For a while now we’ve been hearing from CFOs and controllers everywhere about how much they need financial planning and analysis, or FP&A for short. That’s why it was so exciting to talk with Chris Ortega on a recent #FutureReadyLive podcast about the future of FP&A. If you’re unfamiliar, he is one of the world’s top 10 voices in accounting and finance and is the president and CEO of CEO Business Services and a senior director of global Finance at Emarsys. He’s a bit of an AI evangelist, too.
He explained how traditional financial planning analysis evolved once accounting teams started breaking down silos and looking at the KPIs of the business. The bridge really came about through quantitative data. This caused a shift in the business, and the next question became “What are we going to do about it?” He said the pandemic really accelerated FP&A to its next evolution. He calls this FP&A 2.0.
“It’s really not the quantitative side,” Chris said. “It’s shifting FP&A to mean this financial partnership … the partnership, the communication, the collaboration, it's really opened up a whole other set of skills that accounting and finance professionals need right now that are necessary.”
Chris further explained that CFOs looking to FP&A 2.0 need to be culture advocates and connect with their people on all different levels.
When I asked Chris what we can do to get on top of this, he responded that data analytics is the foundation of any high-performance team. Beyond that, there’s data analysis. And the complement to FP&A 2.0 is the art of storytelling around that data.
“It's one thing now to say you produce the numbers, and here's the analytics,” he said. “But what is that story telling to the business?” And the art of storytelling is something we’ve said before is an undervalued but incredibly valuable skillset for financial professionals.
Chris and I then talked about one of his big passions: the four Ps. People, process, platform and partnership, is what he calls the core pillars of an organization. If you don’t know where to start when you’re building a high-performance team, start with these pillars, he said. It’s your foundation-level knowledge. Finance professionals can totally shift their mindset about who they need to hire when they think in terms of complementing core competencies.
The biggest mistake that he sees Fortune 1000 companies make in this area is focusing on the platform first – the shiny new tech – instead of the people and processes first. This is where a lot of organizations fail; they may have shiny new tech but they don’t have the people or processes to implement it or scale it. And that’s where the complementary core competencies come into play, and getting intentional with building your team, which is exactly what I’ve seen and heard around the industry, too.
He talked about upskilling, which is something that other finance leaders are talking about, too. “When you upskill a whole value proposition of what you [as a finance professional] bring to the table, that takes the whole industry” up to another level, he said.
He likened the CFO of the future to a business partner, the “curiosity person,” as he called it. And I love that. It puts value behind the numbers. This is what moving up the value chain looks like for finance teams. And I think this is our opportunity to become indispensable if we seize the moment and move forward.
The top five skills you’ll need to move into the future, according to Chris, are:
- Learn the art of storytelling
- Be an active listener
- Learn to make data-driven decisions with empathy
- Be a great communicator
- Be curious
If you’re not sure how to move forward, Chris said to establish that baseline. Where are you with your people, processes, partnerships and platforms. Be honest. And then ask your CEO, board or whomever you answer to, what value you bring as the finance leader. What you really want them to tell you is that there’s not a business decision they make that they don’t consult with you. That’s the holy grail, he said.
Learn to be more than the numbers. Learn how to tell their story. And once you can align your team around four Ps, you’ll begin to see really transformative change in how your finance team operates. This is the future, and it’s happening now.
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