Acquiring FP&A Skills from Unique Experiences

Acquiring FP&A Skills from Unique Experiences

By Karl Kern, Founder/President, Kern Analytics LLC

This blog post  addresses the acquisition of FP&A skills.

Where to start?

People who want to become financial planning and analysis (FP&A) practitioners obtain advice on how to achieve this goal.  One piece of advice is to acquire education by taking courses in subjects like accounting, economics, and finance.  Another piece of advice is to acquire experience by working in companies that have specialized FP&A departments.  These pieces of advice are examples of traditional paths to follow.  I consider these paths to be traditional because they are how I as well as a number of colleagues were led to believe.

Creative Mindset

FP&A is an interesting field.  It is interesting because a person can be a value-added practitioner by acquiring skills that focus around a scientific process.  It also is interesting because a person can be a value-added practitioner by acquiring skills that focus around a creative mindset.  It is the second characteristic, a creative mindset, which establishes opportunities to acquire skills necessary to become a value-added practitioner.  It is this characteristic that establishes FP&A as a value-added function.

Experience as an Undergraduate

An important part of my work as an FP&A practitioner comes from an experience that I had as an undergraduate. 

As an undergraduate, my life was more than learning from courses that I took.  I was fortunate to have a number of friends who shared my interests.  One of my interests was sports.  I participated in a number of intramural activities and attended a number of sporting events.  One sport that interested me and my friends was baseball.  We took that interest into playing a board baseball game called Strat-O-Matic, a forerunner of today’s fantasy baseball.

It was Strat-O-Matic that provided a unique experience to acquire FP&A skills.

The spring semester of my senior year was the last time that I would participate in Strat-O-Matic baseball with my friends from college.  I wanted to go out with a bang, i.e. create a team that would win the league’s World Series.  To do this I came up with an idea on how to draft players for my team.  The idea was to organize the selection process around statistics.  The statistics focused on what I thought would help identify players who could achieve my goal.

What I thought would help identify players who could achieve my goal was centered by a creative mindset.  The creative mindset focused on establishing statistics that went beyond traditional measures.  Rather than using traditional measures like batting average, home runs, and earned run average I not only obtained statistics like on-base percentage but also created statistics like at bats per home run hit, hits and walks allowed per nine innings, and home runs allowed per nine innings.  My process looks eerily familiar to the story described in the book MONEYBALL however I employed this process about twenty years before the book was published.  My process also took place before the advantages provided by technology like easy access to computing simplicity and the internet.

Even though I did not achieve my goal (I lost in the World Series) the experience from Strat-O-Matic baseball provided a unique opportunity to acquire FP&A skills.

Experience in Organizations

I consider myself blessed because I have a personality trait that helps me do the best to my ability, passion.  My passion is to help not only myself but also others move forward in situations.  What I described in the situation as an undergraduate is not unlike situations that people in organizations face.  People in organizations face situations that require thinking, organizing, and working in order to achieve goals.  These activities are common in a variety of functions within organizations and the key is to have people who have a passion for a function that supports the achievement of goals.  I am passionate about the FP&A function because it combines the skills of systematic thinking and creativity.  These skills can be developed through traditional paths like education and employment, however, one can develop these skills from unique experiences.

If you want to acquire skills necessary to become a value-added FP&A practitioner, maximize the positives that exist in opportunities regardless of what these opportunities are.