On the 8th of December 2020, I had the pleasure of facilitating the Second Digital Pan Australian FP&A Board. The subject under discussion was “Building Winning FP&A Teams in the New Normal”, delivered by a truly international board panel of 5 members based in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the UK. Below is a summary of what was discussed on the day including a summary of the polling questions and answers.
How have FP&A team roles and skills changed at AXA?
Amarnath Kamath, Head of Finance at AXA Group Operations, shared how FP&A teams have evolved over the years and how AXA have reacted to the latest changes to reorganise their team.
In a world of unknown unknowns, most businesses adapt well. Finance, however, are sometimes left behind. How relevant is finance in times of changes? AXA Japan approached this challenge by:
- Splitting the finance team into three groups, outsourcing core accounting and setting up a specialist and a business partnering function. Finance business partners worked on the ground, understood the business and collaborated with the specialist team to solve any problem in an agile manner.
- Adoption of technology in a big way with online dashboarding, scenario-based forecasting tools, several self-service and reporting by exception tools were introduced. Data-driven decision making is the key solution in times of changes and FP&A should be the one leading way.
- Train FP&A in softer skills especially storytelling.
We asked our audience about the most important FP&A role for the organisation. The softer skills were much more prominent at 64%. The other 36% skills such as Architect / Data Scientists and Analyst were considered in demand less important.
How do we build & sustain synergistic teams in time of uncertainties?
Abby Obomighie, Head FP&A at Hitachi, shared with us the benefit of working towards a synergistic team. These included better business performance, better return on Investment, added-value strategic leader, footprints for future FP&A leaders.
How do we get to a synergistic team? The slide below illustrates the key steps which start with the “Coming Together” stage (where are we now, where do we want to be, how do we get there). The second aspect is how do you keep the team together. And, finally, how best to work together.
The word team was used as two acronyms:
- Together Everyone Achieves More
- Train Educate Attract Motivate
Together FP&A can achieve more through training, educating, attracting talent and motivating the team.
We looked at the biggest barrier to team synergy through the second poll. It showed that the majority 43% was due to a lack of alignment around goals. Organisation may have defined visions however these may not be aligned to personal goals. KPIs, incentive schemes and leadership conversations should be used to solve this problem.
How did Dentsu International adapt to the New Normal?
Christopher Mansfield, Finance Director APAC Technology at Dentsu International took us through their journey of change due to the pandemic. The company has historically grown by acquisition with 150+ deals over the last 5 years. It was facing low revenue growth in an extremely competitive market and 80% of its costs were around people and travel.
The response was to:
- Understand the customer and “+1” opportunities.
- Simplify operating model - 160 brands to 6 in the next 2 years.
- Transform business – reducing operating costs to preserve cash.
The slide below highlights where FP&A added value toward that journey. The analogy of “too many water carriers and the need to build the pipeline” was used to illustrate too many analysts in the business carrying data and the need to concentrate on softer skills.
To be agile in a constantly changing environment, Dentsu is working on removing non-value-add work, moving regular & repeatable tasks to shared service, having fewer onshore roles, investing in tools and implementing a broader strategy around data.
The result of our third poll highlighted the challenges of remote working. 35% felt they are working too much, but more surprising that 43% felt there were communication issues. Despite working from home, we seem not to be able to strike the correct balance and are still failing to adequately communicate with our colleagues. FP&A leaders need to address these issues.
The use of technology to build winning FP&A teams
Marc Southey, Enterprise Director at Qubix Australia and New Zealand, shared with us a list of companies that have over the year implemented a planning system and the key considerations that the organisations have to consider in their decision making.
Under the next slide, we can see that FP&A need to be given winning tools so we can reduce time on low-value high costs tasks and concentrate on business partnering and higher value add activities.
Some of the tangible benefits achieved by organisations are as follows:
- 70% - Reduced the number of days to forecast per cycle
- 58% - The latest Features (automatic updates)
- 55% - Improved the accuracy of our forecasts
- 53% - Reduced the number of FTEs involved in the process
- 53% - Reduced the total cost of ownership
The final poll, which looked at the use of modern collaborative technology, encouragingly showed that 89% are using or planning to use it shortly. These companies would have seen the benefit of such technologies during the uncertainties of COVID-19. More importantly, the 11% that do not have any such plan, should educate management about the benefits and push for implementation.
How do you then create an FP&A Skills Roadmap?
Himashi Soriano, MD APAC at Association for Finance Professionals, shared the AFP vision for how to create a skills roadmap.
Key considerations when looking at each element of this pyramid are:
- Financial Acumen – Connect long-range plans to finance and operations / Improve your forecasting skills /Focus your financial analysis on future actions /Evaluate the business case for new markets and products.
- Data Management - Work with IT to create a sustainable data process /Support the firm’s strategy by creating dashboards and visualizations / Automation mindset.
- Data Analytics - Build a quantitative skillset / Interpret and observe change /Make recommendations.
- Business Partnering - Evolve into a trusted partner / Leverage analytics, data management and financial acumen /Colleagues bring finance into a project at the ideation phase.
What does FP&A recruitment look like in the new normal?
What are candidates and clients now looking for when they are recruiting? What does the candidate talent pool now look like compared to a year ago? And what are the key personality traits & behaviours client are looking for when recruiting? The way we recruit has drastically changed in the last year. To give us an insight into this, we were joined by Ross McLelland, Associate Director at Michael Page.
So, what are recruiters and Candidates looking for in the new normal?
Interestingly we see the importance of Work culture, team dynamics, new challenges, new industry experience, ways to maximise skills and experience, being able to mentor and lead a team eclipse monetary benefit.
The slide below gives us an insight into the Australian FP&A market and talent pool. In summary 30% fewer people are applying for 50% less FP&A vacancies at this time last year. Leadership FP&A roles are getting challenging to fill.
The key skillsets, traits, and behaviours that most of the client in Australia are demanding right now are:
- Resilience & Adaptability
- Creativity & Innovation
- Curiosity & Willingness to challenge
Uncertainties and disruptions will happen again. How we as organisations and leaders anticipate and react, will dictate the future of the organisation. Constantly assessing the structure, skillset required, use relevant training, motivational tools to ensure the team is fully equipped, not forgetting leveraging on the latest collaborative technologies so time is then spent on value-added work.
Also, we are very grateful to our panel of experts for sharing with us their valuable insights and to the FP&A Board attendees for their valued presence!