Interview - Scott Moir

FP&A
Technical Accounting
297

Today’s guest is Scott Moir. Scott started his career at KPMG and now works in FP&A at a publicly-traded real estate technology firm.

Contents:

  • FP&A deep dive
  • The future of real estate brokerage
  • Ways to get promoted
  • When to leave public accounting

Thanks for joining us today! Can you tell us about yourself?

I grew up in Manhattan, Kansas and went to the University of Kansas. I spent five and a half years in undergrad. When I started, I thought I wanted to go to med school but it turned out to not be a good fit. So I changed majors a handful of times and ended up landing on accounting. I had jobs most of the time when I was growing up. I really enjoyed thinking about the numbers behind things when I was working. For whatever reason, when I started school, it never occurred to me to go to the college of business. So after I figured out that I didn’t want to go the med school route, I took an accounting class and it just fit. I started thinking about my long term-goals, which were to work for a company and understand the numbers in a way that I can provide value to leadership. So accounting and Big 4 were a natural path to that skillset.

You started your career at KPMG. What was that like?

Yes, I was with KPMG’s audit practice for a total of four years. I was in the Seattle office for three years and then transferred to the Kansas City office for a year. I was very interested in working with not-for-profit organizations and Seattle has the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and many other great organizations. So I worked on quite a few not-for-profit clients. Those were generally smaller jobs where I was out there for like two or three months at a time. I also had some public clients like Costco and Expedia. It was really interesting to see the difference between not-for-profit organizations and public companies.

What made you decide to leave KPMG?

I was pretty burned out. We were in the process of moving back to Seattle. I went back and forth between transferring back to the KPMG office in Seattle or making the jump to private. I decided on the latter and ended up joining Redfin, which has been great.

Tell us more about Redfin.

Sure, Redfin was founded 15 years ago and was the first company to allow real estate buyers to search for properties using an online map. Our mission is to redefine real estate in the consumer’s favor. Real estate commissions are really high and it doesn't always benefit the customer. So Redfin built a model where realtors can do more transactions every month through a team-based approach and automation, and customers actually pay less in fees.
That's how Redfin started as a brokerage. Now we've expanded and are working towards what we call the complete solution. If you've ever bought or sold a house, you know that you have a realtor, but then have this mortgage guy who's over here on the side. You also have this title company. All these different services that are disjointed. We are pulling those together to where you don't have to worry about seeking out a great mortgage rate because we're going to offer you one. And for title services, we're going to take care of that for you too. It’s a seamless transaction. We’re also venturing into iBuying and some contractor services.

You’re an FP&A Manager - can you tell us about your progression?

Sure. I joined Redfin in technical accounting. Our group covered off on technical accounting, financial reporting, and we had gone public just before I joined - so we were in year one of SOX. We weren't responsible for performing very many of the controls, but we helped design and implement them. That was a great learning experience.
I wanted to switch over into FP&A, and after a year on the technical accounting team a role opened up. The role was a step down in title, it was not a “senior” role, which I was concerned about at the time. But I made the switch and quickly realized that it didn’t matter. My pay was better, the work was interesting, I worked hard and was able to perform well. I moved up quickly because of that. Careers are like jungle gyms at times, occasionally you have to move sideways before you can keep moving up.

Once you were on the FP&A team, you were promoted twice in 15 months. How did you accomplish that?

I got lucky. That’s all there is to it, I was in the right place at the right time. I worked hard and I did a good job with what was in front of me. But I got lucky. I got promoted to senior and then there was some turnover in the department. The guy who built our FP&A department switched into an accounting role. So there was this big vacancy in finance. We brought in a new leader to run the FP&A department, but she didn’t have the knowledge of the finance org since she didn’t build the department. So we needed to build out the bench with managers.
Additionally, there was a fairly large gap in our budget process that wasn’t really being covered off on. I think I was the only one that saw it. I went to my new boss, told her about the gap and that I was going to run with it unless she said otherwise. She said to do it and that she was giving me a promotion and two direct reports. So just taking initiative and owning something, even though I wasn’t asked to, has really helped me out.

Can you discuss some different roles within FP&A?

Absolutely, and there are different things about public accounting that will set you up well for different roles. If you're going into a traditional analyst role you'd be partnering with business leaders and figuring out how to drive revenue and what that means on the P&L in terms of expenses. That forces you to think about the inputs of the business, what’s really important to the business, and how everything interacts. Doing financial statement analytics in public accounting can be really helpful here. Another part of an analyst role is understanding the processes that drive the business. I know SOX isn’t fun for anyone, but doing SOX work in public accounting forces you to think about processes. If you want to understand our business, you have to think about the funnel. So we’re going to get traffic on our website, which will turn into customers, which will then pull through into deals. So you have to be able to think through processes like that - and you build that skill in public accounting.
If you’re going into a consolidator role, as the name implies, you’d be rolling up different forecasts into a consolidated forecast. You could be the final stop before a package goes to the board or to the CFO. You have to be able to think about the big picture and assess if the pieces are fitting together how you’d expect them to, or if someone might be forecasting something incorrectly. You also need to identify risks and opportunities. Depending on how the pieces come together, everyone else might be siloed out and not have the full picture. So you need to be able to figure out, for example, if you need to hire more recruiters because you need to increase headcount over the next year. Additionally, our CFO is partnered with financial reporting and is signing off on the Q and the K. He wants our forecasts to line up with reporting. Public accounting can pay dividends when trying to forecast things in accordance with the Q and the K. Audit experience also helps you think about the big picture, how things come together and risks. This is especially true as you start senioring jobs.

Can you talk a bit about how accounting and FP&A departments interact?

If a company is going to run well, they need to have a really strong accounting department and a really strong finance department. And they need to work hand in hand with one another and be good partners. The FP&A department is really dependent on the accounting department to do a good job. If the accounting department has a really good foundation, then the FP&A team can build off of that. It enables accurate forecasts and better insight into key business drivers. So then FP&A can provide better service to its customers, which can range from leaders of a business unit or executives at HQ.

What’s one major difference between accounting and FP&A?

One of the big differences is that in accounting, you have to be really granular and in the weeds. You have to understand all of the specific nuances that are present in every business. Whereas in FP&A, you have to take a step back and think about the big picture a little bit more. You have to identify what’s important to the business, what are the things that we can analyze and take action on to drive change in the business. I think public accounting sets you up for that switch pretty well.

What advice would you share with people early in their careers?

Speak up and be an advocate for yourself when you're in public accounting. You can do that in a number of ways. One thing that the accounting firms do really well is focus on career development and growth. They pair you with mentors and things like that. So really speak up for yourself and talk to your mentors about things. That'll help you get the most out of the experience. Be really specific about the kinds of jobs you want to be on, what you want to do, and where you want to be in a couple of years. Start having those conversations early because these people will help you get there.

Any thoughts on when to leave public accounting?

There’s two ways to interpret that question. What time of year to leave, and after how many years to leave. I have thoughts on both, but I’ll start by saying that you always want to leave on a good note. As for what time of year, public accounting has this weird cycle. You go through busy season, after which the firms encourage you to take time off. Then raises and bonuses are right around the corner, but after that the firms push that it’s too close to the next busy season to leave. So there’s never a good time to leave. If there’s never a good time, then just leave when you leave. You have to make the best decision for yourself.
As for how many years to stay in public, the firms push a narrative that you have to stay until you make manager. The theory is, doing so will make a huge difference in the roles that you’re able to get when going into industry. I think they’re right in certain situations, but it all depends on what you want to do when you leave. If you want to go the traditional, tried and true accounting career path, there could be some truth to that theory. But if you want to move into finance or go to a high growth company, my advice would be to do one year as a senior associate and then leave.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?

This is the question. There are certain things that come to mind:  live in New York, pursue investment banking or private equity, that kind of stuff. But I’m pretty happy where I am right now. I’m glad I studied accounting, glad I worked for KPMG, etc. But one thing that I wish I could tell my younger self is to just relax a bit. I get too worked up and stressed out about things. If I could take my own advice, maybe I would have enjoyed myself a little more.

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about careers?

I touched on this earlier, but don't be afraid to necessarily make a lateral move if it's going to help you in the long run. Also, promotions can be earned just by showing up, doing things well and taking ownership of what's in front of you. They can also be earned by doing things without being asked. Don't sit around and wait for someone to ask, just take control of a project. You're going to expand your scope of your work, have more influence, and it's going to give you more opportunities later on to build out a team. And if you're doing things that you haven't done before, you might find them interesting. The last thing is don't be afraid of failing. If you're not failing, you're not trying new things and you're not stretching yourself. Hopefully you're in a company that encourages or allows you to fail. If you're not or if there's a toxic culture around that, maybe it's time to think about a new company.

How do you make sure you’re continuing to learn new things?

One way is definitely taking on new projects. I had a mentor tell me to set up my projects to where I never have to do them again. That could be done with automation or by structuring them efficiently so they can be passed off to someone else. That allows you to free up and take on new things.

What does the future hold?

In the short term, I’m focused on developing my bench and training people up. The old saying “train your replacement”, right? Longer term, I’d like to grow into a CFO role. I enjoy being analytical and problem solving. I like providing analyses that help in decision making. I don’t know exactly what that looks like yet, but I think it’s a CFO or other senior finance leader.