If there is one thing you hear from your finance team these days it is that they want to partner with you to create results and add more value to the company. All finance functions with respect for themselves have created business partner sections and are trying to escape the bore of transactional processes and being labelled as bean counters. However, how many success stories have you heard about where Finance saved the day for the company and made the difference between success and failure? My guess is not that many. This doesn’t mean that the business partner concept is a failure, however, it does mean that we need to look much more into how we can develop and improve it. Business partnering or business finance is the future of finance so let’s look at how we can become much better at it.
The full finance transformation
First, we reviewed a framework to transform your finance function in The Finance Transformation Nine Box. Second, we looked at Why Accountants Are An Endangered Species and discussed what accountants need to do to stay relevant. Lastly, we talked about How Finance Can Become An Analytics Powerhouse by taking over analysis tasks from frontline teams. Now the time has come to expand on the last piece of the nine-box when discussing the business partner concept in more detail. As I had described in an article from last year on The Skills Of A Finance Business Partner Deloitte had identified what tasks and characteristics a business partner was typically associated with.
- Strategic tasks that help achieve top business priorities
- Clearly measure and articulate the value they bring
- Effectively deliver against aligned finance and business agendas
- Use intelligent tools to analyze financial and operational information
- Are top talent in the organization
For that, we can also deduct that a good finance business partner is dependent on having “one set of numbers” that are error free. Furthermore, they need the backing of the analytics powerhouse to be able to bring value-adding insights to the business on a continuous basis. It is clear, that without these pre-requisites business finance will never become what it was meant to be, however, it doesn’t stop there.
Here is where the influencing starts
Once the analytics powerhouse has been established the business is dependent on finance provide the important KPI measures to them. It is very clear that the frontline business teams own the KPIs, but the finance business partnering starts with leveraging these KPIs to influence the line managers to make better decisions. This requires that the finance business partner is able to communicate effectively both the financials and the business KPIs to the managers. In addition, to truly gain the buy-in from the business to the business finance concept the finance business partners must on their own initiative be able to analyze and understand the business to independently make suggestions for business improvements. This could happen when you participate in meetings with the business and you are able to pick up on the small things they say which between the lines they want someone to solve, but don’t think you are capable of doing it. Once you have shown that you on own initiative were able to solve it for the line managers you start to gain buy-in and have found a recipe for success. Do this well a few times and you have won them over. Then they see you as part of the business and someone that can help them achieve their goals.
The winning formula
The winning formula to deliver successful finance business partnering is quite simple then. Automate, eliminate or digitize your transactional processes, invest in your analytical processes both when it comes to systems, but certainly also in the people to develop an analytics powerhouse and finally leverage this new platform to deliver insightful analyses and make suggestions on how to improve the business. Do this well, and yes, I know it’s not easy at all, and you can firmly place the CFO as the right hand the CEO and the Finance department as a well-respected function within the business i.e. you will not be standing on the sidelines anymore!
I am very interested in your opinion on this topic. What’s your winning formula for creating a successful finance function? Are there other areas we need to look at when transforming finance?