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ACA Pathways: FP&A/Financial Modelling

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago
  • Author:by Thomas Davenport

​In this interview series, I’ve delved into the journeys of various candidates who have successfully transitioned from a role in audit into a finance or portfolio position within private equity and the wider alternatives space. The series looks to illuminate various paths, challenges and triumphs of individuals who have made the move away from audit post-ACA/ACCA qualification. The conversations aim to provide invaluable insights into the diverse roles available to newly qualified ACAs, the intricacies of these positions and how they’ve developed over time. Furthermore, there’s first-hand advice on picking up the job search and how best to navigate the market to secure a role in the investment management industry.

​Part four of my ACA pathways series is an exciting instalment, where I had the opportunity to sit down with a former placement who has forged a successful career in financial planning and analysis within alternative investments. In this conversation, the individual shares insights into their journey of transitioning into a commercial, front-facing role that adds significant value. They also discuss the challenges they encountered along the way, offering valuable tips for those considering a similar path.

1. Where did you start your career?

I studied for a Master's at Cass Business School after finishing my undergraduate degree. I’d always been interested in investment management and the funds industry, so I wanted to further my knowledge. It’s probably worth mentioning I studied and passed two levels of the CFA while I was doing my Masters at Cass. I chose to do this purely out of interest, and I wanted to improve my product knowledge.

I secured a role with PwC after I completed my Masters, which was a move I always believed accounting understanding is the backbone of the investment world. Studying ACA reaffirmed this as there’s absolutely loads of accounting to get your head around which is relevant to investments.

When I started at PwC, my clientele was varied for the first year with limited funds exposure. I knew the investment management industry was here I wanted to be long term, and I proactively sought out these engagements and became specialised in the asset and wealth management industry for the three years after.

2. What did you do straight after you qualified?

I never saw a long-term career in audit, and the plan was always to move into industry. Initially, I spoke with a client whom I’d audited over the years to try and secure a move and reach out to headhunters at the same time. I later secured a position in the FP&A function of a global asset manager.

When I started working with recruiters, I also tried to look for a role in front office. Despite passing my CFA level 3 while I was at PwC, I didn’t have much success in trying to move directly into an investment role and I quickly realised it wasn’t going to be possible with only having audit experience.

3. Talk me through what your first role away from PwC involved and where you went from here.

Fifty percent of the role covered financial control for the firm's emerging market entities that sat within the wider fund structure. The other half focused on FP&A and corporate development – responsible for supporting the CFO with financial analysis for these EM entities.

This role really took me to the next level. I transitioned from being an auditor with no real hands-on experience who only focused on backwards looking information to someone who could undertake analysis that could add value and help drive strategic decisions.

This role enabled me to upskill in financial modelling, which has been the main skillset that has propelled me to where I am now in my career. This was a top priority for me at the time, too, as I’d spoken with a lot of headhunters who stressed how important having strong modelling skills with analytical thinking mindset was for long term progression.

4. How did you go about developing your financial modelling skills? Did you undertake any courses that you could recommend?

It was nearly all done on the job. The biggest part of my first role out of practice ended up being the ad hoc queries I’d receive from the CFO. They were often very random and could be extremely complex, it required me to form my own commercial view, sensitise and put together easy-to-digest presentation decks.

I didn’t take any specific courses, but I did learn a lot through googling and browsing modelling forums on the internet. In my opinion, hands-on practical modelling is much better than overloading yourself with theory from expensive courses. Over time, I developed my own toolkits/formula library to deal with problems.

5. Do you use any programming, and would you recommend this to someone interested in a role like yours?

VBA is a very important part of the role, and it’s always been a skill that’s been greatly appreciated by anyone I’ve worked for. SQL is also a must know when it comes to automating financial modelling. SQL’s data warehouse makes Excel lighter and prevents it from crashing when worksheets/models get too complex. Other than that, powerful Excel functions are always critical (such as index-match-match, filter, mod…)

These are something I’d recommend people to learn!

6. Where was your next role, and what changed with this position?

I moved to a private credit fund after two years with the investment manager. My next role was more modelling focused and was a shift away from the financial control aspects that made up fifty percent of the previous position.

The big difference with my new role was that I now had exposure to the portfolio/product, which is where my interest has always lied. This role was a considerable step up in financial modelling and I was now an active business partner to the investment team, responsible for value-add analysis that was helping drive investment decisions.

It’s also worth noting just how much my stakeholder management capabilities improved from working in a middle office role.

More recently, I joined a real estate financing business in a debt financing role where I’m primarily responsible for leveraging investments to improve the IRR of deals. The role is heavily capital markets, where I have to maintain relationships with external lenders, understand their products and legal procedures, and originate financing for our investments. Needless to say, the role is heavily financial modelling focused still as I have to understand the underlying deal, sensitise and compare different leverage from different banks/products and present the optimal position for the best combination of pros/cons to portfolio managers and eventually feed into final investment decision.

7. Knowing what you know now, would you go back and do anything differently from when you first left PwC and what would you recommend to someone in the Big 4 looking for a career in FP&A?

I would’ve moved into an advisory/deals-focused role internally. I struggled to leave PwC because I had no exposure to deals and couldn’t bridge the gap into something commercial in a fund as easily as my peers who’d managed to move internally earlier on in their PwC careers.

If you can’t move internally (which I appreciate is difficult - especially now), then you need to work on yourself and upskill in crucial areas, like financial modelling and product knowledge. There are often tricky case studies for portfolio analysis/modelling positions and you’ll struggle to progress if you don’t put in the hours to improve your modelling skills.

If you’re interested in real estate specifically, then I’d recommend looking at https://www.adventuresincre.com

I’d also recommend learning VBA as soon as you can. PwC or other Big 4 firms usually have some sort of classroom programme that you can join to get started. However, the internet is the best way to master this.

Other than these just keep general networking, I have seen cases where opportunities come from the network (of course, there are core skills required)

In summary, I can’t stress enough how critical it is to upskill in modelling if you’re interested in a career in FP&A, portfolio and beyond.

If you are interested in speaking further on these topics or you would like to have a confidential chat about your next career move or business objectives, please do not hesitate to contact me at thomas.davenport@eamesconsulting.com