FP&A: Why the Time for Certification is Now
By Andrew Deichler
recently spoke with Jim Morales, FP&A, Manager of Business Planning
and Strategy for U.S. Gas & Electric Inc., on his experience taking
the Certified Corporate FP&A Professional exam. He explained why he
feels that the certification is needed, and how it has helped him both
in his career and in his day-to-day job duties.
AFP: What made you decide to take the FP&A Exam? How did you first come across it and what made you feel it was necessary to try and earn it?
Jim Morales: I’m a big believer in certifications. The FP&A certification is actually my third; I actually have an IT background, I’ve been certified in SAP Financials, and I also received my CFA charter. So after I got into the FP&A space, I heard that AFP was going to be rolling out the FP&A Certification, and it was perfect timing. I felt like there was a need for a certification for FP&A specifically. So I enrolled and became part of the beta class that received it. I also participated in the curriculum review panel with AFP to help refine the content as it moved out of the beta stage.
I think it’s been absolutely great for my career and for the profession as a whole. It’s bringing some standards to an area of finance that hasn’t really had a lot of standards historically. So that was really the main reason I wanted to be an early adopter of the certification.
AFP: As we’ve spoken to more and more FP&A professionals, we’ve also observed that it’s a profession in need of standards, and many practitioners believe that is what the certification will ultimately achieve. FP&A appears to be very much in a growth stage at this point, with many companies building large FP&A departments. Have you observed this as well? Is FP&A growing across the world?
Morales: Definitely. I think it’s always existed; maybe it wasn’t called FP&A. Finance has typically been an accounting function, but I think over time it has become a lot more strategic, which will only continue into the future. I think technology has helped drive this as well. It’s not just about looking backwards. It’s about looking forward, taking those numbers and figuring out what they mean for the future. I think more and more CEOs and CFOs are asking, ‘Why am I asking everybody else? Why am I not asking my finance people?’ Because we really are almost side-by-side with the business. We’re the ones with the numbers. We see the end result.
Also, I think more and more people who have that strategic mindset and consulting skills have moved into finance roles and they’ve brought a lot of insights. For example, I come from an IT background and then I made a transition into management consulting. So bringing all of those different skillsets and perspectives with the ability to now combine them with financial analysis, I can tell a story, front-to-back, top-to-bottom. I think now, with the speed of business, you need a skillset that converges all of those things into one. This is what FP&A is moving towards and I fully believe the future leaders, including CFOs and CEOs, are going to come from the FP&A track.
AFP: Has the FP&A Certification helped you at all in your career? And has there been any direct impact on your job duties?
Morales: I earned it in May 2014 and I changed jobs in August that year. I listed it on the resume… it wasn’t as widely known as the CTP was, but I was able to introduce people to it and they were all very excited to hear that there is now a certification for FP&A. They saw the value in it. So while it hasn’t necessarily helped me get a job, I think people saw it and they could see that I have the right skillset, and it’s been proven.
In my current job, I’m definitely using some of the things we studied in the curriculum. It’s been great; I’ve been able to point to the certification and say, ‘Here are the best practices. This isn’t just me saying this. There’s a curriculum and there are going to be thousands of people trained on the things that I’m trying to convey to this organization.’
Just to give you some context, here—in my last two jobs, I’ve created FP&A departments from scratch. They’ve had a budgeting operation in the past, but I developed it into a full blown FP&A function with direct reporting lines to the head of finance, whether VP or CFO. At my current job, FP&A has just been rebranded to be called business planning and strategy. We own the strategic and operational planning functions, as well as all forecasting and executive management/board reporting. So it’s a little bit broader in scope for FP&A, beyond just financial analysis and I think that’s where the future of FP&A is driving towards. But again, all those different practices were already in the curriculum, and I’m actually applying them in my day-to-day job function, which is really where it’s helped me the most.