Transformation of finance function creates new skills shortage for UK companies

15 April 2013
  • Finance executives asked to support other parts of the organisation through business partnering
  • A third (33%) of UK executives find it hard to source candidates with the right experience
  • 58% say it’s ‘very difficult’ to retrain traditional finance employees to take on business partnering role

London, 15 April 2013 – The vast majority (81%) of UK executives want to form stronger partnerships between the finance department and other parts of the business, according to a new research report1 from leading recruitment specialist Robert Half Management Resources. However, a third of executives (33%) say that they find it difficult to source candidates with the right experience to implement a business partnering approach. Nearly six in 10 (58%) report that it is ‘very difficult’ to retrain existing traditional finance professionals to take on a business partnering role and as a result, 70% will be looking externally for talent whether via the recruitment of permanent employees (35%) or interim professionals (35%).

The report gauges the progress that companies in the UK (and their European counterparts) have made in developing finance business partnerships and the problems faced in embedding such partnerships within the organisation.

A range of drivers are pushing finance partnering to become ‘mission critical’ in the UK: they include the increased complexity of business, more intense competition, technological change and greater business volatility. Almost two-thirds (64%) of UK respondents believe that economic uncertainty increases the need for a company’s finance function to develop business partnering capabilities.

The survey reveals SMEs share many similarities with larger companies when it comes to business partnering. Indeed, business partnering is equally accepted in SMEs and larger businesses alike: nearly half (45%), respectively, feel that wider acceptance from the business is necessary to enable partnering to prosper.

Despite the clear commitment by executives at large and small companies alike to push through change, nearly one in four (24%) UK respondents struggle to implement business partnering properly, and only half (50%) have a function that is fully embedded across the organisation.

Phil Sheridan, Managing Director, Robert Half Management Resources said:“The research highlights a new skills gap for finance departments who want to make the transition from traditional accountancy to add extra value across their organisations, including optimising the performance of the business, providing support for better business decision-making, and improving risk management throughout the organisation.  Our research shows that the vast majority of finance teams see the requirement to change, but lack the right people to put it into practice. 

“Finance needs specific talent programmes to identify and develop business partners, and manage their careers, in a structured way.  Job rotation, foreign assignments and job shadowing have a role in facilitating the necessary skills and experience.  Attracting finance personnel with the right profile may require a rethink of traditional career paths for finance executives: aspiring finance business partners need to see that there are clear and exciting opportunities to further develop their careers within the business.

“Talent programmes will include plans for hiring the right finance people to become business partners.  The majority of executives in our report (70%) are looking externally to hire those individuals: more than a third (35%) will hire additional permanent staff, the same proportion (35%) will hire interims and only 30% plan to develop existing talent in-house.”

Business partnering: Five steps to get you started

1. Define your objectives

Every company is unique.  It is essential to establish specific inter-departmental objectives that align with the overall business strategy.

2. Conduct a skills audit

Assess the competencies that already exist in-house, establishing which team members bring not only the requisite technical and soft skills but also the business acumen and communication proficiency necessary to partner with other business units.

3. Perform a systems and process review

Once the right talent is identified, it is essential that they have access to the necessary information and reports that will allow them to provide added value. Understanding each department’s objectives and providing data to support key initiatives and goals will help bridge the gap between finance and the rest of the business.

4. Engage an interim solution

An interim professional can help your company manage the transformation to a business partnering environment or help with its ongoing execution. Interims can also mentor staff or help manage the backlog of the day-to-day work while the initiative is under way.

5. Identify the right talent

Sourcing external talent for business partnering roles can be challenging because until recently, the concept as a functional role did not exist for many businesses. Hiring managers therefore need to critically examine candidates’ experience and how they played a commercial role with their previous employer. Look for candidates with strong data manipulation, cost accounting and financial analysis expertise, along with effective interpersonal and communication skills.

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Notes to editors

About the Survey

1 The Robert Half Management Resources Business Partnering report, written in collaboration with Longitude Research, is based on a survey of 200 UK group or divisional finance directors. In addition to the survey, we conducted 16 in-depth interviews with financial professionals and experts. 

 

About Robert Half

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy and member of the S&P 500. Founded in 1948, the company has over 350 offices worldwide providing temporary, interim and permanent recruitment solutions for accounting and finance, financial services, technology and administrative professionals. Named one of the Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies to Work For, Robert Half offers workplace and job seeker resources at roberthalf.co.uk and twitter.com/roberthalfuk.