2020 has been a turbulent year and few departments have felt this as much as FP&A. We have been looked to as saviours of the company, guardians of cash, and stewards of planning, re-planning, and some more planning. It should also give cause to reflections on how we can improve and be ready for what comes next.
On 17 November, FP&A Trends Group gathered senior FP&A professionals from the Nordics and Benelux to discuss how FP&A is changing and how the future will look like. The meeting was buzzing with insights from senior FP&A professionals from Electrolux, Jedox, Michael Page, Business Partnering Institute, and FP&A Trends Group.
On the agenda were topics like scenario planning, collaborative planning, the role of technology, FP&A business partnering, and latest recruitment trends. It all evolved around the five facets of the “New Normal” FP&A.
- Scenario planning that should be quick, flexible, in real-time, and multidimensional
- FP&A teams that should be multidimensional, multiskilled, collaborative, and powered by technology
- Technology which needs to be on-demand, leverage AI/ML where possible and facilitate collaboration
- Digital FP&A which enables FP&A to be more agile and adaptable as well as increase the speed to insight
- FP&A skills and recruitment which have changed significantly in the past years require us to look for new talent, ask new questions during the process and develop new capabilities inside the FP&A team
This set the scene for an impactful discussion among the panellists Monica Göthe, Finance Director at Electrolux, Chris Stiebel, Regional Director Sweden at Jedox, Anders Liu-Lindberg, Partner and COO at Business Partnering Institute, César Gautier, Executive Manager at Michael Page, Larysa Melnychuk, Founder and CEO at FP&A Trends Group. The discussion was facilitated by Hans Gobin, International FP&A Board Ambassador.
Planning is the “word of the year”
Planning has been constantly on the agenda in 2020 hence it is critical that we learn from our peers to improve our process going into 2021. Larysa kicked off the meeting by sharing best practices in planning and made us all aware of The Uncertainty Cone which in simplicity says that the further out in the future we move the more plausible outcomes can be predicted. In 2020 this cone has felt very short though as visibility has been extremely limited.
That is why scenario planning has been thrust into the centre of importance for FP&A. Larysa shared the Scenario Planning Maturity Model developed by FP&A Trends Group as a view into how we should develop scenario planning capabilities.
We can probably all attest to having moved through these stages quite fast in the past year but most also lack some of the capabilities. At least that is what the first poll question confirmed.
The poll also says that FP&A professionals have spent a great deal of their time doing scenario planning in 2020 because they do not have the capabilities to do it in real time or even in less than a day. When management requests multiple views on scenarios on a weekly basis this is time- and energy-consuming. Add to that a virtual work environment and we were bound to run into issues!
Addressing the most common planning issues
To address these issues Monica shed light on how she had worked with her team at Electrolux to do collaborative planning even in a virtual world. To do this well required a lot from here as a leader (frequent communication, having multiple touchpoints, and being available to the team) but also from her team members (being close to the business, seeing the big picture, and being flexible and analytical). While these have been important for a while in FP&A, we truly got a chance to see them in action during 2020.
Monica and her team prevailed enabled by good tools but mostly due to strong teamwork. Monica finished her talk by hammering home an important point. Remember to celebrate with your team. They work extremely hard and appreciate to be recognized and see that their work means something.
It was encouraging to see that the audience for the most part felt the same way i.e., that their work means something. At least most are involved with their business stakeholders impacting their decision-making as could be seen from the second poll.
Planning enabled by technology and new skills
Two of Monica’s key points were that to succeed with planning it must 1) be enabled by technology and 2) be driven by developing a new skillset for FP&A professionals. To support this, we got some insights into how technology can better enable planning and FP&A from an overall perspective.
Chris shared his views on what the “New Normal” is and more interestingly what is the role of technology. He made the known points about how cloud has made a wide range of tools and platforms more accessible and how AI is powering more and more of what we do in FP&A. His most unique point though was about XaaS (or Everything as a Service). Why? Because he then painted a picture of “FP&AaaS” (or FP&A as a Service)
When you take on this view there is really no end to the possibilities of what FP&A could be involved in. However, it is key that we are not “just” a service provider but rather integrate ourselves in our business stakeholders’ decision-making. FP&AaaS will enable that powered by a strong technology platform. The third polling question revealed that we have quite some way to go though as modern collaborative technology was used by less than 40% of the participants.
To become more than a service provider and be a true strategic business partner, new skills must be developed, and a framework created for how FP&A should act as a business partner.
FP&A Business Partnering Framework: Essential FP&A Skills
Anders took over from Chris to share how such a framework could look like.
The key point of the above formula for business partnering is that to be successful FP&A must increase its influence on the business. This would require strong partnering, influencing, and communication skills and essentially underlining Monica’s points. Anders went on to share many of his personal impact stories of how he had created value as a business partner. After all, it is the impact that will determine if we succeed or not. Developing to become a true business partner is not easy and neither can you find many such people in the market. The same goes for digitally savvy FP&A professionals!
Cesar confirmed these points towards the end of the meeting when sharing his insights into the Nordic and Benelux FP&A recruitment market. In both markets, there is a lack of commercially oriented finance talent and the markets are largely candidate-driven. Data and BI professionals are also in high demand and there is an acute need for closing the gap between Finance and IT.
One thing is finding the candidates, and another is onboarding and retaining them. Here the stakes have also increased. A remote work environment naturally brings about its own challenges, but candidates expect that there is a well-defined virtual way of working in your company. They also expect you to have a modern technology offering and that you give them trust and flexibility to do their job. It all starts from Day 1 in the onboarding process. If you are not ready you will likely lose them again in no time.
The Nordics and Benelux Are Next-Ready! Are You?
Based on the audience feedback there were many valuable insights shared during the board meeting. The webinar focused on showing which gaps to close and more importantly how to close them.
Are you next-ready and prepared to take FP&A into the future and perhaps create FP&AaaS? 2020 has certainly given us a run for our money and now is the time to reflect and learn from what we have experienced. We hope that by sharing insights from this and other FP&A Board meetings that we can help you become next-ready!