Eloquens sits down with our very own esteemed author, Craig Hatmaker, a seasoned IT executive and expert in FP&A. Craig is one of our many expert on the Eloquens platform with close to 300 downloads of his best practices already.
We discuss his unique professional career and learn how Craig has pioneered table based financial modelling and helped others ‘find millions via analysis and automation’.
Listen to the full interview here!
How has your professional experience shaped you into the FP&A expert that you are today?
At Canon I received training in Total Quality Management, otherwise known as TQM. Those who completed Canon’s TQM course were invited to participate in ‘Small Group Activities’ or SGA competitions. Each small group consisted of a cross-functional team that was challenged to:
- Find a process to improve.
- Present the business case for the improvement.
- And if approved, lead the project to implement it.
The SGA’s helped shape my model for project-specific FP&A, which includes steps such as analysing and quantifying problems, ranking economic impact using Pareto charts and Ishikawa diagrams, estimating ROI using cost/benefit analysis, securing funding, and so much more. I took these skills to other large corporations, where an executive team attributed $8 million in annual net revenue improvements and new customer acquisitions to one of my projects. These accomplishments are why I was given the opportunity to join the ranks of corporate officers.
What eventually drove you towards a career in FP&A?
To be technically correct, my background has always been in IT rather than FP&A. I was assigned to the FP&A role in addition to my IT responsibilities because I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills. The time was when Excel first appeared in the late 1980’s when Excel first appeared it was recognized by the finance department as a time saving tool for calculating what-if scenarios, budget planning, M&A analysis, etc. However, accountants at the time lacked the ability to integrate data from our ERP but as an IT professional, I had that skill. I also had financial knowledge from developing financial applications, a business perspective from my time as a sole proprietor, analytical skills from my Canon training, project management skills from my architecture degree, and experience with Excel’s predecessor, Multiplan. As a result, they gave me the job and from there I developed as an expert in FP&A.
In your opinion how important is FP&A for businesses? What benefits does the integration of FP&A functions provide?
The FP&A function adds far more value than it costs. While FP&A can be as simple as creating forecasts, budgets, and dashboards, the real value of FP&A is in providing organisations with the foundation to make data-driven decisions. FP&A has a unique view across departments, allowing it to identify issues that department heads cannot see. Unlike department heads, who typically deal with day-to-day issues, FP&A is proactive in mapping out paths to avoid future issues. Furthermore, many department heads lack the FP&A skills required to quantify economic opportunities in order to gain support for change. Moreover, unlike the CEO, FP&A is the best resource for narrowly focusing on specific cross-departmental opportunities. If the FP&A function includes someone with project management experience, FP&A is well-positioned to lead cross-departmental change and implement solutions that benefit the organisation.
Craig’s value proposition…
Simply put, the tools I offer improve credibility and save time.
Many people are aware of financial modelling, though they may not fully comprehend what it entails. However, FP&A remains a lesser-known topic, at least among the general public.
What are the primary distinctions between FP&A and traditional financial modelling?
That is a great question shared by many. In my opinion, the main difference is the “A” in FP&A – the “Analytics”. FP&A requires financial modelling skills, but it also requires data analytics. So, let’s first understand what I mean by financial modelling.
CFI defines financial modelling as:
“The process of combining historical and projected financial information to make business decisions.”
After many years of following the standards groups (CFI, Operis, Fast, BPM, SMART, and others) and consistent with CFI’s definition, I have concluded that financial modelling involves not just specific subject areas but specific modelling styles because one of financial modeling’s guiding concepts is that others (for example, bankers and large accounting firms) must be able to read a financial model. Style and standards make this possible.
A model is a financial model if:
- It is Financial Systems based (such as General Ledger or G/L accounts and supporting areas).
- It exclusively produces one or all of these statements: P&L, Cash Flow, Balance Sheet, and (optional) financial ratios.
- The style follows timeline at the top going horizontal.
A model strays from financial modelling if:
- It includes operational metrics (this becomes Business Modelling).
- It includes data analytics (this becomes FP&A)
FP&A is sometimes required to incorporate Excel features many financial modelling purists reject. These features include but are not limited to: Names, Pivot Tables & DAX, Data Model, Power Query, Power BI & M, Dynamic Arrays, and LAMBDA.
So, FP&A requires both financial modelling and data analytics skills. FP&A also mines financial data, as does financial modelling. In contrast to financial modelling, FP&A mines operational data. This is significant because one of my first modelling tasks was to forecast a 5% increase in sales. If I had stayed with financial modelling, I would have predicted what everyone expected: an increase in profits. However, I did include operational capabilities. As a result, my model predicted that a 5% increase in sales would deplete capacity in manufacturing lines and inventory storage, meaning investments that turned profits into losses.
For those just learning about the opportunities and scope for FP&A specialists in the future, I’m sure there will be an increase in people considering a career path similar to yours.
From your unique perspective as a seasoned expert in FP&A, what skills do you believe are necessary for success in this field?
My thoughts align with what Indeed says are the most common skills listed in FP&A positions. Accounting (understanding of GAAP), financial modelling using ERP actuals, Excel, Power Query, Power BI, and both root and cost/benefit analysis are mandatory in such a competitive and results-driven field. Soft skills such as business networking, planning, and communication, on the other hand, are required to identify, solve, and condense complicated problems in a concise and efficient manner.
“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Your Eloquens channel involves best practices under the company which you founded, ‘Beyond Excel’. Briefly explain to us the motivations behind this company.
Beyond Excel was created to help IT professionals integrate data with Excel from large corporate systems. Importantly, data acquisition is one of the first steps in FP&A. Power Query (an ETL tool created by Microsoft) opened large scale data access to non-IT professionals. Beyond Excel’s mission then evolved to helping non-IT professionals, such as FP&A departments, leverage Excel features to improve their company’s economics across a specific time period.
What are the different types of content produced on your Eloquens channel?
On my Eloquens platform, I have 9 different best practices detailing some of the tools I use in my work.
Three of these tools are specific to financial modelling, these include:
- BXL Format
This transforms ugly spreadsheets into corporate branded, boardroom ready models. We never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make sure our first impression is impressive.
- BXL TOC
This generates a table of contents that lists the worksheets, named ranges, tables, charts, and pivots in our model. Each entry is linked, which adds navigation to our models. It also allows us to add additional descriptions to each entry, which can then be posted back to the object if necessary, to better document each object.
- BXL Integrity Checks
This adds career saving error checking to our models. These checks find errors before our clients do. We can use it to add ratio and KPI alerts to notify clients when the assumptions they enter produce unfavourable results, potentially saving their careers.
Whereas my remaining Eloquens offerings are more general in nature such as:
- BXL Merge
This free tool simplifies merging Excel data with Word documents or overlaying Excel data on to pre-printed forms. It is used in small US businesses to print payroll data on W2 tax forms. One client uses it to print new hire forms with the recruit’s information pre-populated in order to reduce the time it takes new hires to fill out tax forms, benefits forms, property assignments, policy documents, and a variety of other documents.
- BXL Org Chart
This tool creates hierarchical charts from Excel data. It is often used to print organization charts from downloaded HR data. It is sometimes used to chart other hierarchical information such as manufacturing bills of materials, known as BOMs, and application call chains for IT developers like I was once.
- BXL Tiny Database
This adds single user database functionality to Excel. We’ve probably all heard the arguments about whether Excel is a database or not. As a database expert, I can say that it is a database, but it lacks features that would make it useful for most database applications. Whereas, the BXL Tiny Database adds features such as table indexes, table parent child relationships, referential integrity, and more to Excel. I’ve used it to build small, single-user applications that would normally require MS Access. Anyone with moderate Excel skills can create single-user database applications that are superior to MS Access in some cases. It can also be used to develop SQL server or Oracle applications quickly.
- BXL PQ Helper
This free tool simplifies working with Power Query source files. I use it to import reusable queries and functions into models.
- BXL DAN
This free tool makes it easier to name financial model ranges and dynamic arrays for use in Power Query or Power Pivot.
I’ve made my multidimensional modelling functions freely available to anyone interested in learning more about this powerful approach to modelling systems with three or more characteristics that interact. It can also be used to teach students about LAMBDAs and dynamic arrays.
Who is your ideal client and what solutions do you provide to this client?
My ideal client is a competent Excel modeller looking to save time. They understand that time is money, and while that is a cliché, it is also true. Delivering solutions in less time than competitors allows us to charge more for our time while still delivering at or below our competitors’ delivered costs. Delivering solutions to market faster allows our clients to reap the benefits of our solutions sooner, which can give us a competitive advantage.
With Excel being a widely used tool, not just by financial modellers or FP&A experts like yourself, do you have a wider target audience in mind? Perhaps building for the future of Excel.
In 2023, I’ll be retiring. In retirement, I plan to expand my content to help others see the value in Excel’s advancements, such as LAMBDAs and dynamic arrays, and learn how to best use them. My BXL DAN add-in, which is free on Eloquens, is an example. This add-on simplifies the use of dynamic arrays. Dynamic Arrays are an absolute game changer in modelling; LAMBDAs will be too. However, very few modelling professionals are familiar with them. That is something I intend to correct.
What differentiates your templates, best practices and tools from other FP&A experts?
At the moment, my content includes add-ins. Add-ins require VBA and Ribbon skills that most modellers lack. My content also includes LAMBDA’s. I was the first to add LAMBDA content to Eloquens, and as far as I know, I’m still the only one in that space. I’m encouraging experts I know to contribute content, and I plan to expand mine soon.
What are some other best practices you plan on publishing on your Eloquens channel?
I will be releasing BXL Scenario Manager soon. It can be applied to any model, even those with no scenario features. It produces three well known scenario types: Discrete Scenarios, Sensitivity Analysis, and Monte Carlo simulations. It introduces a new scenario type based on my work in multi-dimensional modelling. It will be known as combo analysis because it creates all possible combinations of all inputs and input values into one analysis set that can be filtered, sorted, and graphed. I find this extremely useful for RFP comparisons.
What is the long-term vision for your channel?
My long-term vision is to hand over my channel to someone else and then travel to see my son in Los Angeles, my daughter in Maine, my other daughter in the United Kingdom, my aunt in Nice, France, former co-workers in Japan, and my Excel friends in London.
Finally, what do you see the in the future for FP&A and its growth potential?
FP&A is growing! I’d encourage my financial modelling friends to search for FP&A postings on job boards like Indeed and compare salaries. If they look attractive, consider adding data analytics to your skill set. And be encouraged: learning data analytics is no more daunting than learning accounting. I’d encourage my virtual CFO friends to consider adding virtual FP&A to their offerings if they haven’t already. Leading modelers, I believe, will be using Dynamic Arrays by the end of 2023, and LAMBDAs within 5 years.
Craig’s professional career in IT has spanned more than 40 years, and it began while he was still at university, pursuing a baccalaureate in architecture. At university, Craig came across 3D modelling and realised the future of interactive computing. It started by cataloguing music by BPM and key for his part time DJ gig, before transitioning to writing applications for mortgage brokers, small businesses, and NPO’s.
Stints at Canon, Smithfield Foods (Director of Information Systems), Perdue Farms (Channel Process Manager), and Carlisle Carrier (VP of IT) led Craig to form Beyond Excel or BXL and help many others increase revenue and reduce expenses in their operations. At the moment, Craig is semi-retired and works as the head of information technology for the local government of Christiansburg, Virginia.
Do not worry however, as his methods used throughout his career and built at BXL are now available for download on his Eloquens channel!