Finance Business Partnering: A look behind the curtain

The term ‘Finance Business Partner’ has been around for many years.   A multitude of companies have had a vision of business partnering but it would seem only a few have successfully achieved it.  Let’s just take a few minutes and reflect on whether it’s all worth it and, if it is, how we might improve the chances of achieving it.

Successful business partnering should leverage the core competences of professionally qualified accountants to create a mutually beneficial, indeed symbiotic, relationship with other areas of the business so as to create and protect stakeholder value.  For commercial companies, this will typically be shareholder value but in other forms of organizations there may well be other objectives.  For the overwhelming majority of companies, finance and accounting is a fundamental discipline used in strategic planning, budgeting, forecasting, decision making, and performance management. It is a language that accountants should be fluent in and able to assist their non-financial colleagues in understanding and applying.

For many companies, however, there are barriers which prevent good relationships being established to the good of all.  For busy accountants, there is often little incentive in going the extra mile. It may be viewed as sufficient if they can complete the essential basics such as the monthly reporting pack and get through the budgets and year end with as little hassle as possible.  To their non-financial colleagues – also under work pressure – accountants are often viewed with caution and sometimes even trepidation and referred to by terms such as the ‘business prevention department’.  This is as far away from successful business partnering as one can be.  Accountants need to move from being scorekeepers on the sideline to being players on the team.

Let’s have a look at the mix of abilities that accountants need to achieve business partnering and invite you to think how you organization might be positioned and how you might be able to ‘up the game’.

Stewardship:

This has always been a key part of an accountant’s role with the annual report and accounts being a fundamental pillar of corporate governance and related accountability to owners, taxpayers and others.  Best practice requires the production of fair, balanced and understandable reporting for stakeholders. It also requires innovation in finding effective forms of reporting and producing succinct but meaningful reports.

Risk management:

Wider than but including internal controls.  Risk management should be integrated into and acted upon by the wider management team but it is often finance who act as a catalyst in challenging management and approaching risk management in a structured and disciplined way.

Analytics:

the use and application of numerical data has always been a key competence of an accountant.  But this is far wider than ever.  It should cover non-financial information as well as financial, and it should cover information external to the company and well as internal.  With modern technology and the advent of ‘big data’ some companies are accumulating enormous knowledge of their customers. This is potentially an enormous asset to an organization but only if used effectively.

Decision support:

This is critical at both a strategic and operational level.  Use of disciplines such as strategic planning, budgeting, forecasting, and investment appraisal are focused on optimal recourse allocation on behalf of stakeholders.  These are all forward looking and require skills in using existing information and trends and sensitivity and scenario planning. It also requires a clear understanding of the business model and the market and competitive context. Effective evidence based decision making gives a competitive edge to companies who have this skill and continuously improve it.

Communication and influence:

It’s no good producing reams of data, it’s no good just analyzing these, it’s not even any good providing great insights out of the analysis.  What is good is communicating these insights in a way that influences decision makers so has to have an impact on organizational performance.

If we get all of these working well then we have a chance of achieving the nirvana of effective business partnering.  There is an obvious cross over of all of these skills and activities – similar to a Venn diagram.   This is why we have created a suite of courses to help enhance personal and organizational skills across these areas – particularly in communication and influence which is probably out of the ‘comfort zone’ for some accountants.

However, a lot of this is focused on the supply side and we also need to make sure that demand exists for business partnering and, if not, how this can be encouraged.  This might include CEO and board intervention and direction, training, PR, low hanging projects to demonstrate value added, cross departmental projects, and other such moves.

Many organisations have found that increasing the skillset of their finance business partners has also encouraged a wider financial curiosity amongst non-finance colleagues which in turn has led to higher commercial awareness and greater financial fluency around the business and a move towards the nirvana described.

If this post resonates with you and you would like to discuss any talent development requirements in the area of Business Partnering, please contact our Corporate Business Team via 03300603333 or corporatebusinessteam@bpp.com.

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