Financial Planning & Analysis – “What do you do exactly?”
Whenever I am asked this question I find it easier to tell them what I don’t do! I don’t do bookkeeping, tax or monthly reporting – I don’t do the backwards looking bit – my eyes are firmly faced forward looking to the future of your business.
Professionally I am qualified as a Management Accountant with CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) which gives me the right to use the letters AMCA or CGMA. I have the experience and ability to do the backwards looking bit but my career path and talents have drawn me to financial planning and analysis (FP&A) roles.
When I have looked on LinkedIn to find people with equivalent jobs it has thrown up the following descriptions:
Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A)
Business Planning & Analysis (BP&A)
Financial Modelling (Financial Modeling if you are in USA)
Business Finance Consultant
Financial Business Consultant
But the trouble is none of these terms really give anyone a clue as to the importance of this skill to running a successful business.
So, how to explain the role of a management accountant that specialises in FP&A?
In a nut shell, financial planning and analysis specialists are key to ensuring that organisations make well informed decisions. Large multi-national companies have whole departments that support board level decision makers. They provide financial analysis of management information and quantify the financial implications of business activity. They prepare, develop and analyse financial data that allows the management to make fact-based strategic and operational decisions.
The roles of Financial Planning & Analysis departments often include but are not limited to:
- Analysing financial results, comparing actual and year-to-date performance with prior periods, forecasts, and plans.
- Supporting the business in identification of the key performance indicators that need to be tracked on daily, weekly and monthly basis to deliver the required insight.
- Trend analysis to give understanding of performance over time.
- Analyses, reviews and reports the overall impact of initiatives and how well they meet organisational and functional unit goals and strategies.
- Planning for the future using IT and MS Excel models to put numbers to the business plans.
- Independently constructing complex financial models to analyse the impact company initiatives.
- Consolidation of strategic plans and development of long-range forecasts.
- Cash Flow modelling to ensure that the business is fully prepared for the ebbs and flows of this vital resource.
- Headcount and activity modelling to ensure that all future demands can be met.
- Capital planning, including the identification and prioritisation of capital asset requests.
- Providing company wide analysis, recommendation and guidance on the effectiveness of strategic initiatives and business development.
- Undertaking analysis to understand the business drivers (from revenue to operating profit).
- Performing ad hoc “deep dives” to identify root causes of movements in business performance.
- Maximising productivity by automating reports, utilising financial systems and improving processes as appropriate.
- As a key participant in the decision-making process.
- Educating the operational business to use the reporting and analysis in making decisions.
- Project management – tracking of the data as projects progress, communicating to all relevant internal stakeholders.
Business Start Ups and Investment Decisions
So now you know what FP&A specialists do, why do you need one if you are not running a large multi-national company?
Essentially the financial fundamentals of running a business are the same whatever the size of the company. You need to generate more cash than you spend whilst at them same time achieving your goals with minimum effort. A goal of creating enough return to live a comfortable life within a 40 hour weeks is just as valid a goal as selling your product in 15 countries with a turnover of £20m. Both goals would benefit from effective planning and analysis of decisions as neither goal can be achieved without some investment or strategy.
The most successful journeys usually involve a map – you get there quicker, you make less wrong turns and you use less fuel. FP&A specialists are the bedrock of organisations as they can help you create the map for your business to help you achieve your goals.