Q&A: FP&A Manager at a Technology Start-up

Ericthebarbarian's picture
Rank: Baboon | 161

Background

BSc (Hons) Accounting & Finance - Lancaster University, UK
Chartered Accountant Australia & New Zealand (CA) - (CPA US mutual recognised)
Approx 4 years in Big4 Audit (never hated it, work is interesting. Just sometimes you get "funny" team members or awkward situations)
1 year in Internal Audit at a hypermarket/health product retail giant

Any questions are welcome.

Mentoring

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Comments (22)

Feb 20, 2020

Comp?

Hours?

Do you like the work you're doing?

Any exit-opps or entrepreneurial exits planned?

Array

Feb 24, 2020

Comp - I'm based in Asia. So I'm just quoting $ to $ without currency, 108k inclusive bonus.
Work is awesome. More towards business planning like if company intends to expand, change strategy, run A b to Z marketing campaigns what's the impact? Alternative options?
Exit-opps is more towards CFO, although rare people make it to corporate development. Not much plan to look-out, but if corporate development roles are there, I would take it.

I also do investor relations.

Feb 20, 2020

Interested in comp, and how it progresses at your firm?

Feb 24, 2020

The position is pretty much mid-level and reports directly to senior management, particularly the CFO. Sometimes in bigger companies it may be the VP of Finance somewhere in the middle of the chain. Progression is good in terms of learning curve. Upside? If you make big business differences then there would be an upside, but of course if you think its investment banking behaviour, its not. Maybe a bit more clarification would help on what progression you are talking about.

Feb 20, 2020

Interested in comp and hours as well.

  1. Are people in your current team smart? more of a gut feeling, not talking about Mensa club members or Ivy league graduates.
  2. How did you make the transition from audit to FP&A? Seems like a leap.
  3. How do you feel about your company's prospect?
Feb 21, 2020

Audit to FP&A is fairly common. Most FP&A teams at larger companies mostly do performance reporting and forecasting as opposed to strategic work.

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Feb 24, 2020

Depends. Audit to any role is common if the "Role" involves repetitive stuff that doesn't involve much.

There were many fancy names in the role after qualification in the Big 4. A lot of traps I would say. Many roles are really just "worse than audit" actually.

So when they headhunt you, particularly after Big 4, because they know every auditor wants to leave, be careful. Even if you are not from the Big4, be careful. Any title is just a tag. Always always find out about the role in the interview, and the JD. This role I am having, perhaps due to business stage, and the role, its really a lot strategic than I expected it to be.

But many FP&A roles in established companies may be boring. Because:
1) the whole reporting infrastructure is set-up,
2) the whole forecasting structure is set-up,
3) the whole business winning strategy is set-up and has been working for years.

All they had to do, is follow the blue print, scale and hire 20 more FP&A Seniors & Managers to do repetitive work to manage each segmented business division.

In those roles, its really different. Compared to say, the opposite of 1 to 3. everything is not set-up, means, you can shape and model things anywhere. WIth versatility, though it can also be the death of you if you have no business sense and good sense of pragmatism.

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Feb 24, 2020
  1. At the tech-company, everyone is pretty good at what they do. Fast-paced environment. Start-up nature a.k.a. its all about your output. Young, energetic people. Who are very good.
  2. I was looking for strategy roles, so happen this position was open, although I fit the bill, they rather someone with more commercial experience tae the strategy role but since I was good with business and numbers and regulations and stuff, they rather me finance. Met the CFO and the rest is history.
  3. I feel its a good trajectory. E-commerce is upwards trending, and the market is huge in Asia. Work is also strategic in terms of what the business wants to do. There's a 2 facet coin. Strategy? Long-term. U talking > 5 years, very core structures. SO alot of strategy is actually project management related, Eg. u pilot testing a new commercial model. So its more people management than anything.
    FP&A more tactical, 1 to 5 year plans. Involving scenario modelling and business impact projections.
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Feb 21, 2020

Do you have any direct reports? Approximately how long before you think you'll get your next promo? Did you seek this job out, or were you headhunted?

Feb 24, 2020

At a start-up culture, no direct reports. Very rarely. There might be 1 soon though, but probably not finance, maybe in the data science category.

Its all about steering meetings and negotiations as a ship to the right path, and influencing people, who don't necessarily report to you, to get things done. That's the challenge and I feel its a realistic one because hey. If u do a business out there, its the same scenario. So you better be good at negotiating internally.

Promo, I think not. Particularly, everyone is very good and upper positions are all occupied with young-er than "usual" for the relative role. Maybe eg. VP of Products u normally expect 40 but they are 30? But that doesn't mean its a ceiling and you're screwed, high performers are rewarded with increments and bonuses.

Its a case by case basis. You might not need a promo in the structure, but its an upgrade to your title and your pay n stuff, that happens.

I was seeking the Strategy role, but although I fit the bill, they rather have a guy with commercial experience like maybe done pricing or procurement for 1 year or 2, to be the strategy role. Since I'm good with numbers and forecast, they took me in for finance after I met the CFO.

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Feb 21, 2020

Do you use any form of coding or predictive analytics in your work or is it mostly just standard spreadsheet modeling?

Feb 24, 2020

So far Excel + VBA. Analytics in Tableau. But no regression so far. Soon may be adopting.

However, I am involved for any new implementation for visualisation and steering the business views with the analytics and intelligence team. So regression is on the way, but not yet so far.

Blind regression would bring any business nowhere.

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Feb 27, 2020

Can I PM you on this topic? I also work in FP&A

Feb 22, 2020

what was your hiring process like? what skills, etc. are looked for in someone for your role?

we're currently trying to hire a FP&A manager/ director, so brainstorming how to approach it.

Feb 24, 2020

If you are looking for a manager, then look for someone who can:

1) Model without a doubt the "business of your company". FP&A in commercial side varies company to company. Some people don't do forecasting & modelling at all and just look at performance reporting and analysis with fixed templates that has been inherited for decades. SO depends what you are looking for. I would say, get those who have modeled a business from scratch, OR someone who can model ANY business, BUT best if you hire someone who models the business YOUR COMPANY is operating in.

2) Negotiation skills. Alot of connection internally of the business is required to be an effective FP&A manager. Meaning, constant communication & persuasion of all other business people in the company. Someone who Marketing, Operations, Customer Service, Finance, Management and everything else, would not HATE talking to. FP&A is alone but yet cannot WORK alone. In bigger organisations, may have analysts who cover smaller divisions & sub-divisions to report to the main FP&A guy. But you rather some1 who is strong on getting "agenda"s across the table, smooth, and without ruffling too many feathers. But he has to get the agenda across. Mostly the agenda is nothing too pleasant, or slightly short of pleasant.

3) strong business acumen

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Feb 24, 2020

Manager also would be able to do the financial planning cycle. So must be able to cover the full spectrum, say changing business and alterations of a different budget structure of the company.

If looking for a director, higher pay, higher accountability and someone seasoned with many business planning cycles. Modelling is a walk in the park, and would be able to pick errors in the model in terms of business sense and errors easily just by skimming and speed gazing. A director's added value is also his connections in the outside world and the ability to think like a CEO; contributing further suggestions based on the current model/cost of capital etc. Very close to CFO, but not yet there, so someone who is very strong at the mentioned FP&A roles.

So the director is probably someone who is in charge of many business divisions and segments for many years with much planning cycles and special projects in his tenure. Like maybe a merger or a divesture. Or a business change. Or an integration or something like that.

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Feb 24, 2020

Thanks for doing this. Few questions from my end:

  1. This is a bit selfish, but I'd really like to either live internationally or do a rotation internationally in Asia one of these days. I was wondering how hard it is for Americans (outside of China) to work there/what steps I would need to take beyond getting an internal transfer at my firm. Additionally, are there countries, outside of the usual suspects, that have a lot of potential w/r/t startups and are more open to English-speakers who don't speak Mandarin/Japanese?
  2. How useful are Python/R for FP&A, honestly? I've tried to learn Python, but frankly, I feel like I'm wasting my time and it's overkill for FP&A folks to learn unless you're into process automation. Is it really that useful, or is advanced Excel + SQL + some visualization skills more than sufficient for the time-being? I'd rather be on the technical/analysis side than the close-automation side, which is why I ask.
  3. What do you think are the pros and cons for working for a small firm and how do the hours compare? I feel like I'd be bored to tears being a middle manager at a F500 company, but at the same time, I don't want to work like a dog without a significant equity incentive at a small-firm either. What are your thoughts on this?

Thanks!

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Mar 30, 2020

Hi Lester, haha no worries. Not selfish at all.
Hmm. Don't mind me asking what is your current profile?
Anyway, its not that hard. Asia is big market and younger than the West in some respects, but China is picking up like to infinity and beyond so I am not sure. They seem alien soon on a technological standpoint.
There are many roles to actually consider for an international life. Audit (albeit abit "repetitive") is actually a very good example for an international life. Its a role widely available, it pays okay. Its also pretty stable & secure, just not sexy though haha.
Internal transfers normally don't fair well for compensation (I don't know why), but yeah that is why I am asking what is your profile. There's too many endless options to live an international life. Try South-East Asia. Hong Kong (not so sure now though, used to be ok). Australia seems obvious, sorry I take it back. hmmmm but yeah its too wide open a question.
2. You are right to an extent. But Python can be used for data cleaning.
3. Higher engagement in a smaller company but it also means your life is a bit off at times. If you are looking for pay, perks/benefits and work life balance etc, small companies, are really not the thing you would look at. You have the logical & rational mindset. I have this weird tendency in me that runs on passion, I have friends who run on $$. They don't care what they need to do, they just want the $$ in their bank account. I care a lot about how can I last 5 days on this job, N I identified I am driven by passion & value so, I can only work for something I can relate a bit to at the very least. So far, still relateable. Maybe someday I can't relate, I might do a business, who knows.
About boredom, you won't be bored if you can relate, if you can't relate, then you can improve, if you can't improve (neither the situation, nor yourself in skills), then its time you move on. My thoughts is that you must assess critically in an interview as well about a potential job, not only the job roles, but also envision rather comprehensively, how does work behind the scenes run in the team & the organisation. Last thing you need, is to be in a role, that you face 5 days, and you keep asking yourself, "When is the weekend coming?" Its a terribly way to live life, considering we now spend so many hours at our work. [sparing CoVID-19 of course. With the lockdown, its another story].

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Mar 30, 2020

Thanks for the awesome reply, and I would be happy to share my background!

I've been all over the place in my career, but I'm pretty confident I've found what I'm interested in now. I worked in audit for 2 years mostly to get my CPA. At the time, I was interested in transaction/deal work so I took the natural step of working in financial due diligence/M&A work at a non-Big 4 but still international consulting firm (think Alvarez & Marsal or similar). After doing that stint for 3 years, I came to two realizations:

  1. The long hours in M&A didn't bother me. It was the unpredictability of when I'd be busy (really hard to make plans that way) and the fact that the work was all about getting a deal across the finish line in order to get paid that turned me off. The culture was also bad, but that was a problem with my office within the firm and isn't a given in any field.
  2. Piggybacking off of M&A just being about massaging numbers, etc. to get parties to sign the deal piece, I realized that what I actually liked about M&A and why I lasted as long as I did despite the pressure my boss would put on me was that I really, really enjoyed looking at reams of financial data, figuring out how to slice & dice it, and then create a report/visualization to present it and make actionable recommendations about what to do next.

Since then, I've moved back to Big 4 in an advisory capacity. The group I'm in is a bit niche, but it's basically helping finance groups digitize their finance function, which includes everything from system implementations, close automation, analytics, etc. I'm unfortunately stuck on a system implementation project for now (not complaining too much because if I were on the bench, I'd likely get canned given how things are going). That said, I really want to get on an analytics project or cost accounting project where I'm helping companies understand why costs are going up (sometimes revenue lower as well) and dive into their drivers to make recommendations. This group also deals a lot more with Tableau/Python, which is what prompted that other question (sidenote: I figured out a bunch of use cases for Python and use it more and more frequently now).

So anyway, that's my background. I envision myself down the road moving into a CFO/Controller role where I'm using data to optimize reporting and also for providing data-driven decision support & help a company improve it's bottom line. Besides that general interest in being at the intersection of data analytics and corporate finance, I'm most passionate about doing business in an international sense. I've had the chance to travel for work internationally once, and it was incredible because I really got a feel for how people live there (versus going on vacation to a country) and loved interacting with folks that have completely different viewpoints/styles of living from mine. That's what prompted the question on international rotations, especially since Asia is a growing part of the world and Singapore is high on my list of places to move/do an international rotation in.

So with all that info, do you think there would be good opportunity in Asia for what I'm seeking?

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Apr 3, 2020
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