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Career management of FP&A professionals

Posted by  Tijana Balotic Truong

One of the advantages of working in the domain of FP&A is that it provides excellent opportunity to learn about many aspects of the business. This enables the individual to, not only do the job with a more solid ground, but to also get a better picture of what and how is done in the other departments. Additionally, working closely with colleagues from different functions increases one’s visibility in the organization. But how do you get started in FP&A?

Requirements to join
At the early stage of FP&A career, it is primarily important for the candidates to demonstrate the technical skills – ability to conduct analysis, handle large amounts of data, build models, start from scratch and deliver with quality. Young junior analysts are normally not expected to have strong work experience, but are certainly required to know how to use the tools such as MS office. Although automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning are the hot topics, FP&A reality in many companies is still linked to handling numerous Excel spreadsheets. Getting to know which systems the company you would like to work for is using and familiarizing yourself with those can help you gain advantage compared to the other candidates for the role.

With an increased job demand, formal education is often used as a selection criteria. Nowadays, entry-level roles in FP&A are generally open to Bachelors of finance, economics or management. For people with a different education background who are considering a career in FP&A potential way around is to obtain a professional qualification from one of the accredited bodies. Consider that getting the certification requires passing various exams, which means the investment in time and money. Investigate which certificate is most often required for the job you would like to have.

Moving up the ladder
If a company has an open position and the internal candidate is interested, progress to middle management depends on the level of success in the previous role. However, it is not the only criteria – depending on the complexity of the operations, it is the capacity to prioritize, manage projects and communicate effectively that would often create a difference. If one will be appointed to lead the team, the ability to manage people is very important. 

Further career rise in the current company continues to rely on the quality of the professional track-record, needs of the business and the aspirations of the individual.

However, as one of my former bosses pointed out – it is not your boss who gets you promoted, it is your boss’s peers. What is meant by this is that the nomination by your boss is the first step. Ultimate decision, in particular for higher ranked positions, tends to depend on whether the rest of the management team recognizes you as the best candidate. FP&A gives you the chance to work with those people or the ones they trust. It is up to you use it in a professional manner and develop good relationship.

This can also be of significance when applying as an external candidate. If during the interview process you get to talk with people outside the core finance team, keep in mind that their feedback will count.

Different future career paths
CFO role is often the aspiration for FP&A professionals. Strong knowledge of the business definitely represents an asset, but the person should also be able to run other departments within finance. Traditionally those include accounting / controlling, treasury and compliance, but in some cases it would also mean IT, procurement and/or logistics.

For people determined to pursue a CFO position, necessary level of the expertise in each of the fields associated with the role depends on the competencies of people in charge of those areas. CFO can bridge own limitations of certain specialist knowledge by hiring experts.

Another attractive role for people working in FP&A is within corporate strategy. Companies with established strategydepartment welcome candidates with a strong FP&A background. Understanding the big picture, ability to assess trends, simulate and evaluate scenarios provide clear, rational explanations are among favorite must-haves.

Business development teams are taking experts in financial modeling to help them with business evaluations. If FP&A professionals have interest in deal making and are open to strengthen negotiation skills, it is possible to move to the front seat within BD.

For more commercially oriented people, stepping out from FP&A to marketing is an appealing option. If at the current stage there is no suitable position for you there, it should not be a show-stopper. You can still approach colleagues in marketing and discuss how you could help – for example, are there projects which they are struggling to evaluate, choose from or prioritize; are they facing issues with budget control; do they have some ad-hoc assignments that you could assist them with.

If you enjoy FP&A but would also like to have a more flexible life style, consulting could be a way to go. For this to work, being recognized as a reliable professional and having good contacts in different companies significantly helps. People in your network can recommend you when your profile corresponds with the needs of their businesses. Be ready that building your own operation takes time.

Universal principles
Regardless of the path you will take at a later stage, remember to:

  • Build and maintain the relationships with colleagues inside and outside your function
  • Dedicate part of your time to developing people who can take over the job when you leave

If you are concerned that strengthening others might put you at risk (squeeze you out), check which skills you are lacking to enhance your profile and work on those

This article reflects common patterns for the career of FP&A professionals. There can be special cases and unpredicted events resulting in a changed course. If one is indeed interested in career progression, it is crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest developments, build network and seize the opportunity when it presents itself.
Good luck and enjoy both the journey and the destination.

Tijana Balotic Truong

Tijana Balotic Truong is a performance management and commercial finance specialist, with 15+ years of international experience in large FMCG companies.

She is strong in risk management and developing business partnering within markets, regions and HQ, and is now helping start-ups and SMEs in the domains of strategy and finance.

Tijana is also active in NGO sector, most recently focusing on enhancing fund raising strategies and programs that improve children well-being.

She is a Chartered Global Management Accountant and a Master of Management.