Q&A: Making FP&A the Bridge

Fabrice Domange is senior vice president (SVP) and head of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) for Europe, Middle-East and Africa (EMEA) at AIG Property and Casualty.

Q1 [gtnews]: Can you briefly explain your corporation, career background and how you came to work in financial planning and analysis (FP&A) at AIG? Did you used to be a treasurer?

A [Fabrice Domange, senior vice president (SVP) and head of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) for Europe, Middle-East and Africa (EMEA) at AIG Property and Casualty]: No, I was never a treasurer but I have always been involved in finance. I work for AIG, which is a large well-known insurance and finance company. I am the head of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) for Europe, Middle-East and Africa (EMEA) at AIG’s Property and Casualty unit. Our EMEA region has around 7,400 employees, across 46 countries and we write around US$11bn gross in written premiums. I manage an FP&A team of more than 100 dedicated FP&A employees spread across these different and interesting countries. 

Typical daily responsibilities include actual reporting, overseeing planning cycles (weekly, monthly, quarterly, budget and long-term plans), legal entity forecasting / board meeting and regulatory reporting, operations and claims support. This is in addition to commercial and consumer business lines finance support, supporting and driving the AIG expense saving programme, and providing key performance indicator (KPI) development updates covering risk adjusted profit, for instance, as well as providing other valuable information to the business. 

I have been introducing a new FP&A structure and procedure across EMEA during my one and half years in charge so far, and continue to expand the formalised strategies, reporting and analytical role of the function with new operating models continuously being introduced. This work builds upon my experiences from 10 years spent at General Electric (GE) and, before that, some strong job experiences at Checkpoint Systems, Schlumberger and BIC. 

I was previously the chief financial officer (CFO) of emerging markets for AIG Property and Casualty, based in the innovation centre in Madrid, Spain. The emerging market covered approximately 50 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Middle-East, Africa and some of the emerging countries in Asia. Strategic financial planning, with the aim of optimising capital efficiency, risk management, and legal and tax structures, were my key responsibilities, alongside any merger and acquisition (M&A) plans. 

Also in Madrid, I worked for Checkpoint Systems for two years from November 2008 as EMEA CFO, responsible for the finance function across 18 countries. I worked on different projects around account receivables (A/R) and day sales outstanding (DSO) reduction, as well as introducing a shared service centre (SSC) structure to streamline the controllership process and FP&A business support across the region. 

My major formative senior management experiences came at GE, GE Healthcare and GE Capital where I stayed for more than 10 years, rising to become European finance manager for business development and M&A for GE Capital, after being finance director for GE Healthcare in Milan, Italy, and a funds flow senior analyst for EMEA GE Healthcare in my native country in France. Two of my formative experiences of FP&A also came at GE, as part of the numbers and analysis team at GE IT Solutions in Paris, France, and European FP&A manager for GE fleet services in the mid-noughties, where I led a team of London-based financial analysts overseeing assets of $3bn and revenues in excess of $1bn. I had also the chance to do the Executive Leadership Program with GE, which is an extensive two-year programme across various GE business units, and which includes a series of training modules inside and outside GE at prestigious globally recognised universities. 

I started out as a European assistant financial controller at Schlumberger in the 1990s, before becoming a senior FP&A analyst, as well as doing internal audit support for the oilfield services division for a couple of years based out in Dubai in the U.A.E. I then left to become a financial analyst back in Europe for BIC in Paris. 

Therefore, I have a lot of broad financial skills across different finance areas and companies, having worked in my native France, the UK, Dubai, Milan, Madrid and in South and North America, particularly in Connecticut in the US for GE. After having these varied experiences I consider myself knowledgeable about strategic planning, investment analysis, finance planning and budgeting, financial turnarounds, M&A, audits, the Six Sigma efficiency protocol, and in leading multicultural teams and deploying so-called ‘soft skills’ to get the best out of them (after travelling the world so much). 

Q2 [gtnews]: What do you see as the core responsibilities and challenges of your job, and of the FP&A function more generally?

A [Domange]: My core responsibility is to deliver financial information to the New York headquarters of AIG and the EMEA leadership team and to advise them with pertinent, accurate and timely analytical data to aid strategic planning and help support growth. The key skills of the FP&A professional in my opinion are (1) process (2) communication and (3) the ability to anticipate a lead or developing area, and to plan accordingly. Effective FP&A should be about driving the business forward, but this takes foresight and the ability to communicate and to demonstrate strong leadership. You also need experience to be able to recognise the connections between different parts of an organisation, how they fit together and what benefits each can give to the other. 

As already alluded to my everyday responsibilities, one of the more challenging aspects of my work at the moment is to understand the risk infrastructure. It is an on-going challenge for us to strengthen our internal structures after the 2008 financial crisis, as indeed it is for most other financial organisations, which have to comply with the new post-crash regulatory rules and increased transparency demands that are prevalent today; so risk is definitely always on my radar. 

Q3 [gtnews]: That perhaps leads me on to my next question, which is if you think FP&A has received a boost in recent years from better technology and ‘big data’ analytical capabilities? 

A [Domange]: That is an interesting question and I expect technology has added to the capabilities of the FP&A function and its ability to crunch numbers quickly. Trends can also be analysed more easily to aid the efficient deployment of capital or even to make more accurate predictions to help strategising. 

Technology is not a replacement for good processes and skills, however. I think it is important to remember that as everyone gets excited about the large amounts of ‘big data’ that is now out there and the interrogation tools that are available to mine it. 

Technology is also only useful if it is integrated, thereby minimising manual input. At my firm thankfully plans are underway to integrate our front, middle and back office systems still further. An enhanced IT enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with extra modules and capabilities, which is being rolled out globally as we speak, will help this initiative. FP&A can offset the lack of system integration, but it often has to synch with any organisational and managerial structure changes before a system itself can be better aligned. Often business leaders want to run faster than the train and FP&A is there to support this ambition. 

In the meantime, I am a firm believer that a well-run FP&A function can bridge a technology gap anyway as financial planning probably still takes up three quarters of mine and my peers time, with the remaining 25% analytical element being the part to suffer a little if appropriate technology is not available, although external Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or other options can potentially help. 

Q4 [gtnews]: What is the relevance/relationship between FP&A and treasury? – i.e. lots of treasurers seem to move into FP&A or vice versa?

A [Domange]: I do not think the relationship is as close as some others do, but there is obviously some crossover in that both are finance processionals. It is just my personal experience that I have not myself seen a treasurer cross over into FP&A or vice versa, but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I see some relevance in cash flow forecasting of course where good financial planning and analytical procedures should definitely be able to help the treasury, especially in key assumptions around future business trends. As the treasurers’ role perhaps expands away from traditional everyday cash management and payments as well, then FP&A should be able to help further. 

Each discipline has its own functions and responsibilities that will crossover sometimes but distinct differences do exist that, while not mutually incompatible, people should be aware of. 

Q5 [gtnews]: What do you think about the recently announced Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) FP&A Certification? In your opinion, will it help the career progression of younger specialists in the field / be of use to older professionals?

A [Domange]: I do think that it is a very good idea but I have some concerns about the FP&A certification scheme. I do worry a little bit, for instance, about why a long-established FP&A professional needs a specific certificate for the field? I can see it is helpful to recruiters and that it could aid professional development for younger professionals. The idea of a professional cadre of peers and a knowledge-sharing network, which could coalesce around a new certification drive, does appeal. It should also create a better awareness of the profession, but again perhaps for a younger generation. 

Principally, however, I worry about if the ‘soft skills’ that I value so much, such as being able to communicate effectively, handle cross-cultural teams, and to manage staff and lead teams, will be well enough represented in any certification scheme? To me these are core attributes of good FP&A senior management and they are hard, but not impossible, to replicate in a written certificate test. Scenario examples and questions could perhaps be used. I think it is crucial to not only be able to understand what the planning process is, how to conduct typical financial analysis and evaluate the performance of the business – but also to understand how best to communicate this information. 

That is why I am keen to take part in the beta testing for the AFP FP&A certification scheme, so that these ‘soft skills’ can be included. I would welcome an approach from the AFP and am very much looking forward to seeing the final certification programme in March 2014. 

The FP&A certification plan is currently under development with a beta version of the test and a full FP&A programme and tools due to be revealed in March 2013, when pricing will also be released by the AFP. ‘As live’ testing scenarios are also due to be run in August of this year. All of this is in preparation for the first real live exams in March 2014. There will also be FP&A events held at Microsoft’s prestigious Seattle campus headquarters in the US and elsewhere this year, chaired by Brian Kalish, director of the AFP Finance Practice, to help further develop the global certification and invite feedback.

  • To see another Q&A Interview with an FP&A professional – Ricardo Losada Revol, director of corporate finance-planning at World Fuel Services – please click HERE
  • If you would like to find out more about FP&A and the plans for the Association for Financial Professionals’ certification plan please follow this link for information about signing up to the AFP FP&A e-newsletter or visit the FP&A website.

 

 

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