Q&A: Mead Johnson’s Kasi Finds Formula for Success

According to Kasi, the scope of her job differs slightly from one country to another, depending upon how the FP&A role is defined.

It’s fascinating to see how perceptions of the evolving FP&A role differ across national boundaries, she says. “In the Netherlands, the term ‘business control’ is more widely used than FP&A – although both refer to similar concepts and finance functions. This tends to emphasise the budgeting and financial reporting aspects of the FP&A role.”  

The forecasting and data analysis elements in the job are still, however, “in high demand among employers – there is increasing recognition for these aspects of the job.”  

Kasi hopes European firms will emphasise this aspect of the job as part of a gradual move towards FP&A being recognised as a standalone discipline. This is one reason why she is sitting the
Association for Financial Professionals’ (AFP) FP&A certification
exam, which she believes may help her find the formula for success as a dedicated FP&A professional.  

Q (gtnews): How is FP&A perceived in your country and what cultural differences have you noticed from one country to the next? Is the term ‘FP&A’ known and used?

A (Angeliki Kasi):
Business control – as we commonly refer to FP&A in the Netherlands – is garnering more attention in the Dutch market. The position is currently in high demand among employers. However, due to the fact that it is an evolving finance function, with new technology driving the predictive and analytical power of the job, I have noticed that the description of the function differs slightly from one country to the next.  

In Europe, business control, or FP&A – whatever you choose to call it – is often still not seen as a separate discipline. Many times it is grouped under financial controller responsibilities.

My corporate, however, Mead Johnson Nutrition, tends to adopt a different, more American approach – viewing FP&A as a standalone title and function, which serves separate and specific purposes in the business. We call the finance function FP&A, and not business control – perhaps because the firm’s headquarters is in the US.  

I see the US as being the most advanced country in terms of its adoption of FP&A. American companies tend to have a more concrete and clear expectation of the evolving discipline and its uses. I think this brings clarity.  

Do you have a separate FP&A department at Mead Johnson Nutrition, many FP&A colleagues, or is the function just part of your finance department? How does FP&A fit into the reporting line at your corporate?

We have a separate FP&A department at a global and a regional level. I am the head of the FP&A team dedicated to European operations, while another team looks after global operations.

I report directly to my regional European finance director, but also work closely with the over-arching global FP&A team. In this capacity, I primarily manage coordination, guidance and direction to the European business units, helping them with the preparation of budget, projections and five-year strategic plans.

How does FP&A help your company – or indeed any company – and what purposes do you use it for?

FP&A at Mead Johnson Nutrition typically leads budgeting and projection exercises when it comes to profit and loss (P&L) accounting and cash flow performance calculations. In addition, it drives monthly discussions around actual results and how they compare to agreed targets.

Most importantly, the FP&A function at my corporate helps the finance department and other partners across the firm develop true business acumen. It highlights trends, cause and effect relationships, and measures return on investments, identifying growth opportunities. It is this growing element in the job which is particularly exciting.  

What’s your biggest FP&A challenge right now? For instance, do you get the assistance you need from colleagues, technology and/or procedures?  

My main focus at the moment is driving change management within the organisation. The biggest challenge I face is to find ways to optimise decision-making by educating our business partners, leveraging on business intelligence (BI) tools and structuring robust analytics.

Do you engage in traditional budgetary forecasting or do you use rolling forecasts?  

At present, we use a traditional budgetary forecasting approach that relies upon an annual budget and quarterly projections. However, we also engage in a five-year stat and strategic plan every year, which gives us a predictive and forward-planning capability.  

How is the Amsterdam FP&A Club serving the purpose of recognising and communicating FP&A best practice in your country? What works well and what more would you like to see?

Amsterdam FP&A Club
is still relatively new. Its first meeting only took place last May. For that reason it’s still too early to judge how useful or otherwise it could ultimately be. I’ve enjoyed being in at the start of it and like meeting my peers in a good networking environment. We just need yet more people to come, thereby increasing the knowledge-sharing.  

Participant numbers have been increasing over time and there is positive momentum for our third meeting planned for 25 February. I like the ability the Amsterdam FP&A Club http://fpaclub.afponline.org/Amsterdam/ provides to share best practice and exchange ideas, so I will be returning. I like the opportunity it gives me to network in a relaxed environment.

I am also excited about the
2015 FP&A Leadership Summit
, which is coming to the Sofitel Grand Amsterdam Hotel on 19-20 May. This should present another good networking opportunity and is an example of what more I’d like to see being done to advance the FP&A profession.

Global heads of FP&A are expected to fly into Amsterdam to share their knowledge. For us locals that is quite some opportunity – more events like this would be welcome.     

How well advanced is FP&A education and knowledge in the Netherlands? What is the typical education an average FP&A person would have?  

The FP&A discipline has been gaining interest in the Netherlands in recent years, but is still at the beginning stage.

Dutch universities are currently focusing on adding FP&A courses to the curriculum of their Master’s degrees in business/finance. However, there are few options for degrees that specialise 100% in FP&A/business control education. An average FP&A professional in the Netherlands has a more traditional accounting and finance educational background. My peers have typically developed FP&A skills at a later stage in their careers by dint of their own working experiences and by responding to the demands of their business.   

What do you think of the AFP FP&A certification programme?

It’s a great initiative. It will strengthen the education of younger FP&A specialists and help them with their career progression. At the same time, the certification will formalise and add validity to skills already possessed by older professionals. It fills a gap as a standalone certificate dedicated specifically to FP&A, rather than a module added on to an existing university course.  

All in all, the certification will help raise awareness around the FP&A discipline on a global level, which should be welcomed. It reinforces the growing importance of FP&A to businesses.  

I believe you are taking the AFP FP&A exam. How are you finding it?

Yes, I found out about the
AFP FP&A certification
through the FP&A Club in Amsterdam about six months ago. At the start of this year I decided to take the exam and recently completed part one of the course. I am due to take the second part of the multiple choice exam in late March.  

I’ve already passed part one and found the questions to be relatively easy. I think the AFP e-learning system I used helped. An example of the type of questions asked was: ‘what is the effect of increasing interest rates on foreign currency exchange rates among trading partners?’ and I had to calculate break-even volumes and revenues under multiple choice scenarios.

I found it an interesting exam and am looking forward to part two, which I’m told will be more practical. It will cover topics around analysing information, building financial projections and using appropriate technology and software.  

What trends do you see in the segment and how do you view the future prospects for FP&A?  

I believe FP&A as a discipline has a bright future, given its power to influence management decisions by driving change throughout the organisation. It can improve the visibility of critical financial issues and recommend solutions to the boardroom. As a result, there will be increasing opportunities for career development among FP&A professionals. I intend to stay in the field to experience first-hand these exciting possibilities.  


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