In practically all mid-size or large companies these days you will find finance business partners or business finance functions with the purpose of bringing Finance closer to the business. However, despite all these functions and teams have been created with good intentions many of them are not yet yielding the value that was expected. The main reason for this is that there is no clear definition of what activities a business partner should engage in. Therefore, the position becomes a free for all to put whatever job content in it a company or manager wants. So, in many of these positions, you will find tasks like reporting, budgeting or even accounting related tasks. None of those should be at the core of what a finance business partner does, though.
We, therefore, need Business Partnering Transformation and while it might be something different depending on what function you work in I will share my views on what a Finance Business Partner should be doing:
- All activities of the business partner must pass the value-added test i.e. are they related to adding value to the bottom line?
- The business partner should be connecting strategy with execution – meaning involvement with or driving major strategic or tactical initiatives such as cost savings or revenue optimization projects
- The business partner should be the focal point between the support function and the business-critical functions – meaning that the business-critical functions should have one point of contact into Finance
- The business partner will also be the one to present the numbers to the business to ensure that there is one ultimate owner of the story which Finance is sharing with the business
Above provides a high-level framework for what a finance business partner should do and what the company should expect from the function. Before moving on to making a very clear job description for the finance business partner 2.0, let’s first look at what skills and attributes are needed to be an effective finance business partner.
- Ability to work with strategic concepts that can drive a company forward or even change the direction setting of the company
- Clearly measure and articulate the value they bring to the business
- Excellent communicator
- Be a facilitator of finance in the business to make sure all levels understand how they create value
- Savvy with technology and use intelligent tools to analyze financial and operational information
- Recognized top finance talent as this is the finance position with the highest potential impact
Having now defined the requirements to finance business partnering and the skills needed to be a finance business partner, let’s look at how you should then write the job description or job ad for your future finance business partners.
As a finance business partner, you will work with top management and functional leaders to create alignment between strategy and execution. Depending on the size of the company you might work across functions or specialize in one or two functions i.e. Sales, Operations etc. You will act as a facilitator who, with the company or functional strategy in hand, works with functional leaders to translate strategy into concrete actions. You will help the functional leader measure the impact of the actions taken and report back to management how the company or function is tracking on executing the strategy. You report to the CFO or Business Finance Director yet your physical location is in the middle of the business you are supporting.
Your main responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Participate in strategy meetings with management to understand the direction setting of the company
- Participate in target setting and ensure that both short- and long-term strategic priorities are catered for
- Arrange and facilitate workshops with functional leaders to create action plans on how to succeed with the strategy
- Performance management of agreed upon actions to ensure that each action can be measured on a concrete outcome be it growth, savings etc.
- Communicate performance throughout the organization to ensure one set of numbers rather than each function and management team making their own assumptions
- Share best practices across the company, functions and locations
Personality and experience
As a person, you are a natural communicator and find it easy to engage with people no matter if they are senior leaders or front-line staff. You know your way around numbers and know how to use the latest technology and IT to present the data in an easy to understand way. You cope very well with change and people look to you as someone who is always on top of the situation. You understand that you are there to support your stakeholders and make them win. When they win you win and the company will perform very well. Your previous experiences include stints in other finance roles such as a business controller, financial analyst or even finance manager. However, you can also come out of the frontline as having experience from the business is equally important to that of financial experience.
Future career opportunities
The finance business partner is a very senior position in the finance organization in the specialist track but is typically the last step before taking on a senior leadership role in finance or for finance professionals to move into the frontline. Therefore, there is a wide range of career opportunities open to the finance business partner and this is also where the company tests its top finance talents. Now try and compare this job description / job ad with the people you currently have in your finance business partner roles. Also, use it to take a good look at who you are recruiting in the future. Most likely you will have a match with some of the characteristics, but only very few companies have managed to fully nail it when it comes to setting up and developing their business finance teams. Your finance business partners are the key to Finance adding value to your company and now is the time to start transforming your business finance team before they are deemed irrelevant by the rest of the organization and retreats into the corner where finance professionals usually come from.