Asif Masani is a familiar face in the FP&A world, helping over 40,000 LinkedIn followers develop essential FP&A skills. He maintains a full-time job at Coursera as a financial planning and analysis manager, and he is a speaker at AFP’s FP&A Series: Get Your Talent Right.
AFP’s Director of FP&A Practice Bryan Lapidus, FPAC, recently sat down with Masani to discuss how he began writing content for fellow practitioners, the challenge of maintaining agility while growing as a company, and the importance of having the right mindset to become a finance business partner.
Lapidus: Tell us a little about your career and how you got to where you are now.
Masani: After completing my basic qualification in India as a chartered accountant, I got into auditing because I wanted to work with a Big Four organization. I worked there for three years, then decided I was not enjoying it much and that audit is probably not the best thing for me in the future, so I started looking for more options.
I did a course in investment banking and tried to get into the field, but investment banking was not doing well in 2013. The second-best option was FP&A. I started as an FP&A analyst in Citi’s Retail Banking division, worked in that role for three years, then moved into a different role in the expense team for one of Citi’s credit cards. I was promoted to manager and then, in 2019, I decided to take a break for about six to eight months.
When I came back, I got an FP&A consultant role with Pfizer, which was almost around the time of COVID, then moved into the tech industry, and now, I’m working with Coursera as an FP&A lead for India and APAC.
Lapidus: So, while you're doing all of this, you're putting out great content on LinkedIn. Is that a passion project? Tell us a little bit more about your work there and how that came to be.
Masani: I always liked writing, but I never had the platform to do it consistently. I started creating LinkedIn content because I wanted to have a personal brand so it would be easier to get more opportunities, be it a job change or speaking to finance experts around the world like we are doing today. I started writing once a week, then twice a week. Now I do it almost every other day or every day.
All the articles that I share on LinkedIn or the book I’ve written, that work happens on the weekend, and obviously, it doesn’t feel like work to me. It feels like I’m doing something that I like, so it’s more of a passion.
When I’m not writing, I also do a bit of teaching, which started after I started sharing content on LinkedIn. I do one-on-one sessions with people who are interested in getting into FP&A. I also started doing group coaching where I share the things I’ve learned in FP&A over the last five to seven years.
Apart from that, I also like playing sports. I usually play cricket when I get the time.
THE CHALLENGE OF MAINTAINING AGILITY
Lapidus: I want to get your opinion on something. I attended a conference on agile companies, and the speaker showed statistics to show that two-thirds of all small companies made a significant strategic pivot that fueled their growth. However, over time, the companies set up management structures and processes that are designed to maximize operations but simultaneously limits the ability to pivot. So how do companies maintain agility?
Masani: As an organization grows, it’s bound to become less agile. You have more people, more teams, more locations, more regions, and each team or each department would like to prioritize its targets. There may be nobody who is looking at, how does that work in terms of the entire organization? Alignment becomes more relevant than agility.
Say, for example, that department A is working toward its target, and department B is working toward its own target. In my experience, when a company grows, departments become siloed and work toward their own individual targets. There’s a manufacturing target, so they’re manufacturing. But they may have lost sight of what the customer wants and the interaction with other departments, and maybe it’s not helping the company.
Lapidus: This reminds me of a comment from a CEO running an appliance manufacturing company, and he said, “Some things are hard to measure and some things are easy to measure, but that doesn't mean that one is more important than the other; it just means that your finances and certain operations have metrics readily built in. Innovation is hard to measure.”
Masani: The way I usually see FP&A KPIs being structured at companies is to measure the forecast accuracy or the ability to keep the company on budget. That leads to efforts to optimize these outcomes, even if that does not maximize other behaviors that are in the best interest of the company overall. Metrics need to be balanced and incent the right behaviors.
Lapidus: You’ll be taking part in the FP&A Series: Get Your Talent Right on the 10th of November. Tell us about your session and what you’ll talk about.
Masani: The topic is rightskilling FP&A. We’ll be talking about how finance functions have come a long way from the traditional reporting and budgeting activities that they used to. Obviously, they're already doing that now, but they need to move more toward sharing strategic insights, adding more value to the business. We’ll be looking at what skills are required to shift from being a traditional budget controller or a traditional reporting analyst to becoming a finance business partner and adding more value to the business.
So basically, we'll be talking about the top three to five skills that have helped me personally during the last few years to move from that mindset of just doing reporting, finance analysis, and commentary on reporting decks, to becoming more of a finance business partner.
Lapidus: It’s funny you talk about those reporting decks. We had someone give a presentation about conveying information, and he said, “Look, we’re not the finance data dump department. People don’t want that. They don’t have time for that. And honestly, if you are just giving them data and leaving it up to them to do the work, what do they need you for?” So those skills you talked about are really on point, but why is it hard to put them into action?
Masani: First, a mindset shift needs to happen. Many are still undergoing that shift from a traditional reporting and budgeting mindset to one of adding more value.
Second, you have to have the right skills to meet the right mindset, or you won’t be able to find the time to add more value. You’ll be stuck in your day-to-day, in your month-end closing, in your reporting cycles. You obviously can’t stop doing that work, so you must figure out how to reduce the time it takes to change the mix between reporting and partnering. Find the right balance that can add more value to your team and your organization.
The maturation of the FP&A profession is leading to the specialization of skills, and you don’t want to get left behind. Register for the complimentary event, AFP FP&A Series: Get Your Talent Right, 10 November 2022, 11 AM SGT.