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Financial Analysts: Dinosaur…to Space Travel…to Extinction

My business development charter here at SAP has recently landed me into the wonderful world of blogging. Jon Wurfl of my team is leading the way in this endeavor for our team here in SAP Retail. For a shameless plug, check out Jon’s blog /people/jon.wurfl/blog


When asked by Jon to participate I initially balked at his request. My many years at SAP (17 …three more until parole eligible) have seen my days as a solution expert come and go. My years in M&A and partnering groups while extremely rewarding are not particularly note worthy for a blog. Lastly, there are many colleagues more likely to woo you on retail topics than I.


So, I turned to the all knower of things, my wife, who often has told me “once an accountant, always an accountant”. Funny though, when she says it she thinks she is being derogatory but I think she is complimenting me? But when she is right, she is right.


So…here goes…no looking back…


I am worried about the possible extinction of financial analysts. Will they go the way of TV antennas? Here’s why:


I started my career in the late 1970’s (thus the ‘dinosaur’ in the title) tasked with providing detailed analyses of product and customer profitability to senior management for a consumer product manufacturer. Therefore I have always felt a kinship with the financial analyst.


The process started with pouring over greenbar reports published monthly. My tools were a chisel and stone…sorry, almost as bad, a calculator and a 13 COLUMN PAD. In a matter of a week or more I was able to produce enough raw data that I could transpose onto the 13 COLUMN PAD. Commentary and interpretation came solely from me with very little detail at the grass roots level. If I wanted a nice report I had the steno pool (!!yes, I said steno pool) there to type for me. (By the way somewhere during this period fire was also invented). The result was limited to a high level, late deliverable. But…at the time it was highly valued and I was a considered to be a key contributor by the management team. And we could be so much better.


As a financials and controlling solution expert at SAP in the 1990’s I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Like a pig in mud, I was wallowing in what the new ERP realm provided. The real time availability of information with the ability to drill down to the document level alone removed two large obstacles in getting more timely and detailed data. Reporting available through Profitability Analysis (CO-PA) became much more standardized. Customers would ask me if utilizing SAP Financials would allow them to reduce headcount. In reality, if anything there was a shift in resources from accountants to analysts because of the vast amount of additional data. Analysts still were required to do much heavy lifting…creating and maintaining reports, document retrieval, etc. It was a good time for financial analysts…less trivial work, more detail to analyze…role definitely seen as value add. Our power was growing. We were greedy and hungry for more.


But in this current day too much of a good thing may have become detrimental to the well being of the financial analyst. With the recent addition of Business Objects to the SAP family the day to day tribulations of the financial analyst have become almost commoditized. Dashboards created through Xcelsius now pinpoint at a mouse click problem areas to investigate and opportunities to exploit. “What if” analyses at will are common place. Crystal Reports offers vast improvements from standard FI-CO reporting capabilities. Business Explorer lets you search all internal repositories of information with “Google-ease” (Can you believe we have gone from 13 COLUMN PADS to “Google-ease”?). Even the mundane tasks of document retrieval are mitigated through use of SAP’s Open Text solutions. And the real “kicker” to all of this is…wait for it…MANAGERS can do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Have we gone too far? Is green bar paper destined to never be manufactured again?  Have continual improvements to software functionality  lessened the financial analyst’s perceived value? The good news is that it is more likely that the financial analyst role will mature into more of an innovative role, really being able to give insights and trends (the “analysis” part!!) back to the organization in new and exciting ways. 


But why take that chance?  Glad I am in business development now.

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  • Scott, good to see you in the blog space - even thought the blog format is one large column and not 13 small columns.

    Cheers and post your effort to the credit column.


  • Green bar paper = "cash registers," where I could ring a sale with BOTH hands at the same time. . .Dollars with the left hand and cents with the right...and the $100 key is covered with a metal bar so not to punch it in error!

    What's the feminine version of T-Rex?  T- Rexa or T-Rexi?


  • In my early days as a Financial Analyst, I was doing everything on paper. I was working on a major plant expansion and the company president called me from corporate headquarters and needed an immediate updated CFRR. Now this normally took a day or two but I had just created CFRR program using IFPS and a Wang computer. Is that old or what. He was so impressed I could change the variables and generate a new CFRR in less than 10 minutes.

    I became a 'computer expert" when I moved manual process to spreadsheets. Those were the days.

    As I work with corporations in optimizaton of their financial processes, I am amazed how many process steps are still manual many years later.

    My first Accounting exposure to SAP was R2 in the early 90s. I was an immediate convert.

  • I can remember producing reports from visible record card computers. The best memory has to be the "young replacement" (63 years old) for a customer's retiring stock controller. During physical inventory he called to let me know that the system had problems and that the "computer was broken". Turned out that he'd been feeding the punch cards into the machine and then filing them on a paper spike. Unsurprising that the machine had a few problems reading cards with holes the size of my little finger in the middle of them! Makes you realise how easy things are now - click once and the report's ready and accurate...