Zurich FP&A Board: FP&A Storytelling

January 30, 2020

By Tijana Balotic Truong, FP&A practitioner and International FP&A Board Ambassador

Zurich FP&A Board was held for the 10th time on January 30 2020. It was the largest event so far, with 38 senior finance practitioners discussing keys to effective FP&A storytelling and sharing best practices. Participants were welcomed in Page Executives / Michael Page office. The meeting was sponsored by CCH Tagetik.

The formal part of the meeting had two segments and was run by Tijana Balotic Truong, FP&A practitioner and International FP&A Board Ambassador. 

General Discussion

The first segment was dedicated to the exchange of ideas and views on main elements of FP&A storytelling.  There were numerous inputs, which Astrid Schmitt, Sales Director in CCH Tagetic, adequately summarized into 3 categories. According to these results, main elements of FP&A storytelling include:

  • Data – mastering the numbers, facts, truth, transparency’
  • Business Understanding – answer “Why”, provide insights, have strategic focus, propose several scenarios
  • Tailored message based on the audience – simple, adapted to the needs, interest, purpose, clear, consistent and compelling.

Once the building blocks of FP&A storytelling were identified, it was time to put the challenges on the table. Not surprisingly, it is exactly around the key elements that the major challenges arise:

  • Data: the right data, relevancy of the data, availability and use of adequate systems
  • Business Understanding: lack of business understanding, how to define actionable recommendations, how to remain forward looking especially if often asked to analyze the past
  • Tailored messages: how to know the audience, how to secure the alignment, presentation skills

Case Studies from the Field

After the general discussion, the stage was given to the speakers Martin Pfister, Head FP&A EMEA in Swiss Re, and James Halley, ACIM CFO Europe in Nidec. Each of them demonstrated the power of visualization through practical examples of what they use to keep business partners informed. Branding, focus on the content relevant for the recipients and use of technology can enable FP&A teams to better connect with the other parts of the organization.

Small Groups Work

After the presentations and Q&A, it was time for the breakout sessions. Brainstorming was focused on how to train FP&A people to be effective storytellers and how to resolve challenges in FP&A storytelling. 

Participants were divided into four groups, and each presented its views and suggestions. In summary, those are:

  • Building business understanding could be provided through getting to know the work of other functions (i.e. go to the shop floor, spend time with the sales force, rotate roles). 
  • It is important to secure enough time for people to have the chance to analyze, think and discuss (vs. mainly crunch the numbers) and to learn how to present.
  • Junior team members should be gradually exposed to the more senior levels and coached on a continuous basis.
  • There are various ways to get to know the audience – develop a closer relationship, spend more time with the key people in less formal settings, connect on a personal level and ask for insights from others who already work(ed) with the key people. 

Role of FP&A is evolving from explaining what and why has happened towards building the strategy and securing future growth. Successful storytelling is a result of a strong business acumen and skills to effectively communicate with different parties. 

Understanding needs, interests, style and preference of the audience enables to define the message in a way that people can easily absorb. The more senior the audience is, it is generally better to present them with only a couple of elements, while keeping the option of a deep dive if a specific question gets asked. 

Next Zurich FP&A Board is scheduled for May 14th. Join us in the discussion with Larysa Melnychuk, founder of FP&A Trends Group and the International FP&A Board, who will concentrate on building the FP&A of the future.