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4 Essential FP&A Skills You Need on Your Team

Strategic thinking, storytelling, problem-solving, and objectivity are four soft skills that set aside the best FP&A analysists. Here’s why.

David Greenbaum

June 17, 2022 1 min read

4 Essential FP&A Skills You Need on Your Team

What are some of the most important FP&A skills? What separates the best FP&A analysts from average ones? The value of a talented FP&A professional lies in their ability to provide valuable insight, bridge the gap between departments, and challenge the status quo when needed.

The role requires much more than being good with numbers or knowing your way around Excel or Google Sheets. It’s about enhancing collaboration, giving everyone at an organization the context they need to be successful, and guiding data-driven decisions.

These tasks require excellent communication skills, the willingness to be proactive, the ability to see the bigger picture, and more.

4 Helpful FP&A skills for your company

Today’s post takes a look at important soft skills every FP&A professional needs and how they can help you excel in your role.

1. Strategic thinking

Every FP&A professional should strive to see the bigger picture to maximize their value to their company. This means adopting a mindset that expands beyond Finance and considers the objectives of each department in order to provide better insight.

FP&A team members should not solely focus on presenting numbers or analyzing historical data. Their role is to highlight issues and potential opportunities. 

Identifying what it takes for a company to grow is a key part of their job, as is identifying blockers or factors that could limit progress. The last thing FP&A team members should do is become so occupied by details, that they can’t see the overall picture (the ability to drill deeper when required is still important).

If they are spending most of their time manually copying data or on repetitive tasks that can be automated, companies won’t be getting the most out of their skill sets. 

Strategic thinking naturally translates into business skills. FP&A professionals should have the ability to think about problems from a business perspective, their impact, and potential solutions to fix those issues.

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is a critical skill for FP&A professionals. It happens to be incredibly difficult to master.

A good storyteller is able to adapt their narrative based on the audience they’re addressing. An FP&A professional reporting their findings to the CFO should be using more technical knowledge and be able to provide detailed supporting financial analysis. 

They also have to be able to simplify their message if they’re addressing junior members of the team. In this scenario, they are taking on the role of a teacher, breaking down why something has happened, as well as the consequences.

Finally, good FP&A storytellers should be able to adapt their stories to non-finance people. A CEO may not be interested in every little detail but will be expecting a recommendation on the best course of action. 

This is where acronyms, abbreviations, or terminology that would only be understood by the finance team are best avoided. Non-finance people expect FP&A professionals to be succinct and arm them with key data they need to make a decision.

All of this is what makes storytelling so difficult to master. It’s a mix of being able to articulate or define problems at various levels and persuading your audience. It requires high-level communication skills – we’ve written about how to get better at storytelling here.

fp&a skills

3. Persistence and thinking outside the box

FP&A professionals are problem solvers above all else. Their job is to think about potential solutions instead of stopping at the first hurdle without understanding the underlying issues. 

Finance departments often have a reputation for highlighting problems without actually solving them. However, a great FP&A professional is proactive about suggesting solutions and won’t stop until they have the answers they need.

They are always willing to dig deeper or ask uncomfortable questions when necessary. After all, if their job is to suggest where to cut spending and point out growth opportunities, they need all the information they can get. 

Being a creative problem solver is also crucial at this point. Whether it’s the ability to see the broader picture we’ve mentioned, seeing things from a non-finance perspective, or pointing out connections between factors no one had spotted, every FP&A expert should get used to thinking outside the box.

4. The ability to stay neutral and objective at all times

Being objective is less of a soft skill and more of a prerequisite for every FP&A professional. Its importance cannot be understated.

Since FP&A serves to connect insights from various departments and align goals and strategies, it must remain unbiased and driven by data.

The best FP&A leaders should always search for the truth rather than try to hide it, no matter how uncomfortable it gets. 

They will flag issues ahead of time, explain the reasons for these, and proactively search for solutions for them, rather than trying to allocate blame. Their solutions should address the underlying causes rather than just fixing the symptoms.

It’s vital that FP&A team members avoid workplace politics and use data to back up their recommendations.

The right tool makes the life of an FP&A leader easier

The four skills that we’ve covered – strategic thinking, storytelling, problem-solving, and objectivity – require FP&A professionals to keep track of a lot of information at the same time.

To help them become even better at their jobs, we’ve created OnPlan – a platform that serves as a single source of truth and is capable of providing all the data you need at the click of a button.

OnPlan is also fantastic for storytellers who want to use insightful visualizations to break down their story for audiences at any level.

Our platform automates data collection and organizes information in customizable views which you can change based on the level of granularity you need.

It empowers users to think strategically by giving them a quick overview of everything that’s going on at their company, while also allowing key stakeholders from other departments to use the system with ease and make life easier for FP&A professionals.

Click on the button below and we’ll gladly show you how OnPlan can improve your soft skills (and your practical!) skills!) today.

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Then connect with the OnPlan team by clicking on the button below.

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About Author
David Greenbaum

Is the Founder and CEO of OnPlan. His lifelong passion for Excel is rivaled only by his infatuation with Airtable. Prior to founding OnPlan, David founded Boost Media (now Ad Labs), an Ad Creative Optimization software company. David has worked in a variety of FP&A roles for companies including Interval Leisure Group (NASDAQ: ILG), Plum Capital and Goldman Sachs. David holds a BA from Brown University and an MBA from the Yale School of Management.

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