On the fourth episode of Being Planful, I was joined by Chris Ortega, Director of Finance, Americas, for Emarsys, a provider of omnichannel customer engagement software. Chris is part of the next generation of FP&A leaders, who use technology to empower Finance to move beyond just the transactional numbers and into being a truly strategic partner to the business. He has built the Americas accounting, finance, and FP&A teams at Emarsys with a focus on patience, precision, and people. But he’s also pushed a foundation of automation and data to get those people out of the process and into more value-add activities.
In this episode, Chris and I discuss how he built trust with the business, why it’s time for FP&A to get out of the “scorekeeping mindset,” and how technologies like Planful are empowering his team to focus their efforts where they really matter.
Here are a few highlights of this episode.
Building Trust Between FP&A and the Business
Chris started at Emarsys several years ago as the first accounting or finance hire. That threw him into the fire, on one hand, but also gave him a blank slate from which to build FP&A in his own mold. And, even as a small division of a larger company, the Emarsys Americas team was an “all hands on deck” kind of company, with a decidedly entrepreneurial and startup culture. It forced Chris to wear many hats, but also build the FP&A foundation on mutual trust and respect.
“I’m not just the accounting, finance and FP&A person,” Chris explained. “Sometimes I’m the legal person. Sometimes I jump on customer calls, I help on marketing, I help in operations.”
That exposure to a wide array of teams helped Chris focus on relationships for the first few months at Emarsys. It let him build trust, but also better structure FP&A to support such a fast-moving business.
“When you build any relationship, it’s all about trust and competency,” said Chris. “What a lot of accounting and FP&A leaders focus on is competency. I come at it in building the trust first. I want to understand the business. I’m going to know the debits and credits, but what’s more important is knowing I’m a trusted partner.”
That strong relationship with the business from the start kept FP&A from being seen as merely “the numbers police.” That outdated scorekeeping mentality, Chris explains, is what keeps many finance teams from becoming a true partner to the business. He says that, at Emarsys, FP&A is partners first, accounting and finance second. “That’s the FP&A of the future.”
Technology to Move from Process to Information
Chris sees technology as more than just a tool; it’s a springboard for giving FP&A a more strategic view. And, it’s just one component of modern FP&A that adopts technology to improve the business, optimize resource utilization, and allow the team and the business to quickly scale.
“We’re past the point in business of throwing more people at a problem to solve it,” said Chris. “FP&A is all about financial partnership and advising. The biggest way to get there is by leveraging technology.”
But Chris explained that technology is the facilitator while the people add the real value. That means going beyond simply giving more data to the business in less time. The business needs information to make better decisions, not just data.
“The business says, ‘We need finance to give us the numbers,’” Chris explains. “That’s the email you get at 8 p.m. That’s not a value add. The value add is, you get the numbers, now what are you going to do with them? Most FP&A teams are focused on the data gathering and Excel models. That is not value add. You want to be positioned to provide knowledge.”
The value add is where your people come in, according to Chris. And that’s another area where technology can give people the time and information to make better contributions.
“Before I make any personnel decisions, I look at the technology out there,” Chris said. “If a technology gives me 80 to 95% of the process, I’ll go with that. Because I want to have my people focused on those high value activities in the decision cycle.”
FP&A 2.0 is Critical Today
Chris talked alot about FP&A 2.0 and the shift from scorekeeping to adding real value. He also referred to traditional FP&A thinking as being “the numbers police,” something he believes this new wave of FP&A is destined to change.
I look at it as an iceberg, where you can only see the top 10%. For FP&A, if you’re focused on the numbers, building models and spreadsheets, 90% of your work isn’t really driving value. You’re spending most of your time there instead of working side-by-side with the business. And, even though it took Chris and I nearly 20 minutes to mention the pandemic, it’s clear that technology needs to be part of today’s FP&A so that teams can move faster, be more flexible, and put their efforts into what’s most important to the business.
“The value prop for FP&A is fundamentally changing,” said Chris. “We’ve automated collections, AP, invoicing. Traditionally, it was people doing those jobs. That kind of process is poised for automation. And then you can allocate their skill sets to higher value things.”
Chris ends the podcast by describing what “being Planful” means to him. I won’t spoil it, but it revolved around being patient, being precise, and being sympathetic and empathetic to the people you work with. Great advice, especially in today’s world.
Subscribe to Being Planful
To hear all about Chris’s journey to FP&A 2.0, listen to episode #4 of Being Planful.
This podcast series explores the benefits of adopting a “Planful” mindset by inviting your FP&A peers, analysts, industry experts, and more, to share their experiences and insights. Podcasting also lets us stay socially-distant while giving you a more flexible way to learn about Continuous Planning, whether it’s watching it on your phone, listening during your morning run, or tuning-in whenever it’s convenient.
If you’d like to subscribe, click on your podcast platform of choice (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify), or just search for “Planful” wherever you listen. I’ll be releasing new episodes often, so be sure to subscribe. And, if you have any comments, questions, or think you’d make a great guest, send me an email at email@example.com.