Financial Planning & Analysis: Not Just for CPAs

Shane GagnonShane Gagnon, Clarity’s Director of Operations in Vancouver, recently had a hunch that he decided to dig into. His hunch was that Canadian employers seem to have a tendency to hire CPAs over non-designated professionals (MBAs, CFA’s, undergraduate finance/business degree holders) within their Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) functions. This is in contrast to American companies where MBAs, and the like, seem more prevalent.

He recently pulled a random sampling of FP&A job descriptions from and 80% of them required CPAs. Are we missing out on great talent for our finance teams because we’re so focused on the CPA designation?

How many CPA/Accountants make up Amazon’s FP&A team? 22%

How about Telus (only 229 km’s away from each other)? A whopping 82%

But there’s more:

  • Telus has a CPA rotational program internally, they develop their people into CPAs, which helps explain why the number is so high
  • Loblaws has a CPA program too and their FP&A team composition is 83% CPA/accounting
  • Hudson’s Bay Company has no CPA program and as a landmark Canadian institution that is now an American company, they are quite interesting; their FP&A team is split between Canada and the USA. Only 10% of their American FP&A team has a CPA/Accounting background; in Canada it’s 91%
  • lululemon has shown some real willingness to hire outside the traditional background for their FP+A team (possibly due to years of non-Canadian leadership) and their team is still approximately 65% CPA

What is the role of Financial Planning and Analysis and is it crucial that we focus our recruitment efforts mainly on CPAs? Evolved FP&A requires business partnering to optimize decision making and drive results. Yes, there are cyclical, routine elements that are required of the job (budgeting, forecasting, etc) but the true power of the function is unleashing analytical people with quantitative skills (who also have an in depth understanding of finance) into the business to support the execution of operational agendas. Shane points out “there is nothing in that mandate that jumps out at me saying ‘this is why we should exclusively look at CPAs’”.

Mona Kennedy is the VP, Finance at Indigo and she has also noticed an incongruity with how we hire in FP&A, and what the actual role of the function demands. Traditionally, FP&A people have been “focused on budgeting and forecasting, variance analysis, and commentary, they’re not thinking about ‘how do I add value to the business’? What are the drivers and how do we help leaders make the right decisions?” Mona recognized that CEO/COOs without finance backgrounds are not always able to ask for evolved FP&A as they don’t necessarily know what the function can really do. It’s incumbent on finance itself to reinvent the function and demonstrate real value to the business.

“People in the business generally don’t want to hear from finance because they’re always coming around asking “Why are you over budget? Why are you under budget?” so reinventing our FP&A function was about freeing ourselves to automate and streamline the reporting aspect that was normally just expected of us and building real bridges with the business, showing them how we can truly add value to them and that, in large part, demanded us to open ourselves to hiring a different type of profile.”

Mona has found huge success hiring people who have come from MBA and M.Sc backgrounds, one of her favorite hires came from Sales. “Having a background in sales meant they had a real appreciation for the drivers of how a company actually makes money. That mindset has not only helped the business partners we serve but the rest of our team as well. When I am hiring for FP&A I look for business acumen above all else, an appreciation of EBITDA and what drives it. That is a skill set that you find everywhere, not just in CPAs.”

This embrace of moving FP&A to something more than it has historically been was echoed in a conversation Shane had with Oliver Piekaar, VP, Finance at Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers (NYSE: RBA, $3.66B Market Cap): “People look at the CFO and those that work under them as people that just create the financial statements that have to be submitted for compliance reasons. At a certain point though you realize that if you’re going to drive value for your organization you have to become more analytical storytellers who embrace data more than traditional CPAs that, by training, seek out certainty. You need great inputs of course, but you need to free yourself to be more curious and more aligned to the business to drive impactful results.”

To their credit though, Oliver points out that “CPAs have a desire for precision which can be  really valuable in FP&A. You are trained to trust but verify, and you have the ability to track the impact of events across all the financial statements. That is not always present in people coming from a non-CPA background which I take into consideration when hiring.”

Shane’s conclusion: “Certainly I’m not going to say MBAs are better and we should hire them instead of CPAs into FP&A teams, but I am going to say that we are doing ourselves a disservice in not giving serious consideration to building out our finance teams with non-CPA profiles. The CPA designation, across Canada, has a well deserved reputation for its quality. As a recruiter and a designated HR professional I can say that I have confidence in the quality imbued in a CPA charterholder in Canada. However, I do question our reliance on it as an indicator for quality in the FP&A space. Should we not be opening our eyes, and desk spaces, to those candidates with high level business acumen, analytical skills, and strong interpersonal abilities regardless of designation (if any)?”

The FP&A professional of the future combines the technical skill set of a business analyst (extract, manipulate, and package data) with the nuanced skills of a financial analyst (analyze the data and tell the story) and packages it with the business acumen of a more operational person in the company. Finding, or developing, those skills in people is very challenging which is why we can not afford to discount a large swath of the population when we are making our hiring decisions.

As we endeavour to build more great Canadian companies, FP&A can, and will, play a key role in ensuring their growth and success but we will hinder that growth if we can not satisfy the demand for talented people and we compound that challenge when we close ourselves off to people that don’t look exactly like what we have historically hired into the finance function.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below or contact Shane directly. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to be alerted to new job opportunities, salary guides, research and insights to keep you at the top of your game

Your Next Step

No one should walk the job search or hiring road alone. At Clarity Recruitment we help others realize their success through a process that marries proprietary technology with unwavering commitment. Contact us today to take control of your career, or to partner with us to hire well.

Clarity Recruitment, connecting exceptional people with remarkable companies.

Passion Led Us Here on Sidewalk

How to Lead a Team People WANT to Work on

Passion Led Us Here on Sidewalk
So you want to be a Great Leader. A good plan would be to list the skills you need, see where you have gaps, then learn and practice those until you are a great leader. Right?

So, you do your research – and you find a list like this one. It’s from the Harvard Business Review, so it’s pretty good!

You read this list, and say OK, I need to have high morals, provide goals, communicate, be open to others opinions, give training, communicate, etc. There is no denying that all the things on the list are really important. You should work on building all these skills. (hopefully you already have the ethics and morals!) 

But here’s the problem. You can do all the right stuff in theory, and still be a LOUSY leader. And you can probably mess up some of the things on this list, and if you are willing to learn and improve, you can still be a GREAT leader.  

So what’s not on this list? What are the things you can do RIGHT NOW, that will make everyone want to work on YOUR team? Here’s what’s on MY list.

 Straight Talk. No BS.

  • Say what you mean, and mean what you say. It's that simple. You can’t build TRUST if you don’t tell the truth.
  • You hire SMART people. So why pretend they are stupid and can’t see when there is a problem? Tell people what’s going on. If you don’t know – say that. If you can’t share the information yet – say that.
  • And if you can’t answer them, tell people what you CAN tell them, and when.

Be Real. Be the Best version of Yourself.

  • Remember the Emperor with no clothes? Everyone knows when you are being FAKE, they just won’t say anything because you're the boss.
  • Be CONSISTENT – the person in the lunch room, meeting room and boardroom should be the same in personality and values, even if what you talk about is different
  • If you are funny in person, use some humour. If you love sports, tell a sports story. But find a way to put YOUR personal stamp on your communication. It makes you real. 
  • Nothing is more inspiring than honesty. Especially in difficult or awkward situations. Your team will respect you for it. 

You work with PEOPLE, not robots. Act like it.

  • Get to know your team PERSONALLY. Ask them about their lives. Get to know at least 1 personal thing about everyone on your team! 
  • ASK people what their aspirations are. You can’t help them get there if you don’t know what they want.
  • Say Please and Thank you. In person, in emails. Publicly. A little APPRECIATIONand kindness goes a long way!
  • CELEBRATE birthdays, weddings, engagements, babies – any excuse for cake really!
  •  EMPATHY goes a long way. Be kind to the person who has a sick mother or child. Cut people some slack when they are going through a tough time. They will remember it and will pay you back with hard work and loyalty for a long time.

Take your Work Seriously. But it's OK to have FUN at the office!

  • My team knows I am deadly serious when it comes to delivering results, but boy can we have fun with pranks and jokes along the way!
  • Being willing to LAUGH at yourself is a great equalizer with your team.
  • Having team FUN doesn’t have to cost a lot. Try rock climbing, ping pong tournaments, or escape rooms. Pot luck meals are a great way to learn about each person’s culture. Or a simple pizza lunch can be fun. Change it up!
  • Find out what YOUR team actually wants to do – and just make it happen!

Be the Leader Your Team NEEDS – not the One you LIKE to be.

  • Fill the Void. Figure out what your team NEEDS and give them that.
  • Sometimes they need guidance. Sometimes an encouraging coach. Or and extra set of hands to help. Sometimes you just need to get out of the way!
  • During tough projects when the team is doing the hard work and they don’t need me – I go get the coffee, or pizza or ice-cream. You can never have too much caffeine and sugar! (and chocolate of course)
  • Roll up your sleeves and do what’s needed to get the job done.


Original Post by: Katya Forsyth 

5 Reasons Companies Lose Top Finance and Accounting Talent

With top talent driving a disproportionate amount of your bottom line it’s imperative to keep them on board. And yet while companies invest time and energy attracting and landing the best people, they don’t always have a structured approach to retaining them. Here are 5 reasons that companies lose top finance and accounting talent.

Reason #1: No Voice in the Process
When management doesn’t listen to employee concerns the result can be a lack of buy-in and overall disenchantment with the organization. Couple that with treating employees as a unit, rather than as individuals, and you have a recipe for retention disaster.

Solution: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings to source individual feedback.

Reason #2: Bureaucracy Trumps Innovation
Top talent have many traits in common, one of which is a commitment to continuous improvement often in the form of innovation. If red tape consistently gets in the way of constructive change, and this can happen in large organizations, top performers can get frustrated and look for a company that is more receptive to their ideas.

Solution: Read this article to learn about how Google shed bureaucracy to solve its talent problem.

Reason #3: No Opportunities to Grow and Lead
Your best and brightest want an opportunity to grow their skill set. They also need to understand their path to career advancement. Millennials, in particular, need a chance to lead and an awareness of how they’ll move up the corporate ladder. Remember, money is not always the biggest motivator.

Solution: Make sure to engage talent and outline a clear career path. Discuss what they are passionate about and give them opportunities to explore that. Establish a formal mentoring program. 

Read: For more information on how to build tomorrow’s finance leaders, read this blog.

Reason #4: Poor Feedback Process
Providing ongoing, constructive feedback is critical to retaining top accounting and finance talent, as is a manager’s willingness to receive feedback. In addition, a poor employee performance review process can undermine the relationship between a manager and top talent.

Solution: Give and receive feedback in a mutually respectful and transparent way. Develop and implement a performance review process that collaboratively involves both parties.

Reason #5: Ineffective Communication of the Organization’s Vision
It’s not just important that leadership communicate the organization’s vision. What’s more critical is that top talent understand how their contributions achieve the big picture. It’s a source of inspiration.

Solution: During one-on-one meetings connect each employee’s responsibilities to the overarching goals of the company. Celebrate successes and provide recognition when appropriate.

Key Takeaways
Many of the challenges that lead to the loss of top accounting and finance talent have, at their root, poor leadership. Ensure that managers communicate the organization’s vision and connect each individual’s duties to its achievement. Lay out a clear path for career advancement and provide opportunities for high performers to lead and grow their skill set. Provide ongoing, constructive feedback and be receptive to new ideas. Ultimately, you need to keep top talent interested and engaged, or they’ll go elsewhere.

Your Next Step
No one should walk the job search or hiring road alone. At Clarity Recruitment we help others realize their success through a process that marries proprietary technology with unwavering commitment. Contact us today to take control of your career, or to partner with us to hire well.

Clarity Recruitment, connecting exceptional people with remarkable companies.

How to Retain Top Accounting and Finance Talent

With the average worker staying 4 years in a role, it’s not enough to simply attract and land top accounting and finance talent. You also need to retain them. Increasingly, progressive organizations are offering perks outside of the norm. Here are 4 strategies you can use to retain your difference makers.

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How to Attract Accountants with Your Corporate Culture

In a recent blog we discussed what millennials want in an accounting job. Many of the factors that would attract a millennial workforce had to do with a company’s culture. So how does an organization create a strong company culture that attracts, lands and retains the right people? Here are some tips for turning your company into an organization that people compete to work for.

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What Millennials Want from an Accounting Job

What Millennials Want from an Accounting Job

What Millennials Want from an Accounting Job
As baby boomers retire and millennials replace them, an understanding of what the millennial generation wants in an accounting job is integral to attracting, landing and keeping quality talent.  And here’s the thing, if two firms are offering essentially the same financial compensation and benefits, a millennial accountant’s decision making process about taking a job or staying with a firm can take a sharp left turn from those employees who came before him/her.

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You’re thinking about buying a house.  You know what you need and the price you’re willing to pay for it. Of course, you've done very little market research, are looking for something very specific and have only three days, but surely…

We wouldn't buy a house this way, but this analogy offers us a glimpse into some of the most common and costly hiring mistakes. To avoid compromising your hiring process, read on.

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How to Write Killer Finance Job Descriptions

You gaze pensively at your new hire. They are currently demonstrating the art of balancing a pencil on their nose to a somewhat appreciative audience. You ponder where your hiring process went wrong. The issue, you muse, seems to be your finance job descriptions. They just aren’t capturing the attention of the best candidates. So how do you write a killer job description that brings the right talent to your door?

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Why Your Company (and Your Finance Team) May Need Bruce Willis

There is little doubt that Hans Gruber and his band of merry men underestimated off- duty police officer John McClane in Hollywood’s action film classic Die Hard. After all, this is Bruce Willis at his finest. And when Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, offered us 14 more sequels (might have been only 4, but it felt like 14) we noted that people continued to underestimate him.  The error, of course, lies in not according enough respect to a maverick.

Let’s start by defining the character traits that comprise “maverickism”.  Mavericks are open to new ways of thinking, typically extroverted and highly creative. They have a willingness to take risks. They are strategic and big picture thinkers. The research also suggests that mavericks are willing to stand their ground. They’re goal-oriented and persevere in the face of adversity. And while it might seem a contrary opinion in the risk adverse world of finance and accounting, here’s why certain kinds of companies should consider hiring someone with maverick-like qualities.

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Attention Agency Recruiters: What the Corporate World Needs You to Know

In the classic work of non-fiction “A Walk in the Woods,” the author, Bill Bryson, decides to hike the Appalachian Trail – all 3,500 km of it (no we’re not kidding – the whole thing).  He takes his friend, Stephen Katz, with him. Their obvious lack of physical and emotional preparation leads to hilarity on a variety of fronts. They carry too much weight (essentially everything but the proverbial kitchen sink), disagree on virtually everything and never do finish the trail.

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