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London FP&A Club: Why Data Visualization Matters

  • By Larysa Melnychuk
  • Published: 10/19/2014

Data visualization is a powerful tool for FP&A—but practitioners must remember that different corporate audiences have different preferences. At the seventh meeting of the London Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) Club, 28 FP&A professionals from a number of different industries gathered for a look at how data visualization can make all of their jobs easier.

The discussion, which was led by Andrew Mosely, director of Metapraxis Ltd., looked at what data visualization truly is and what data is needed to achieve it.

There are two types of visualization, Mosely explained:

  • Explorative visualization only includes elements that represent data. It seeks to communicate information in the most clear and concise manner.
  • Narrative visualization is design-focused, seeks to appeal to the viewer through engaging visuals, and entertains while informing.

Attendees at the London FP&A Club unanimously agreed that explorative visualization is most appropriate for FP&A. Business intelligence and data analysis are both examples of explorative visualization.

Mosley noted that visualization can actually "make us smarter" by helping us:

  • Distribute the mental workload
  • Filter out the noise
  • Recognize patterns
  • Follow lines of thought
  • Spot exceptions and
  • Perceive the unexpected.

Visualization is a powerful tool for FP&A because it reveals hidden trends and patterns. There are many FP&A practitioners who use visualization quite efficiently. We have seen many instances recently of very powerful analytics not being understood by decision makers. Visualization can help us deliver insight to those decision makers.

However, it is important to remember that people have different preferences. FP&A Club attendees gave examples of CFOs and CEOs who didn’t like visual presentations; they preferred tables and numbers. So visualization may need to be adjusted, depending on the audience.

Additionally, effective design is very important. To communicate well, graphs, charts and tables need to be designed effectively, noted Mosely.

The key design principles include:

  • Minimizing distractions
  • Encoding data effectively
  • Effective color palettes.

Visualization matters for FP&A because it has an important role in improving the business control cycle, Mosely concluded. However, poorly designed visualization can trick the audience and send the wrong messages, so it is essential that FP&A professionals follow some simple rules to avoid common pitfalls.

After the discussion on visualization, the FP&A Club held a networking session, in which they discussed current trends, traded best practices, etc. There were also many questions about the Association for Financial Professionals’ Certified Corporate FP&A Professional credential, which continues to create a lot of buzz among FP&A practitioners worldwide.

More information on the FP&A certification is available here. For more insights into FP&A, be sure to sign up for the AFP FP&A e-newsletter or visit the FP&A website. To contact the FP&A Club about free membership for finance professionals, or for more details on forthcoming international events, please email Larysa Melnychuk or join the LinkedIn FP&A Group. An FP&A conference is also scheduled for 19-20 May 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Those interested in speaking should contact Larysa Melnychuk.
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