FP&A as a Strategic Business Partner: Glenn Snyder on the Being Planful Podcast

Glenn Snyder is a recognized industry expert with over 25 years of FP&A and corporate strategy experience across Franklin Templeton, Visa, Charles Schwab, and other firms. Glenn has also taught finance courses at San Francisco State University, published a supplement to Principles of Corporate Finance, and is a frequent presenter at accounting and finance conferences. He’s also a frequent guest on our Being Planful podcast and I’m delighted to have had him back for another great chat.

In this episode (watch or listen here), Glenn and I dived into the desirable traits of finance and accounting professionals, like empathy, courage, persistence, and using failure as a learning experience. From there, we talked about how you can acquire those traits, use them to become a better finance business partner,  FP&A leader and communicator, and combine it all to build a well-rounded finance team structure precisely for your organization. Glenn also touched on the importance of accounting and finance technology and why, just as FP&A needs a solid partnership with the business, it also needs one with IT.

Here are just a few highlights of this episode.

The Whole Circus

Finance and accounting professionals often straddle the line between FP&A and strategy. FP&A is more focused on the internal financial numbers, budgets, and forecasts. Strategy, on the other hand, looks outwardly at competitors, market dynamics, regulations, and more. But smart FP&A teams focus where those two functions overlap so they can better help the business achieve their goals.

“FP&A should sit right on that line between strategy and FP&A, because you’re helping marketing, legal, sales, or operations achieve their goals,” Glenn explained. “You can’t just do it from a finance perspective because then you’re a one-trick pony. You have to look at what I call ‘the whole circus’ and say, ‘What is the customer aspect? The product aspect? The market aspect?’ Help that business leader achieve their goals and you become a much more valued and trusted partner to the business rather than just being finance support.”

Of course, sometimes business leaders might push back when Finance starts to step into the business. But, as Glenn further explained, getting the business perspective and applying that back to the financial numbers lets FP&A help the business better understand and reach their goals.

“When you get closer to the business and take their strategies, their ideas, the direction they’re going, and you apply finance discipline, that’s very, very powerful,” added Glenn.

Empathy in Finance

Getting closer to the business and more aligned with their goals takes a willingness to learn. The typical finance and accounting professional likely doesn’t know marketing or sales or operations. So you have to sit in meetings, ask questions, and listen in on both tactical and strategic discussions. Above all, however, is understanding the people you’re partnering with.

“When you’re sitting across the table or on the other side of the Zoom meeting, put yourself in their position,” Glenn said. “What do they want? What do they need help with? That’s what Finance should be thinking about. Because many times, finance people go in and they say, ‘I need explanations for these variances or to understand where we’re going with our forecast.’ But if you’re only looking at it from what you need, and not from what the business needs, it’s not really a partnership.”

Taking an empathetic approach also elevates FP&A from being just the finance person. It could be by proactively providing them more financial data on a current challenge or breaking down revenue or costs—financial metrics—by product or region or shift or another business metric. Or, maybe it’s providing a customized report or dashboard that sheds more light on something they care about. As Glenn said, that’s typically followed with the business leader saying, “Whoa, this is exactly what we need!”

It’s that empathy—putting yourself in their shoes—that helps FP&A find the sweet spot between finance and strategy, and which positions you as more of a strategic business partner. And, as Glenn explains on the podcast, from empathy comes better communication and teamwork because you’re now relying on each other to reach your goals.

Building Your Best FP&A Team

Getting out into the business, understanding how they operate and what they need, and putting yourself in their shoes is just the first step in becoming a more strategic FP&A function. Properly structuring your team is also crucial, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Company size, team size and skills, corporate culture and goals, and much more should all weigh in on your approach to building a better FP&A team. With Glenn’s extensive experience, he says it begins with the FP&A professionals who actually interact with the business.

“It all starts with the finance business partner function,” said Glenn. “They are going to be interacting with the various business units, doing budget variance analysis reporting and the other core functions of what FP&A does. They become the one point of contact the business has to Finance. So that finance business partner is absolutely key.”

From there, Glenn recommends having a centralized revenue or consolidation team to ensure revenue and costs are accurately accounted for. Next, Glenn puts immense emphasis on the technology used by finance and accounting teams and the data that goes into those solutions.

“I always like to have an IT person in the FP&A group who can help manage the data flow,” said Glenn. “If you have bad data coming in, your results are going to be meaningless. So you’ve got to have good data quality, good data governance, and the system set up in the right way. Even if it’s an IT person, I always consider them part of my team because they’re that critical.”

The goal is to structure FP&A into a set of business partners, a group focused on consolidation and revenue, and then a more technical group or expert making sure the data is high quality. For the latter, Glenn predicts a sort of finance operations or FP&A systems role eventually becoming more popular in finance and accounting teams. But that’s a tall order because the role needs to be filled by someone who understands both finance and technology.

“When you have somebody good in that role—an FP&A person who can speak FP&A lingo but who can also speak IT coding and SQL queries—that person bridges those two gaps,” said Glenn. “When they’re coming from the system side and I’m thinking from the business side, that partnership is incredible. When you have it, it adds so much value.”

Subscribe to Being Planful

To hear more of this conversation, listen to Glenn Snyder on Being Planful.

The Being Planful podcast is dedicated to helping finance, accounting, and FP&A professionals become more agile, remove friction from the planning process, and be more confident in the reports they deliver and decisions they help drive in every corner of the business. Whether during your exercise routine, as background to your daily workflow, or anytime you need some inspiration, Being Planful brings you the latest thinking from the brightest minds in finance and accounting.

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