“The world’s biggest resource is information and it is the only one I know of that is growing,” said Wills, director of the Insight Management Academy (IMA), which includes large multinational corporations (MNCs) such as Barclays, Boots, Akzo Nobel and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). IMA plans to launch a new MSc Masters’ degree in September at the UK’s University of Winchester Business School, and Wills is keen to link it to the now up-and-running Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) FP&A Certification programme.
Founder and director of the London FP&A Club networking body, Larysa Melnychuk, provided a brief overview of the AFP FP&A Certification rollout, prior to Wills’ speech. Entrants from 25 countries are now registered for the next exams this autumn, including companies such as Etihad and Blackrock. The mooted idea from Wills, which has yet to receive approval, is to combine the attributes of an AFP financial planning and analysis (FP&A) certified professional with the skills of an insight management data specialist. This would provide the former with enhanced analytical skills via a shared module, although at this stage it is still early days to be talking about any cross-pollination between the two new training regimes.
Information is only valuable when used effectively, continued Wills, who invited senior finance professionals in the audience to consider how they could release pent-up value in their firms. Better communication and the ability to action insights gleaned from customers, from the business’s financials or from internal staff were all ways to incubate insight management and grow the bottom line.
Insight management combines market research, database analysis and competitive market intelligence in one function, explained Wills. It should give business an ability to perceive clearly and deeply in a repeatable fashion. “It is repeatability that delivers the true value as it’s an approach, not just a one-off ‘eureka’ nugget of information that we’re seeking to encourage.”
The power of an insight management approach, especially when combined with an FP&A professional’s financial and analytical powers, was demonstrated by Wills as he cited the case of Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain. He again outlined the strategy that took it to market leadership and also repeated his warning on the dangers of ‘HIPPO’- or the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion.
The four key drivers encouraging the uptake of insight management as a valuable information tool, according to Wills, are:
- The need to manage information better: In a world where step change efficiency improvements have already been made through industrialisation and automation and where costs have already been pared – including in the logistical physical and financial supply chain – what is left to drive huge efficiency gains? “Information,” is the only answer, believes Wills. With insight management showing you how to get the most out of proliferating data resources.
- Big data: The rise of so-called ‘big data’, comprising huge volumes of unstructured, often user generated customer data, is a phenomenon linked to the rise of so-called ‘big computing’, which has made it affordable to mine huge swaths of information. As data collection, analysis and end business uses continue to increase, having a management procedure in place to handle the ‘fire hydrant’ of information is essential. For FP&A professionals, one way to do so might be to follow an insight management approach.
- Globalisation and increasing company size: Today’s corporations are increasingly cross-border as they compete on the global stage and enter emerging markets where the most enticing growth opportunities exist. The old ‘country manager’ job title has long been replaced by titles such as head of EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), but EMEA is a huge geographical and culturally different region, so FP&A professionals need help in gathering useful customer and financial data from such a diverse area. Establishing an insight management approach can provide that geographically specific help.
- High staff turnover: Another reason why a repeatable insight management approach is necessary is because so many people now change jobs after only a year or two that the insight and accrued knowledge of long term in-situ company employees is no longer available to firms. A managerial approach to getting valuable data insights is therefore necessary; a point that Wills tried to prove by asking how many in his audience of around 30 had been in their job for more than three years – only a minority of hands were raised.
Insight Managed Approaches to Growth: Barclays
Wills shared several new examples of successful projects that have deployed insight management techniques to drive business growth, citing Tesco’s ClubCard and Unilever’s Dove soap and cosmetics range of goods for ‘real’ women; the latter campaign launched in response to female consumers’ feedback, which showed they struck more of a chord than ‘supermodels’. He went on to describe the Barclays Bank project, which harnessed the insights of millions of customers and hundreds of thousands of staff.
Wills also reiterated the insight management guidelines that he’d previously shared of identifying your goals; the information that will help you reach them; how to assemble and disseminate it; and to then apply sound financial and analytical techniques to release value.
Barclays’ insight management project was partly explained by James Wycherley, the bank’s director of customer analysis, who is currently on a sabbatical with the Insight Management Academy. It involved putting up TVs across the bank’s canteens, offices and 1,600 UK bank branches showing a selection of customer viewpoints and wishes. The idea was to force staff to listen to salient customer wants and latterly to include staff’s own insights into what approaches worked best in terms of increasing satisfaction, sales and ultimately growth.
Barclays has even installed TV screens in lifts at its One Canada Square headquarters in London’s Docklands in an attempt to more closely involve investment and commercial banking employees in the project, as well as retail banking staff. These might be considered ‘ivory tower’ unrepresentative people, far removed from the customer coal-face, but they have to listen to customer viewpoints on screens too. As Wills concluded: “It forces them to listen to customers and has encouraged better, more customer-focused decision-making across the bank.” It should also positively impact growth and the bottom line and may even open up new approaches to FP&A as new avenues to growth and accounting techniques are revealed via the re-energised communication channels.
The project is a real live example of how insight management – and the related management approach around it – can lead to new ideas and markets in a big data world. It also encourages finance professionals, to use their accounting, pricing, risk, project and other skills, to put data and people-driven insights into effect.
Vox Pop Reaction Quotes: Carnival UK & Other Practitioners
James Chedgey, corporate finance and planning director at cruise operator Carnival UK, a first time attendee at the London FP&A Club, said that he came for two reasons: for the networking opportunity and because of the speech on insight management; a topic which he says he finds fascinating.
“I work in corporate finance and I believe that learning how to make insights come to life and to use data as an asset is a considerable benefit,” he explained to ‘gtnews’. “The presentation at the London FP&A Club did this, and I enjoyed it immensely. Being able to deploy data in an asset management type of approach was the main driver for me coming, and I feel it has been worthwhile me coming here this evening.”
Akhil Shah, Lloyds Bank’s head of network management, global transaction bank, financial institutions, commented: “Speaking in a personal capacity, and also as a first-time attendee, I found the Club to be very stimulating and enjoyable.
Everything is to do with data now. Understanding data and how to get valuable information out of it is a crucial skill for the 21st century. It confers advantages on firms that manage to crack it.”
- To find out more about future FP&A Club events in London and elsewhere around the world, plus details about the free membership available to finance professionals, please click on the highlighted link. Alternatively you can email the founder Larysa Melnychuk. To join the LinkedIn FP&A Group click on the highlighted text.
- If you would like to find out more about the Association for Financial Professionals’ (AFP) certification programme please follow the highlighted link for more information. The AFP is the supporting organisation behind gtnews and the FP&A Club. You can also sign up to the AFP FP&A e-newsletter or visit the AFP FP&A website to find out more about the topic. The gtnews FP&A section homepage also has a wealth of information, interviews and articles about financial planning and analysis and its developing role in treasury and finance.
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