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Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A): Mastering Skills & Roles

11 Apr
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Forget silos and spreadsheets. Modern financial planning and analysis (FP&A) leaders do more than report information to a business. Today, they have a seat at the table.

In today’s competitive business landscape, they partner with senior leaders and shape an organization’s future success.1 To that end, FP&A leaders must develop agile teams with skilled statisticians and communicators. In a time marked by rapid innovation, rising geopolitical tensions and shifting market trends, FP&A teams also need to work with data. Then, they must be empowered by senior management to share data and insights across the organization.

In the past, siloed teams worked independently and that limited who could access data about the business.2,3 Without collaboration, finance and operations teams often pursue conflicting objectives, resulting in disjointed financial strategies for the business.2,3 Without the full picture, how can leaders adequately prioritize investments? How can they adapt to changing market conditions without real-time data? By fostering greater collaboration, modern FP&A leaders can paint an accurate picture of an organization’s financial health. They can effectively identify risk, anticipate trends, and seize opportunities to drive profitability and growth.

This post explores diverse roles in modern FP&A, skills required for success and industry challenges and trends.

Introduction to Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A)

FP&A is a strategic function within organizations responsible for forecasting, budgeting, financial reporting, analysis and decision support. It involves analyzing historical data, identifying trends and providing insights to support management in making informed financial decisions. FP&A professionals are crucial in driving business performance by providing actionable insights, scenario planning and financial modeling to optimize resource allocation and achieve strategic objectives.

Essential Skills for FP&A Professionals

In the last 10 years, the FP&A industry has evolved significantly due to technological advancements and changing business landscapes. There’s been a dramatic shift from FP&A as a reporting function to a financial strategy that is data-driven, which requires knowledge of sophisticated financial modeling tools, automation and advanced analytics techniques.1,2

To stay relevant, FP&A professionals need to continuously develop skills in key areas such as:4

  • Forecasting: Master financial modeling tools and techniques to anticipate future trends and assess the potential impact of strategic decisions
  • Data Analysis: Extract meaningful insights from complex financial datasets, guiding informed decision-making
  • Budgeting and Variance Analysis: Facilitate the development of realistic financial plans and identify deviations from expected outcomes, enabling proactive adjustments.
  • Financial Software: Enhance efficiency in financial analysis and reporting, streamlining FP&A processes

Diverse Roles for Accounting Professionals Within FP&A

FP&A professionals are integral to an organization due to their roles in budgeting, forecasting, and strategic decision-making. They also contribute to the financial health and future direction of the company through various levels of responsibility and expertise. Amid a fast-changing technology landscape, new roles have emerged that require specialized knowledge, such as advanced analytics techniques as well as the ability to integrate technologies to drive efficiency.

Here are some diverse roles to consider:5

  • Business Intelligence Specialist: Develop and maintain business intelligence tools and platforms that allow stakeholders to access and visualize financial data in real time. They play a vital role in democratizing data across the organization and empowering decision-makers
  • Financial Data Scientist: Identifies patterns, trends and anomalies in financial data, enabling better decision-making and strategic planning
  • FP&A Analyst: Creates financial models, conducts performance analysis, and generates reports to support strategic decision-making
  • FP&A Director: Shapes the strategic direction of financial planning initiatives, collaborates with executive leadership and drives performance improvement
  • Chief Financial Officer: Collaborates with FP&A professionals to align financial strategies with broader business objectives, fostering growth and profitability

Lessons From Famous CFOs

If you want to fast-track your FP&A career, look no further than Ana Gugino and Jason Child. Their success stories illustrate how important it is to continuously grow your expertise throughout your career:6

  • Ana Gugino, CFO, Target: Transitioned from Senior VP of FP&A at Target to CFO at Papa John’s International. Recognized for leadership in driving demand and profitability, overseeing a team of 200 financial analysts. Demonstrated expertise in revenue generation and business strategy alignment through future financial planning at Target
  • Jason Child, CFO, Splunk: Started in Amazon’s FP&A function, contributing to the development of Amazon Prime. Analyzed multiple business growth scenarios, including free shipping, leading to the birth of the Prime program now boasting 200 million members

The Impact of Master’s Degree on Your Accounting Career

Whether you’re aiming to work for a small organization or global company, pursuing a master’s degree in accounting offers several advantages for FP&A professionals. First, you will learn to approach complex financial challenges with greater confidence and competence. The advanced coursework provides in-depth knowledge of accounting principles, financial analysis techniques and strategic financial planning methods.

Additionally, master’s accounting degree programs have adapted their curriculum to accommodate the critical role of data analytics in accounting tasks, such as auditing and fraud detection. So, look for courses that teach you how to analyze large datasets using tools like Excel, SQL and specialized analytics software. Count on hiring managers to take notice. They often view candidates with specialized knowledge as more capable of leading teams effectively and driving organizational success.

Technological Advancements in FP&A

FP&A teams are leveraging technology more than ever before to work more efficiently and enhance an organization’s financial forecasting and decision-making. With predictive analytics, AI algorithms can analyze historical financial data to predict future trends, cash flow patterns and potential risks.7 This enables businesses to develop robust financial strategies. The rise of artificial Intelligence is another development. AI-powered tools can generate customized financial reports quickly and accurately, based on predefined criteria.7 These reports provide stakeholders with timely insights into the financial health of the organization.

Finally, cloud-based solutions offer scalability, real-time collaboration, advanced reporting and data security benefits. This empowers teams to work efficiently across locations and make data-driven decisions related to products, innovation and more.7 These technologies improve budgeting, planning and forecasting processes, allowing professionals to focus on strategic activities while mitigating risks in today’s dynamic business landscape.

Future Trends in FP&A

In the ever-evolving landscape of financial planning and analysis (FP&A), experts point to significant trends related to adaptability, collaboration and the use of technology. FP&A teams must embrace frequent financial forecasts, scenario modeling, and collaboration beyond the finance department to fortify the organization against unforeseen challenges.8

Another trend involves FP&A teams leveraging technology to not only attract the best talent but, also, effectively harness the capabilities of financial software.8 FP&A teams have a wealth of data at their fingertips, such as customer behavior, employee engagement and company productivity. If the information is used effectively, it can accelerate growth. The business may need to decide whether to hire more sales staff or which products or services to scale. By using artificial intelligence, FP&A professionals can provide more accurate financial forecasts, which bolsters investor confidence amidst uncertainty. 8 The focus is on understanding the data’s meaning for the business and communicating that to stakeholders.6

Prepare To Lead in the Accounting Profession

Great business leaders can be made. William & Mary’s Online Master of Accounting (MACc) program is designed to shape you into a decision-maker with influence. Our innovative scholars and experts have deep experience teaching students to assess a company’s processes and think critically to solve problems. They show you how to see beyond the numbers to glean insights from data and make informed leadership decisions.

Earning your accounting degree online is a great way to find flexibility and learn from anywhere. This distinguished online accounting program is built to equip you with financial planning and analysis expertise and the technology skills you need to advance your career. The robust curriculum includes courses in driving organizational performance and accounting analytics and information systems. It’s also designed to seamlessly integrate with your life and schedule and promote lifelong connections with faculty and peers. This specialized online master’s accounting program also helps you practice and refine the skills you need to pass the CPA exam and helps you progress toward fulfilling your CPA coursework requirements.

At William & Mary, we are invested in helping you become the best possible FP&A leader you can be. Don’t wait to start moving up with a master’s accounting degree. Schedule a call with one of our admissions outreach advisors today.