  • FP&A professionals are perfectly positioned to address this problem – they are deeply aware of the way the business functions, the impact business decisions have on Financial KPIs and are Excel monkeys.
  • From spreadsheets analysing profitability of various business channels to calculation of the cannibalizing impact of a well-funded new launch on existing product portfolios to comparing the effectiveness of R&D and Innovation spends vs ATL / BTL Marketing spends in enhancing the company’s top line and bottom line growth, the potential to analyse and contribute is truly infinite.

How FP&A differs from traditional finance functions

  • From the above understanding of what work an FP&A role entails it would become obvious that the FP&A function is truly embedded into the business organization and forms a critical component of successful business strategizing and performance.
  • In a marked departure from the isolated financial accountant or auditor persona, the FP&A professional is a strategic business resource.

Why so many young finance professionals aspire to be FP&A professionals

  • As young aspiring Chartered Accountants (MBAs have had it the easier way!), most of us have hustled as auditors or accountants either during internship or after qualification.
  • While we all loved the part where we got to see different businesses and understand financial statements, we all felt we were not too involved in adding value to a business. We complained that our work was more of a “post-mortem” or “compliance” activity.
  • And then there came FP&A! FP&A offers an opportunity to use our deep domain expertise in financial accounting and reporting, number crunching and business understanding to actually have a say in better decision making. It holds great potential to add value to a business (which we have all aspired so much to do)!

In conclusion, I would say, as businesses increasingly build FP&A capabilities and look to them for value-adding inputs, finance professionals too need to adapt to the new reality and move past the bean counting days to find out how the beans are grown and seeking ways to grow more! Only then will we be able to become true strategic business partners!
 

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The FP&A Dilemma: Balancing long-term strategic objectives & short-term goals

By Kedar Kale, FP&A Manager at Godrej Consumer Products Limited

Organisations often struggle to find a balance between their long-term strategic objectives and short-term goals. Being a key player in an organization’s strategy setting and budgeting process, FP&A professionals also face this dilemma as a part of their roles.
 
Balancing both long-term objectives and short-term goals requires a deep understanding of the business and its nuances and learning to perform a tightrope walk. How much an organization and its executives succeed in striking this balance determines the very success and sustainability of the organisation. Below is a discussion on this issue and the nuances involved.

What are long-term strategic objectives?

Every business organisation needs to have a long-term strategy that details the direction it intends to grow in within the next 5 or 10 years. The right time period for strategic objectives is dependent on the nature of business and the maturity stage of the organisation. For example, a start-up in the technology space may have a shorter timeline while a 50-year-old steel company may have a longer one. 

The importance of having clearly laid out strategic objectives cannot be overemphasized. It is vital to have a clear end in mind while formulating shorter-term plans and making strategic and tactical business decisions. Without it, business leaders and executives will steer the ship that is the company in arbitrary ways leading to a directionless pursuit which is bound to fail.

What are the short-term goals?

An organization also works on a set of short-term goals – in the form of annual budgets, quarterly forecasts, monthly rolling forecasts, weekly targets, etc. While annual budgets are a decomposition of the long-term strategic plans into an annual target, quarterly and monthly forecasts are more dynamic plans that are vital to ensuring the business is managed with agility in response to rapidly changing environments.

The Balancing dilemma

“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” – John Lennon.

In an ideal world, the long-term strategic objectives would translate into annual plans that would decompose into quarterly and monthly plans. The achievement of the shorter-term plans would roll up into an achievement of annual plans and a move in the direction of the strategic objectives. However, the reality of business environments with so many moving factors ensures that it would never be this smooth. When a business organisation with clearly articulated long-term strategic objectives faces a dynamic business environment, the dilemma of long-term vs short-term goals begins.

Let’s take the case of a hypothetical cigarette manufacturing company, Cigar Ltd. Cigar Ltd’s top management and Board of Directors have determined in 2010 that considering the increasing awareness against smoking as well as the tightening government regulation in their country of operations, their 100-year-old flourishing cigarette business is at potential risk in the future. Hence, in order to ensure sustainability and growth in the future, they decide to diversify into non-cigarette portfolios where they can leverage their manufacturing and selling capabilities such as CPG (consumer packaged goods) over the next 10 years. 

This objective is clearly laid out in the form of a strategy document with an alignment that such diversification would necessitate initial investments into R&D, Manufacturing Operations and Brand building as well as a dilution of margins and profitability due to entry into categories with lower margins than cigarettes.
 
In 2012, the business suddenly faces headwinds with a 100% increase in duties on cigarettes, bad tobacco crop leading to reduced supply and regulation to put pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. As a consequence, the business starts falling terribly short of its annual targets. The business executives, whose incentives are linked to the current year’s bottom line delivery decide to roll back all investments in developing the new categories in order to save costs. This, however, is clearly at odds with Cigar Ltd’s strategic intent. 

Considering that this is an exceptionally unfortunate series of headwinds faced in a single year, the decision to roll back investments in new categories would not be entirely unjustified. However, looking at things more carefully, one would realise that other than the bad crop, the other two factors of increasing taxes and pictorial warnings are, in fact, what Cigar Ltd predicted and the very basis for making the decision to diversify. 

The nuances of the situation would also have to be assessed such as how much investments have already gone in and by what timeline will the new categories start to be sold and begin to contribute to bottom-line delivery. While some postponing of investments may be required, a complete roll back of investments in order to protect current year’s bottom-line and incentives would mostly be unjustified.

What role FP&A should play

It is easy for a business executive or a sales and marketing person to get caught up with the daily business and develop a short-term vision. In a bad year, it is easy to lose sight of long-term strategic objectives and make rash decisions that are not in line with them. As a strategic business partner, an FP&A professional should play the role of a conscience keeper and raise a contrarian voice in ensuring the direction of a company stays on track towards the strategic objectives. 

One can add tremendous value by performing deep-dive analysis and bringing out actionable insights that make decision-makers more aware and avoid misinformed decisions. For example, in Cigar Ltd’s case, an FP&A professional is in an excellent position to analyse the additional investment involved (ignoring the sunk costs) and the projected sales and contribution of the new categories. Various scenarios and their financials can be worked out in order to ensure minimal additional depreciation hit to the P&L or maximum preponing of new category sales to contribute to the bottom-line within the year. While the aforementioned analysis is only illustrative, the scope for adding value in such situations is immense and would depend on the initiative of the professional and his understanding of the nuances of the situation. 

In conclusion, an FP&A professional is an excellent position to help organisations and business leaders manage the balance between long-term strategic objectives and short-term goals and through this contribute tremendously to the organisation’s continued success and sustainability. 

The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog

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What Finance Professionals can learn from ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’

By Kedar Kale, FP&A Manager at Godrej Consumer Products Limited

There is hardly any book on human relationships and influence that is as revered as Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. A great many leaders across the world have sworn by and largely benefited from this masterpiece.  

Last week, while driving to work with a list of to-dos on my mind, I happened to listen to the audiobook in my car. It served as a refresher to those valuable principles that seem so simple but are easy to forget when actually conducting everyday business. I started wondering how I could effectively channel learnings from this book to improve my effectiveness at work and what potential lessons could be drawn for Finance professionals at large. 

In the first part of his book, Carnegie discusses “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People”. Below is an attempt to discuss the application of these techniques in the context of Finance professionals. 

1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain 

This is the first principle Carnegie proposes. He discusses how every person in the world, even the most evil criminal, believes he is a good person doing the right thing. Criticism and condemnation are, therefore, futile since they make a person defensive and arouse resentment. 

As accountants & finance professionals, we are the conscience keepers of the organization, in charge of controls and budgets. Every once in a while, we all face those instances which make our blood boil – a bypass of processes or controls, expenditures exceeding budgets, etc. It is very easy in such situations to slip into a critical attitude and develop a perception that the concerned business teams are lazy, undisciplined, or incapable! This perception often manifests in actual confrontations and name calling leading to resentment in the mind of the other team. They, in turn, may develop negative perceptions of Finance as being impractical or bureaucratic or out of touch with on-ground business reality! Such tensions do not serve anyone’s purpose and damage the organization’s functioning.  

It is, therefore, important to be mindful of the perceptions we develop and the manner in which we communicate our concerns. The communication should be constructive and led with an open mind. We should seek to understand actual concerns, if any, e.g., a particular policy being too outdated to be able to comply with the current business scenario. Genuine efforts should also be made to eliminate such issues. Often, even lending a patient ear makes a person feel more comfortable and willing to receive feedback. The importance of compliance with a process or budget can then be stressed. This is more likely to achieve objectives than merely being critical. 

2. Give honest and sincere appreciation 

As humans, we’re all toiling and fighting our own battles every single day and what we all crave for internally is the desire to be important. We crave for genuine appreciation. Humans, really are that simple! With words of true appreciation, we have the power to completely change another person’s perception of themselves, improve their motivation, and be a driving force behind their success. 

As a function, finance has come a long way from the days of bookkeeping to business partnering on a real-time basis. However, we are still there doing all the analytics because someone is selling the product somewhere! The fact remains that a company may have the best product and systems but it’s a worthless company if its salespeople cannot sell it to customers. Selling is arguably the most vital skill and it’s a really hard job. So, let’s make sure we go out of our way and are hearty in our appreciation of Sales / Marketing teams when targets are achieved. This really means a lot to them since they’ve strived and worked hard to achieve those targets. It also goes a long way in building relationships which can later be leveraged while driving analytics and financial KPIs. 

3. Arouse in the other person an eager want 

The only thing anyone is really interested in is what they want. This principle is the absolute key in influencing others. The only way to get someone to do something is to frame it in terms of what motivates them.

This technique can be leveraged to reap great results in delivering financial KPIs. Often, when communicating our goals with business teams, we focus on what we want – reduced costs, better margins, reduced inventory and debtor days. 

These things mean either nothing or very less to our Sales or Marketing counterparts since their goals are largely based on top line achievement. But aren’t all these really business metrics and not finance metrics? Won’t these metrics, if improved, reap great benefits to the business? Well, of course. But do we communicate it that way? Mostly not. 

Every time we are having a discussion with business teams to drive improvement in financial metrics, we should set the context by stressing how the achievement would help improve their lives. For example, strict adherence to a credit management and collection policy ensures hygiene and discipline among the field teams and customers which benefits the Sales organization in the long run. Ad hoc concessions and exceptions from time to time help in achieving short-term targets but give rise to a messy and undisciplined set of customers which causes a lot of trouble to everyone eventually.  

Likewise, getting approvals from Brand Marketing teams for cost savings initiatives in Packaging can be very difficult since Brand Marketers are very careful about any potential changes in aesthetics. First of all, these are very critical concerns and should really be appreciated since affecting the aesthetics of a product can cause a serious dent in the product’s brand value. However, a good way to position such propositions would be to highlight that the reduced packaging costs would mean better margins which, in turn, allow for higher ATL investments that contribute tremendously to brand building. This is much likelier to win a buy-in! 

 

These kinds of small changes in our approach and interactions can contribute a long way in increasing our influence as finance professionals and can have a significant impact on the achievement of organizational goals. 

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Author's Articles

July 30, 2019

Organisations often struggle to find a balance between their long-term strategic objectives and short-term goals. Being a key player in an organization’s strategy setting and budgeting process, FP&A professionals also face this dilemma as a part of their roles.
 

September 26, 2018

There is hardly any book on human relationships and influence that is as revered as Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’. A great many leaders across the world have sworn by and largely benefited from this masterpiece.  

August 7, 2018

Every large organization in the world today, from Apple to P&G and from Ford to Goldman Sachs has a dedicated Financial Planning & Analysis team with bespectacled finance professionals claiming to be “more than mere accountants” or even “value-adding business partners”. What is FP&A and why has it become arguably the most important function in a company’s finance organization?