A Week in the Life of a Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) Manager, Monday to Wednesday: 3-Year Strategy Plans, Loopy CFOs, and Midnight Excel Marathons

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Corporate Finance FP&A Manager: A Week in the Life

In theory, corporate finance is supposed to offer “better hours” and “less stress” than investment banking…

And it’s a nice theory most of the time: my last feature on 24 hours in a life of a Corporate Finance analyst spelled out a typical quiet Friday at the office.

And then we looked at how much money you make, how many hours you work, and what you actually do as you move up the corporate finance hierarchy.

Today, though, I’m going to walk you through the downside case: what happens during a busy period for an FP&A manager, where you have to field tough questions from your CFO and CEO and everyone in between as you work on the infamous 3-year strategy plan.

While this never quite reaches investment banking hours, you’ll go far beyond a standard 40-50 hour per week job during this time – and you’ll get to have some fun dealing with office politicking.

Let’s get started with Monday at 8 AM, as I arrive at work…

Monday

8:00 AM – Elevator doors open, and I enter the finance floor and start my computer and check my emails.

As the manager of the financial planning and analysis team, I had the full weekend off, but my team was in the office preparing files. This week we are submitting the “Three-Year Strategic Plan” and, as always, it’s going to be hectic.

9:00 AM – First team meeting in my office. I brief the new members of the team on the schedule for this week, knowing very well that a thousand different events could completely change the schedule:

  • Tuesday: Since we serve as the European headquarters, we’ll get all the countries in Europe pitching their three-year plans to us.
  • Wednesday: We’ll consolidate the plans, make some modifications, ask questions and present it to the board of the European Division.
  • Thursday: I fly to Germany with the CFO and one analyst to present the plan to the world headquarters.
  • Friday: We answer a few questions and go home for the weekend… hopefully!

10:20 AM – The CFO enters my office. She is, without a doubt, the one person that is going to mess up the process. It’s her first planning session here, but she has a reputation for being very whimsical and changing things at the last minute.

10:25 AM – Here it comes: after a polite chat, she asks me to create an additional strategic plan based on a document that was created by consultants a few weeks ago.

I explain that their work was ridiculous and unrealistic, so it doesn’t make sense to use it for our planning. She agrees, but tells me to do it anyway since we “committed.”

I know exactly what happened: the worldwide CEO suggested it casually and our CEO for Europe said he would get it within 48 hours… and my team was going to suffer the consequences.

11:00 AM – Go see my most senior analyst and tell her the bad news. She’s been here for 4 years and she is the pillar of my team – plus, her crooked sense of humor is always a good morale booster.

1:00 – 3:00 PM – Sit down with my 3 senior analysts and review the files they prepared over the weekend. They created huge Excel templates  that are ready to be filled out by the 10 European countries we manage.

We go over the different metrics like the Return on Investment, Return on Equity, and debt ratios.

I suggest a few changes on the main dashboard that we’re going to present to our CEO and the rest of the board on Wednesday. Right now it looks a bit too technical and “financey” and I know they’ll want something more sales and marketing-focused.

3:00 – 4:00 PM – Have a conference call with the 10 FP&A managers in Europe who report to me, to walk them through the template they have to pitch tomorrow. This is what I usually call a “complain call” because everyone is criticizing the format, the amount of data required, etc.

My analysts make a few adjustments and send the final file. It’s going to be an all-nighter for at least 30 people because they have to fill in 3 years of financials quarter-by-quarter.

4:00 – 7:00 PM – After the global conference call, I get on the phone with all of the FP&A managers one by one. We have a pre-pitch where they informally present their plans and, most importantly, the Net Income target for each year.

I know the global target our CFO has in mind, so I play a game of give and take to make sure the plans we get tomorrow are not too far off. In corporate finance, these pre-calls are the most important parts and the official pitches are just formal approvals.

7:00 – 9:00 PM – Meet with the European HR Manager and our CFO to discuss the “Cost Rationalization Plan,” which is a nice way to say that some people will lose their jobs.

I need to get an update on the forecast because not only are we presenting a full set of financial statements and enough performance metrics to make a small country jealous, but we’re also presenting the number of employees, their compensation, bonuses, and their satisfaction scores on the company survey.

This plan is going to be ugly, especially for the back office functions.

9:00 PM – Close my computer and realize the last person in the office is our new intern. He started last week and I know there’s no way he’s working on anything important right now. I walk up to his desk and tell him to go home because there’s no “face time” here.

Tuesday

8:00 AM – Walk into the office thinking about the day ahead. I’m definitely not looking forward to the 8 hours of calls with the various FP&A managers and CFOs that will present their three-year strategic plans today.

8:30 AM – All of my team members are in my office and I give them a final warning: no one at the country level knows about the headcount reduction plan and I don’t want anyone in my team to bring it up by mistake.

It would be a shame for a CFO to learn through an intern that 30% of his team is going to get the axe.

Today is all about comparing the three-year forecast for each country to the information we have and their previous plans. Anything that looks dodgy will be questioned because I don’t want anyone to keep Net Income away from me.

9:00 AM – We all sit in the executive room, ready for battle. I am next to the CFO and 2 of her analysts; my team of 10 all have their laptops opened, ready to provide us with “live” analysis.

10:00 AM – The first call was from a small platform in Eastern Europe and was quite uneventful – very few questions were asked and only minor corrections were made. That’s less work for my analysts.

11:10 AM – The FP&A manager for Hungary announces Net Income for this year €10 MM below my expectations. My analysts tell me this is because they set aside a reserve for a litigation case.

I ask for a legal memo to back up this reserve, but they say the memo is not ready yet. This sounds like a “cookie-jar” – a fake reserve created to hide income that can be released if you’re short of your target.

Just like companies often “sandbag” their estimates to reduce investor expectations and give them a cushion if something goes wrong, individual divisions of a large company often do the same thing.

11:30 AM – After a heated debate, I allow them to keep the reserve but I’ll be the one deciding on the timing of the release. That €10 MM is now mine and will help me to reach my target. I congratulate the team on a good catch.

This all falls in a grey zone of accounting, especially since it’s a strategic plan and we’re not booking anything. So if no one calls you on it, these “buffers” are considered fair game (these types of fake reserves are NOT allowed in publicly filed financial statements, though).

12:00 AM – We spent one and a half hours with Hungary, which means that now we’re running behind schedule… it’s going to be a long day. Since we’re late, lunch boxes are ordered directly into the meeting room and we eat while listening to the pitches.

1:00 PM – Italy is on the line, and the mood brightens because they are so much fun. The FP&A manager of Italy is presenting a plan €20 MM below our Net Income expectations. He’s going into great lengths about how bad the economy is in Italy, and how tough the competition is.

1:10 PM – I remind him that at the last planning session they said they could never, ever make up the extra €10 MM I was asking for, but then they ended up doing an extra €25 MM. He swears that this time it’s different. I ask for a resubmission anyway with an additional €20 MM.

1:30 PM – I really suspect that Italy has massive hidden reserves, which means I need to pick the right Net Income target for them. Too low and they won’t have to use the reserves to make it; too high and they’ll keep the reserves for next year when the target is do-able again.

3:00 PM – The German analyst tells me that his revenue growth is low because he used a 0% GDP growth assumption “to be conservative.”

Except he didn’t actually enter a “0%”, but instead left the line completely blank – it’s a rookie mistake and I know his boss is probably crucifying him.

You’re not supposed to make your own assumptions for important numbers like this – imagine what would happen if every division used different assumptions for GDP growth or inflation.

Instead, the world headquarters sends out “assumption packs” with projected growth for each country that everyone uses.

5:00 PM – I’m bored. All the pitches start to look the same after the first five countries have finished. I stay focused, though – need to catch those juicy hidden reserves!

9:00 PM – We finally leave the room after a 12-hour conference call marathon and the day is… not over.

9:05 PM – While going back to our floor, one of the interns asks me why the CFO is so involved in all of this.

The answer is simple: her bonus.

It’s based almost entirely on the Net Income of the business against the strategic plan. Someone at her level at a company of this size might earn around a $500K USD bonus, so it’s in her interest to sit through these boring calls.

10:00 PM – We received resubmissions from all the countries and consolidation is starting. Everyone on my team is working in Excel, but no analysis is required yet so I’m pretty much useless. I order pizzas for everyone.

11:00 PM – Consolidation is over for the Net Income, my priority. I sit down in my office with the 3 senior analysts and give directions on “the story.” This story is going to explain why this plan makes sense compared to the previous strategic plans.

For instance, we are € 30MM below the previous plan for Net Income. This is mostly due to foreign exchange effects with the British pounds and the Euro, so I ask my team to prepare 4 or 5 slides showing the different FX movements, the hedging we used, and the future assumptions.

1:00 AM – Leave the office and force the interns out. The analysts are going to work on the slides and we’ll review them tomorrow morning. I’m useless during the pitch creation phase and so are the interns.

Wednesday

8:00 AM – Two of my analysts stayed up all night. I see them leaving on my way in. They’re going home to shower and get some sleep before the big review with the European Board of Directors this afternoon.

8:30 AM – The 3 senior analysts arrive in the office; they left at 3:00 AM yesterday to be “fresh” this morning and are ready to review the slides.

9:00 AM – We start the review. I only focus on the content and not on the formatting because I know that our CFO is going to change it all anyway.

I’m not happy with the “flow” of the slides; they don’t explain well enough how the new, lower Net Income target is not our fault.

Blaming external events is the bread and butter of FP&A, so we change the order of the slides to support that and also add a few extra pages about the potential new markets we want to conquer.

10:30 AM – The changes are done and, looking at the pitch, I’m quite proud of my team. I know that this initial version is will be changed 30 times before the end of the week!

11:00 AM – I walk into the CFO’s office with my most trusted analyst. This is my first real pitch review with our new European CFO, and I’m a bit worried about her micromanagement of the slides.

12:00 PM – I was right: it’s been one hour and we’ve only discussed formatting, wording, and colors.

This is something a lot of CFOs do in their early forties, especially when they transition from FP&A or Corporate Development: instead of guiding the team on the story and analysis, they focus on the formatting because it’s a safe place for them.

12:30 PM – My analyst is trying to hide a severe case of the giggles. The CFO made us change the order of the pages so much that we have no idea of what the final pitch should look like anymore. I’m more annoyed than amused because there’s no way we’ll get this right before 2:00 PM.

1:00 PM – Back to my office. While my analysts are trying to put the pages in the right order with the right colors, I make a few phones calls to the UK Financial Planning & Analysis Manager. I need some additional pages to explain local movements on the FX side, and I need them within the hour.

1:45 PM – Phone rings. The CFO asks me to add a few metrics to the pitch, which are, of course, the same metrics she asked me to take off 2 hours earlier. I let the analysts know.

2:00 PM – Walk into the boardroom. The CEO and CFO are already here, so I sit by them. I know they’re working on a big deal, selling off one of our platforms in Eastern Europe, and they look pretty tired.

2:10 PM – The rest of the board walks in: the Chief Marketing Officer, the Head of Human Resources, and the Chief Operating Officer. Since the European division is not a legal entity we don’t have external directors, so we should probably call it a “Board of Managers” instead.

2:15 PM – The CFO makes an intro on the state of the different markets. She was the investor relations leader a few years back, so I must admit she’s pretty damn good at that.

The CEO follows with the big sales challenges and the different acquisitions and dispositions in the pipeline. The Head of HR and Chief Operating Officer give an update on the headcount reduction plan, which is just around the corner.

3:00 PM – We move on to the financials, so it’s my turn to jump in. I start with the overall European division forecast, the different metrics, and the almighty Net Income. The CEO interrupts me.

“Yes, very good, the Net Income 2 years from now looks impressive, but what is your forecast for the next quarter?”

I answer and try to go back to my pitch.

He interrupts again.

“Are you absolutely sure we’ll make it?”

I know why he’s so agitated about the issue: last year we announced € 450MM for the following quarter and missed by € 70MM because several big contracts fell through.

The CEO received a thorough grilling on that from his boss (a C-level executive for the company as a whole), which didn’t help his reputation.

3:10 PM – I go into full reassurance mode and show a detailed slide on how we are 100% sure of making the target next quarter. The CEO looks relieved. I start presenting the details, country by country, and the metrics go through another round of edits.

4:00 PM – I’m done with my part. I noticed during the presentation of the financials that the CFO was not looking at the strategy and the big revenue drivers – she was just adding up all the numbers in the slide to see if they matched.

This is a nasty habit some CFOs have, and it tends to cascade down the ladder – when my team presents a slide to me, I do the same to make sure she won’t find anything.

4:05 PM – Try to exit the room before I get more changes to make, but I’m not fast enough. The CEO asks me about the consultants’ strategic plan and how the financials look. I know I’m trapped, so I just say that I’ll come back to him on the issue today.

4:30 PM – Go back to the finance floor. I divide my team into 2 groups: one group is going to make the changes requested by the board and provide further analysis on some IT costs that I’m not completely comfortable with. The second group is going to work on the consultants’ strategic plan.

It’s hard to keep your team motivated when they know they’re working on a CEO’s whim: they’re creating a full set of financials for a plan that might as well be a fantasy novel.

I’m upfront with them and don’t even try to pretend it’s useful work – I just promise that we’ll spend as little time as possible on it.

7:00 PM – The “real” pitch is done and looks pretty good. All my team is now working on the consultants’ version.

9:00 PM – The team presents a first draft of the consultants’ financials. It looks completely unrealistic, but if that’s what the board wants, they’ll get it! The CEO comes down to have a look. I introduce him to the new interns.

9:30 PM – Review of the financials is over. CEO tells us that it looks too weird and that we can’t use it for anything.

Based on the consultants’ assumptions, in 5 years every single man, woman, and child (and even a few unborn babies) in Europe will have insurance contracts through our company. Yes, over 100% market share – why do we pay consultants so much again?

As expected, we throw the consultants’ plan away.

10:00 PM – The CFO comes to my office and we go through the pitch together one last time while eating some sandwiches. I sent my entire team home, which means I have to do the last round of edits myself, just like old times.

11:00 PMHit the company’s gym for a quick training session. I normally go 4 times per week, but during planning sessions I consider myself lucky to go once!

12:00 AM – Arrive home and go to bed.

Up Next

These 3 days are typical of Corporate Finance planning sessions or closing periods. In the next part, we’ll cover the Thursday to Friday period – in which I fly to Germany to present the plan to the global headquarters!

Any questions on the corporate finance lifestyle or the daily tasks? Ask away in the comments below.

A Week in the Life of a Corporate Finance FP&A Manager – Series:

About the Author

founded Finance-Resume.com in 2011 and has helped more than 100 clients land offers at top Investment Banks and Fortune 500 Finance Departments. From Analyst to Directors, he coaches his clients on five continents on their networking technique, LinkedIn profiles; he edits their resumes and cover letters, and grills them during intensive interview preparation sessions.

He’s been writing for M&I for three years now on corporate finance and related industries topic and also gives speeches on career performance to large audiences that include Fortune 1000 CEOs, executives and…ambassadors! Forthcoming in 2014, look for Thomas' book on Corporate Finance interviews.

Thomas focuses on long-term relationships with a small number of clients to deliver optimal results. If you want to know more about his coaching and resume editing services, please visit Finance-Resume.com or send him an email.

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48 Comments to “A Week in the Life of a Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) Manager, Monday to Wednesday: 3-Year Strategy Plans, Loopy CFOs, and Midnight Excel Marathons”

Comments

  1. M&I - Thomas says

    I’m taking any question about the article or finance recruiting in general. So don’t hold back!

    • KK says

      Thomas — this is one of the most interesting articles I have read on this website, thank you so much! I (along with probably many others) am burning out on the typical finance lifestyle, and what you are doing seems like a logical next step, so the colour is incredibly useful. I will hold off on the questions till I read part 2.

      Thanks again!

      • M&I - Thomas says

        Thanks a lot for your message KK. That’s what the “day in the life” articles are about, trying to give you a good view of what the daily life looks like.

        I look forward to the questions!

  2. Olek says

    I assume that getting corporate finance internship is quite easier than IB. Where to look then? At what part of knowledge put effort to prepare for interviews?

    Cheers

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Olek,

      Yes it is easier but of course there’s always a catch. The very easy positions are easy because the turnover is important and you’ll end up doing some reporting on mind-numbing stuff.

      If you want the “cool” internships in FP&A where you manage and analyze your own P&L (with some supervision of course) the competition is going to be a lot more difficult.

      Look at Fortune 50 companies, they always have internship openings. And then you can start applying your networking efforts in that direction.

      For interviews you need to be very good with accounting because it’s going to impact your job in every department. Having some notions on FX hedging and some FP&A mechanisms is interesting as well.

      Hope that helps,
      Thomas

  3. Kimo says

    Hi Thomas,

    How important are accounting skills in corporate finance positions? Is it helpful to have an accounting major in addition to finance?

    Also, what types of finance classes are most useful for corporate finance?

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Kimo,

      Accounting is very important. Obviously it’s important for a financial controller but it’s also important for FP&A and Treasury. Even if you are not booking entries, you need to understand how the accounting is going to impact your P&L or your cash.

      An accounting major is always a plus. Other useful classes are corporate strategy, economics (to understand the big notions) and debt structure, cost analysis etc.

  4. Pesci2099 says

    I am now on my second internship in FP&A. Here is what i’ve noticed thus far:

    1. FP&A (and I would imagine the other areas of finance are similar) are viewed as an expense to the organization. So no matter how hard you work or how good of a performer you are, you are not perceived as adding value like other areas such as sales or engineering so when they look to cut heads, this is one of the first areas where layoffs occur. This is especially true for FP&A because they can’t really point to anything specific as being ‘value-added’.

    2. A lot of the work revolves around tinkering around in Hyperion or the like to constantly update your company’s forecast/budget. It appears to be boring, repetitive work.

    3. your forecast is just that – a forecast. Generally it is no-where near the actual.

    3. All the people you work with are your parents & grandparents age.

    4. There is no clear-cut promotion path at all. You generally have to wait for someone to die to get promoted (i’m not joking).

    5. The pay is just okay.

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Pesci,

      I completely agree with you. There are companies where FP&A is like that. In my experience this is mostly in some industrial companies where FP&A is just a center of cost.

      My experience in FP&A and other function in Financial Services Companies (Banks, Insurance Companies…) is completely different because you FULLY understand the products and there’s a lot of action going on around reserves, risks and Taxes. You are involved in the deals from start to finish (sometimes more than the sales team).

      In that case:
      1. FP&A is not an expense and is going to be deciding on the timing of major P&L items, major value added.

      2. You still tinker in Hyperion yes, especially in your first 3/4 years. Then it gets better (it’s not on my computer anymore).

      3. Your forecast gets A LOT of attention and you get grilled by CEOs on why it’s wrong. Of course my forecasts from 6 months ago are going to be wrong because so much is going on…but I can tell you that my forecasts one week before the quarter close have to be pretty close, even with huge P&L movements.

      3. (bis) With the pace I mentioned in my article grandfathers wouldn’t last… The average age on my team (and in FP&A in general in Financial Services) is 30, max.

      4. In those companies, finance is a core function. There’s a clear desire to promote top performers to CFO. Of course working for a bigger company is better for that because you can transition every 2/3 years.

      5. The pay is pretty good ;)

      FP&A gets a bad reputation because of the companies you mentioned where it’s the ultimate back office no value added function. I’m not telling that it’s the most exciting job in the world but in some companies it has a lot of impact and the rewards that come with it.

      • Rain_Maker112 says

        Thomas is absolutely correct about the difference of FP&A’s role in financial services and banking. Just to build on that
        1) There’s a huge gap between banks’ financial statements and what a bank’s management would look at to assess the bank’s performance. Cutting Corporate Finance would hurt management’s ability to monitor and adjust their strategies.
        2) In financial services, Corporate Finance works spearheads product development efforts so it’s actually an “indirect” profit center. When banks shed excess capacity, you typically see the tellers, loan processors and other sales/operations people leave rather than the people in Finance.

  5. Francis says

    Hi, I just wonder which country is this and why the intern works so late? I know a couple of friend in FP&A (Canada) Kraft/Unilever/Colgate and they only work 9 – 5.

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Francis,

      See my comment above for some differences between FP&A industrial and FP&A financial services. It’s not only the company sector of course, it’s also about the important of finance within the company.

      On normal weeks in Corporate finance, interns are gone by 7/8pm max.

  6. Rain_Maker112 says

    Great post Thomas. I am working for the divisional FP&A team of a big US bank and the process that you described is very similar to what I have gone through this year during the planning phase.

    My questions involve the career direction for people in Corporate Finance.

    1) How hard/easy for it for financial analysts to transfer between different industries? The accounting methods and financial forecasting in banking are very different from “normal” industries. Although things are still good now, I am worried about getting pigeonholed in an industry where “Cost Rationalization” goes hand in hand with economic cycles.

    2) I am taking classes to qualify for taking the CPA exams. Will the CPA help me with promotion/pay raise and career opportunity?

    Thanks!

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Rain Maker,

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoyed the planning session!

      1. If you have less than 5 years of experience, you’ll be fine. Industry switching is ok (especially within a big group), not piece of cake but ok. After that, especially if you work a lot on banking specific project it gets harder and you have less value for other firms because you are very in full “banking mode”.

      2.Yes. CPA will help but don’t think getting the CPA in front of your name is the magic recipe. You’ll have to develop a reputation for being a guy that really understands accounting. When you have that you can avoid controllership/accounting roles totally and do something else until you get to CFO (assuming you’ll get there).

      • Rain_Maker112 says

        Thanks a lot for your prompt reply, Thomas. A couple more questions for you
        1) Is it common for VP/managers to maintain direct control over portfolio/product modeling? I really want to get more modeling exposure and have replicated my VP’s models to get the ins and outs of the process. I actually think it’s not hard. However, my VP seems hesitant to release control of his work to the analysts.
        2) I used to work in advisory for one of the big 4, then did a masters in finance and transitioned into Corporate Finance. Do you think it’s a reasonable plan for me to move to either a) consulting with a focus on bank-related consulting projects or b) FIG group within an investment bank?

        • M&I - Thomas says

          1) It can happen. It’s ridiculous but it can happen. You have to make him understand that the value added is not in the modeling but rather in the analysis (and then get exposure to both). Show him you can be trusted with that, rebuild the model from scratch to really understand the ins and outs.
          2) Consulting is reasonable yes. Internal strategy/internal M&A is reasonable as well (+ a good transition to FIG in IB). FIG group in IB is going to be a bit more challenging and it’ll depend on your experience in big 4 etc.

  7. Pesci2099 says

    Thanks for the Reply’s Thomas:

    When you say working in FP&A for ‘Financial Services Companies’ is completely different then other industries, are you talking about working at an investment bank or any financial services spot?

    When you say you have an understanding of the product, what exactly does this mean? Does this mean that you are a technical expert for capital markets transactions like this guy:

    http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewpidgeon

    How does one go about getting a job in FP&A in the financial services industry? Both of my internships have been with tech-related companies.

    How much job security is there? Because at technology companies the engineers hate you and view you as a nuisance.

    What are your EXIT OPPORTUNITIES?

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Pesci,

      I’ll precise my thought here. When I say FInancial Services I mean FIG (Finance/Insurance) and it includes Commercial Banks, Insurance, Car fleet leasing, factoring…

      In those companies YOU are the expert on the product. No engineer to look down on you.

      Take a commercial bank for instance with deposits. Sales people know the market and the clients but you are the one modelling the effect of interest rates on your product, you are the one analysing the margins and more importantly you make the decision on changing the structure of the product.

      The most important thing is not the industry in itself though. It’s how the finance function is considered within the company. Are you a bunch of glorified accountants or the guys that can say yes or no to a big sales deal?

      You don’t have to be a technical expert…but you’re in the department that calls the shot. It changes the dynamics a lot.

      At a junior level it’s easier to switch industries…start networking in that direction. The job security is not rock solid, FP&A stays a back office function…but you can grow a lot more as a professional and it’s a least as good as IB.

      If you want to read about exit opps I invite you to read this: http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/corporate-finance-jobs/

      Hope that helps!

  8. Jim says

    Hi Thomas,

    Would greatly appreciate your thoughts on…

    Current:
    - 3 years experience (last 2 years doing FP&A for F75 Firm – not Financial Services)
    - CPA
    - Graduate coursework in M&A (Needed 150 credits for CPA)

    Then Breaking into…
    –> Transaction Advisory work for Big4 (I know there’s an article on this site, but I’m not coming from audit at those firms or any other, I’m coming from FP&A)

    Then maybe later…but more focused on the Transaction point above
    B–> Top MBA
    C–> Buy-side

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Jim,

      The transition from Corporate Finance to Big4 is never easy because a lot of people are going the other way so it raises some questions.

      Moving from FP&A to transaction advisory unless you’ve been involved with some kind of deals/transactions at work is not obvious in terms of value you bring to the company. It’s easier to go to someone from audit internally for them.

      So if you want to go for it you need to have a rock solid story and serious networking. Maybe moving to internal M&A within your company and then trying TA makes more sense. Or a role with more focus on transactions.

      Let me know your thoughts on this,
      Thomas

      • Jim says

        Hi Thomas,

        Totally agree with your response. I suppose it’s just frustrating to think that someone with a lot of ambition and ability and the big4′s own cert. (CPA) is already some what pigeon-holed in an area, with options of tremendous networking or going back to school purely to regain access to recruiting channels.

        Also I know this isn’t an article about Big 4 transaction work, but I don’t entirely understand how doing external audit and redoing workpapers would qualify someone better for Transaction work than someone really getting into corporate finance and modeling topics (FP&A).

        Thanks again for all your help and advice.

        • M&I - Thomas says

          Hi Jim,

          Well I don’t totally agree with you. I worked with a lot of client in transaction services (moving to IB) and the daily life looks more like audit than it looks like pure modeling. It’s all about carving out statements, due diligence etc. There’s some modeling involved (of course) but not as much as you think.

          • Jim says

            Thomas,

            You are the best! Thanks for your quick responses as always.

            What are your thoughts on a one year masters (prob accounting) to break in instead? While annoying to take a year off working and pay for school, could be a more direct route to big4/nice reset? I already have a CPA would that make me look like a strange candidate?

  9. Rain_Maker112 says

    Really appreciate the down to earth responses, Thomas and looking forward to your future posts.

    I have been wondering about career-related issues but there are not many alumni of my school working in corporate finance where I am at, and asking senior managers may not be the most sensible way to prove your loyalty/obedience.

    1) How long does it usually take for typical junior analyst with a couple years of work experience to make AVP/VP level? Assume that SVP is divisional CFO and the bank has been growing strong and is planning to expand steadily.

    2) Is it easier for analysts to get promoted/salary bump by hopping to another firm or stay with one firm and grow internally through the rank? It has been frustating lately to see a few more experienced people (but with no industry-specific experience) come in at AVP level and learn from scratch to do the kind of work that I think I can do now that I have a pretty good understanding of the portfolio and the industry.

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi RainMaker,

      Before I answer your question just one thing. The point of interacting with alumni is not to demonstrate your loyalty and obedience. It’s ok to ask them real questions that you care about…they might even like it! You can challenge them on some points (just don”t appear too jaded).

      1) Sorry but everyone has a different ranking system + the couple of years of experience is too vague. Let’s say a divisional CFO has a team with 60/70 people. Approximately, it’d take you (from scratch), 7/8 years to start reporting directly to him (but with a small team of your own), and then another 5/6 years to start getting a good team (20/30) to manage.

      This is is the division is growing quite fast. But I never saw someone spending their whole career in one division. The best way to accelerate your progression is to switch departments but also to change divisions (within the same company I mean).

      2) Hard to say. I’ve seen both to be honest.

      The best way to be find out is to shop around and see what other firms would offer in terms of salary/job. If there’s a big gap, change company. Otherwise try to get promoted internally.

      • Rain_Maker112 says

        Thomas, thanks a lot for the detailed answer. Regarding the loyalty/obedience part, I was actually referring to asking for insights from senior managers within the same firm/division :) If your boss caught wind of you wanting to jump ship soon, I guess you would be relegated to the darkest corner with the most tedious work to take care of :D

        • M&I - Thomas says

          My bad then! Yes in that case don’t ask too “aggressive” insights inside the division…unless you got yourself a mentor and in that case you can go a bit further.

  10. matt says

    This matches almost perfectly with my experience in corporate finance so far. Its lots of fun, but can get pretty hectic at times.

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for your comment. I wish you some very good planning sessions and closings in the future then ;)

      Thomas

  11. Rohan says

    Classy post Thomas!! Just what i wanted

    Must be a pleasure working in Europe like that , talking to managers of different countries , even visiting them , hell thats the reason why i want to work in europe , one can get to travel to all the exotic locations and get to know a different culture (business cultures)

    Is the language a barrier? I mean if you want to speak with the German office , it would be better if you spoke German right?

    Im an auditor at a firm just below the BIG 4 , a trainee for almost 3 years.I am good at accounting and subjects like financial management and analysis of statements , would i stand a good chance in EU , keeping in my mind that im a non european guy

    Plus i think working as a corporate finance/development analyst in a manufacturing company rather than a bank is the better option ,since there is alot of scope for value creation and analysis.Banks have their own treasury ops department which looks at hedging and all that stuff

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Rohan,

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      1. Language is not really a barrier. If you want to work in the German division, speaking German is always better (but not mandatory). If like me you work at the European level then all you have to speak is English. In a German company, speaking German is a plus, but just pick an American company and you’ll be fine.

      2. Sure! Just pick a US company! Maybe you’ll start in the US but after 2 years you can ask for a transfer in Europe. WIth some good networking internally and if the economy gets a little better that shouldn’t be an issue.

      3. Let’s agree to disagree then. In my experience corporate finance in manufacturing is all about managing the cash (looking at past dues etc), inventory (revaluation, physical count), revenue recognition… If finance is important in the company and you can set up a great partnership with the production department then perfect! If not you’re not going to like it too much I think.

      And hedging has little to do with it (except if you work in Treasury).

      Hope that helps.
      Thomas

    • M&I - Thomas says

      I try my best ;) And I have a very good team so it’s easier to be a “nice” manager when you know they’ll get stuff done.

  12. Faith says

    This is a very candid and observant post! Thanks for sharing.

    The area I see as the value adding part lies in the analysis. Just wondering if the analysis part could be elaborated on? And how does accounting play a part -would it be in terms of analysing the cash flows/ the net revenues/ ratio or more in terms of accounting treatment?

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Thanks for your comment Faith.

      Accounting helps more in term of treatment + for assessing the impact on the changes. It plays a part in the analysis.

      The analysis is made at a “pitch level”. So what I do is that I have my senior analysts walk me through their pitch. I see what doesn’t make sense, ask questions to get more details. And then I work on the overall pitch to improve the flow etc.

      If there’s a big issue on one item I sit down with the Controller of the business, Treasurer etc and we see what went wrong or what is the impact.

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi Jason,

      This is a tough transition. You have some good skills to market, plenty of modeling and seeing how it’s done from within. But you’re not going to be as valuable to an Ibank as someone who saw the full deal process several times.

      So for me the best time to try this transition is after you’ve seen a few acquisitions from your corporate finance perspective and more at the Manager level (rather than analyst/senior analyst). And a MBA might give you the boost/rebranding you need.

      • Rohan says

        Well going from IBD to corporate finance or corp development would make sense right?
        Pay may go down , but better lifestyle and maybe more brainy and analytical work? What say?

        • M&I - Thomas says

          Well IBD to corp development makes sense. IBD to Corporate Finance not that much because the skill set you can bring as an analyst/associate is not that relevant. Yes you know modeling but from outside. It only makes sense in a FP&A position at a firm which is really making a lot of acquisitions.

  13. Jim says

    Hi Thomas,

    What are your thoughts on the internal corporate finance departments: FP&A, modeling, reporting etc. of hedge funds?

    I know you think FP&A for a financial services firm can be more strategic than other non-finance industries. Does it leave you open for good exit opportunities though? Looked upon favorably for MBA? Or simply just a 2nd tier finance professional compared to the actual investment professionals at the fund?

    Thanks again for your time and efforts.

    • M&I - Thomas says

      Hi again Jim ;)

      My reasoning about FP&A in financial services is not universal. It’s more about being the “top dog”. At a commercial bank, you do a lot of strategy/modeling because you don’t have engineers to bug you with their product expertise. But at a hedge fund you’ll clear trade, run some reports… and that’s it.

      So not the best place to be in my opinion. Especially with compliance issues getting bigger and bigger every year.

      • M&I - Thomas says

        Hi again Jim,

        I’m answering here because I can’t reply to your previous message.

        Going from FP&A to TS is not easy because of the lack of clear value your bringing. Going to a MS for a year is the same issue.

        I think your solution here revolves around networking rather than getting a new access to recruiters through a MS (which is a very expensive way to get interviews). Yes it’s hard and takes a lot of work but it’s going to bring a lot of value long term to put the effort. + if you network rather than go the MS route you can still “rebrand” yourself with a MBA later on.

  14. Greg Wells says

    This was excellent! If you named a few of the analysts and mentioned the CFO’s hair color, this would read just like a novel.

  15. James says

    Brian,

    I wanted to ask you a question about FP&A Analyst role, particularly about Data Consolidation and projections. I’ve been working at an investment banking firm for about a year, and want to make the transition to FP&A Analyst. I was reading your article and I was wondering what exactly is Data Consolidation? Also, would the income statement projection be similar to what you do in banking or would it be completely different?

  16. says

    Really like the candid approach to your writing and work in general Thomas. Can you tell me 1: what are the biggest technical challenges and frustrations that your team faces when it comes to producing and sharing financial models? And 2: Do you have any good work-arounds for keeping productivity (and morale) high when your modeling software gets you down?

    • says

      Hi Melissa,

      Thanks a lot for your comment!

      1. It’s usually the transition between Excel and the reporting softwares. Almost everyone creates their plan and financials in Excel and then you have to input them in the system through a dedicated Excel plug-in. This is where 99% of the problems happen!

      2. You have two types of modeling issues. One comes from software and there’s not much you can do. The other type comes because of Excel models generated by someone else. In that case you can sit down with the owner of the model and try to simplify or suggest improvements. It shifts the focus from “This model is crap” to “what can we do about it”.

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