Choosing your next employer
Leaping into FP&A
The first-ever virtual IPO
The value of analytics
Grim: Spencer, can you tell us about your current role?
Spencer: Currently, I'm at SelectQuote. I'll provide a little background on the company…
SelectQuote is a direct-to-consumer insurance brokerage. We provide solutions that help consumers with their overall financial wellbeing. This includes the protection of their most valued assets: their families, their health and their property. Our highly skilled agents strive to deliver best-in-class customer experience through a comparison-shopping process of leading insurance carriers to provide consumers with greater choice, transparency, and value.
My role at SelectQuote is the Director of Finance for our Life Division. In my role, I’m part of a top tier finance and analytics team supporting our leaders and executives in all efforts to make decisions, implement strategies and drive operational improvements to enhance company performance.
In a finance role at SelectQuote, it is imperative to possess intellectual curiosity, demonstrate leadership abilities, and work with a passion for excellence. Currently, I get to work with company leadership to provide insights and recommendations toward company strategy and initiatives… To summarize, my department and role leverages past and present data to help forecast the future with the ultimate goal to increase shareholder value.
Have you been in FP&A since you left public accounting? How did you know to get into FP&A?
Yes, I started in FP&A immediately following my public accounting career at PwC. I came into the role as a Senior Financial Analyst with SelectQuote. A little over year ago I received a promotion to the Director of Finance.
I wanted a role that would allow me to have more impact on the operations of a company. I had the ability to do that working on income tax, compliance and consulting projects, but I wanted to have a broader impact on a business. I wanted to have a larger impact on the company's financials and the day-to-day decision-making. FP&A provided that.
How did you think through what type and size of company to work for?
I wasn’t so much concerned about the size as I was about culture. I wanted to work somewhere where the people were excited to come into the office every day. A company where the atmosphere was something I could be energized about. I wanted the ability to work with people that would challenge me. That’s what I found at SelectQuote. I work very hard at my job, but I do it for people I want to work hard for. It’s a huge factor in being happy with where you’re at.
Were there any doubts about your ability to transfer into FP&A?
Was I nervous? Absolutely. But I was also confident in myself. I had a strong belief in myself based in my work ethic and ability to learn. I certainly was not 100% Day 1 ready for both roles that I've taken on. However, it's really important that if you're not fully ready for something, that shouldn’t stop you from raising your hand. Doing so shows strong individual initiative & leadership. If you’re taking a role that you’re 100% ready for, you’re likely not challenging yourself enough.
From a skillset perspective, if I'm going back to my college days, or even when I'm at PwC, I would have focused more on data analytics. I think there's been a light shined on the importance of data in recent years. I know schools such as KU are now rolling out minors and majors in data analytics. In business today, you need to know how to deal with large amounts of data. You need to not just mine data and interpret it, but you need to be able to condense it into a version that is useful for others.
Is that the skillset that allows you to get more into the operations side of the business?
Yes. If you can understand and interpret the data, that makes you a dangerous tool anywhere. That's an area where I'm constantly striving to improve my skillset. It is incredibly important to be able to conceptualize large data, and to be able to explain to executives the financial impact of various scenarios. Without data, it's just your opinion. Utilizing data gives you the ability to be an effective leader and make sound strategic moves.
Can you compare the learning curve at PwC versus SelectQuote?
I think they're both similar. You can read all the books, go to all the classes and seminars, but you need to just get in there and get real experience. That's really invaluable. The learning curve for both was steep and rapid. Part of the challenge and reward is proving you have the ability learn and adapt to things you’re not familiar with.
From a PwC perspective, they do a fantastic job of putting together more formal trainings. You're attending conventions in different cities, meeting people throughout the organization, and really developing a broad network.
With SelectQuote, you're in the office everyday learning and deploying new tactics and skills. The learning curve is fueled by tapping on the internal team in a more informal way. It’s continually developing the new skills; kind of a learn as you go type situation.
When you started at SelectQuote it was privately held, and recently it IPO’d. Tell us about the difference between private vs. public, and the IPO process.
Working on an IPO is a once in a career opportunity for most people. To be doing that in the middle of a pandemic is absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity. A large amount of work toward the IPO was in a fully remote environment which meant your communication skills had to be on point. You had to develop new skill sets to really connect with your teams. The IPO itself presented many opportunities for me to learn and to contribute.
I would say from a day-to-day perspective, in my role, going public hasn't necessarily led to significant changes. There's a heightened sensitivity on the product that we're producing in FP&A, specifically on accuracy. But that’s always been the case for the team. We work hard to instill confidence in the organization with high quality and timely outputs.
What are some of the most important things that you've learned in your career?
My dad wrote me a note when I started college and it’s just as applicable now as it was back then. He ended it with saying “Best of luck to you! I know if you work hard you will be very successful and I guarantee you’ll never regret it” Just one sentence has had a profound impact on my life. Work hard and good things will happen to you.
Another piece of advice when you're first starting off… you have two ears and one mouth - use them proportionately. If you're getting up to speed on something, ask questions and be a sponge, soak up everything that you can. I've tried to keep that mindset as I’ve taken on more of a leadership role. It applies when managing people; listen and give them the ability to provide feedback to me. It also applies toward the people I work for. Listen to their experiences and try to implement those lessons into my day-to-day.
What motivates you?
I feel one of my strengths is that I'm intrinsically motivated. Being in neutral really isn't an option for me. In my career development, it’s an all gas and no brakes type of thing.
Also, I'm very happy with what I'm doing. I get a lot of challenging and unique situations presented to me. I want that challenge. I want to be the best version of myself for me, and also for the people who count on me.
What are some of the most important things for you in a job? What keeps you interested in your current job?
I think it's a reality that inside public accounting, and also outside, you're going to spend more time with the people you work with than your own family. You really need to make sure that you like the people and company you're working for.
Additionally, you should be challenged every day and should be continuously learning. I’m continuously trying to learn something new; taking on new tasks while passing down the knowledge around the things I’ve already built up.
And I also thoroughly enjoy helping develop young talent. There are always situations, quite frequently in public accounting, where you ask, can I do this faster and can I do it better than someone else? Yes. However, taking the time upfront to teach someone is a solid long-term investment because it's going to open up opportunities for you to do different things.
Who do you admire or call upon for business or career advice?
My first person is my dad. I’ve always looked up to him and he always has sound business advice. He always shoots me straight, not telling me necessarily what I want to hear but what I need to hear.
Additionally, I feel really fortunate about the people that I've worked with at PwC and SelectQuote. I've had phenomenal mentors in all of my roles. Leaders to look up to and leaders that have interest in my personal & career development. You need to be your number one advocate for your career, but you also need to have someone within the organization that's looking out for you. I've always had that. That's one of the reasons I've chosen employers like PwC and SelectQuote. You know they're going to have your best interest at heart.
What are your long-term goals?
I'm more of a day-to-day goal person as opposed to long term.
With what I'm doing right now for SelectQuote, I'm incredibly happy. I think there's a lot of room for development and upward mobility. Like I said before, the focus is always looking to develop and further myself personally and professionally.
Any specific functional areas that you want to get exposed to?
I think FP&A is a perfect place to get exposure. If you want to learn a business, FP&A gives you the ability to work with everyone across the organization, whether that be marketing, sales, operations, etc.... For example, if marketing changes XYZ, what's the impact to the company’s financials? I get to help marketing understand and think through the financial impacts of their decisions. It’s valuable to get exposure to the various stakeholders in the company and the variables they drive within the company’s financials. This broad exposure, paired with an analytical approach, makes you a Swiss army knife for the company.
Ultimately, my ability to influence the operations of the company through my FP&A role is based in my financial acumen from my public accounting experience.
Finally, what are your thoughts on the Kill Busy Season service?
I think Kill Busy Season is extremely unique given its focus on public accounting and the goal to create full visibility and transparency into the job market. The job market for people coming out of public accounting is huge. Employers value the public accounting background. Historically there is a void of good facilitators to help public accountants that work in the interest of the public accountant candidate. I think Kill Busy Season will solve this and be a tremendous tool for people in public accounting.
Awesome stuff, Spencer. Thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate you sharing your experience and direction.
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