Can you succeed as a finance business partner?

Business partnering has existed in one form or another for decades but in recent years the UK has seen a growing demand for effective finance business partners with organisations of all sizes. Businesses need a culture of governance and accountability and scrutiny, where strategic and tactical decisions alike are based on fine data and projected figures.

The finance function of the future is evolving to meet growing demands from the business as we continue to see business operate with increased complexity. Businesses are eager for the support of finance professionals who understand the objectives of the business and can analysis real-time information to support their decision making. If you are an accounting and finance professional who is eager to expand your role within the business, read on as the role of finance business partner may be right for you.

Firstly, what is a finance business partner?

In a report by the ICAEW ‘the label business partnering is a rhetorical device designed to change the internal and external perceptions of finance department. Within finance departments, the label can be used to emphasise that finance’s role is about contributing to the business rather than pursuing a narrow departmental agenda. Elsewhere in the organisation, labelling finance as a business partner can help to break down stereotypes of what accountants and the finance department do.’

In a report by CIMA and KPMG, ‘finance business partnering is about the supporting the whole business to raise standards in key decisions areas, taking a forward-looking and commercial view supported by a rich consulting toolkit and high emotional intelligence to help articulate different options and influence decisions.

As is evident with the above definitions, finance business partnering often means different things to different people and supports or solves a variety of challenges. Broadly, though, it involves finance executives working alongside different business departments, providing financial information, tools, analysis and insight to executives, challenging their thinking, helping them make more informed decisions and driving business strategy.

In effect, the partnership breaks down the barrier between accountancy and management to support business objectives.

What value do finance business partners provide?

The process is agile and open to interpretation depending on the company or department, and its objectives. It might be a short, mid or long-term relationship or a permanent one, or employed on an interim basis when a decision needs to be made.

A report on finance business partnering by CGMA highlights a number of scenarios in which a business partnership can be advantageous.

The three main areas where a company can benefit are:

  1. Supporting decisions at group level, such as change management.
  2. Decision Support at business unit level, such as planning and budgeting.
  3. Performance management, comprising cost leadership.

Therefore, care needs to be taken to ensure that those working in a business partnership role have the right blend of both data and communication skills, so that the relationship works fluidly. A finance partner, for example, might not be able to provide the answers that are ‘wanted’ or that can push the company forward in a certain way at that time. Building interpersonal skills alongside a thorough understanding of the overall vision and mission of the business are possibly the biggest advantages a business partner can possess.

A business partnership is a dual role, which can provide a pragmatic financial overview balanced against the management and operational needs of a business unit. Key communication skills allied to a clear understanding of both budgets and KPI are prime skills. A successful business partner will be able to show that he or she can analyse data; can understand what both sides of a given partnership require; can identify strengths and weaknesses across a business unit or entire company; and set company and individual goals. That is a strong set of skills to take forward.

If you are interested in becoming a finance business partner, view our roles today.