I decided to leave the corporate world a few years ago in an attempt to give back to an industry I felt was losing its reputation within commercial organisations. At the time the most influential accountants I saw within commercial organisations were the ones who were sitting in “Finance Business Partnering” roles. Whether these were titled Commercial Managers, Finance Managers, Senior Analyst, or even Performance Manager didn’t matter. What did matter was that these individuals all had one thing in common. They were the trusted person within their organisation at their level that everyone turned to, for a well-considered, measured and objective view of the issues facing the organisation. When other functions had an issue, this is the person they would turn to for assistance in helping them. And non-finance people wanted to work with them.
Most of them are not accountants.
But this is what Finance Business Partnering is.
- Working with the organisation on the most important issues facing them, understanding context of the other non-finance functions, and viewing it through the lens of the finance department, so that a balanced and measured opinion or recommendation can be made.
- It is not about reporting and compliance. It is not backwards-looking.
- It is not just about identifying trends and what would happen “if”.
- It is about exploring ideas with your partners and helping them execute on influencing the current trajectory of performance which may be offtrack (or expand on ideas that are producing great results and accelerating them).
Getting to Fiji
One way to help cut through the complexity of finance information with non-finance people is to enlist the use of metaphor. So, in order to explain Finance Business Partnering let’s consider a metaphor...
Picture yourself on a yacht heading out of Sydney, with the final destination Fiji. You have planned for this trip, reviewed the weather, ensured the yacht is capable of the journey, etc., and you set sail. But as you head out of the harbour and sail into the night the conditions change. The weather is completely different and you suffer significant damage to your boat.
With you on the boat are three people. An accountant, a good finance person and a finance business partner.
The “Accountant” tells you all the information you need to know about what happened. You came from Sydney. The weather “was” this and your boat “was” in this condition.
The “good finance person” tells you that as well, but they also identify that if things continue going the way they are going, you will probably end up in New Zealand, or at worst sink.
The “finance business partner” finds opportunities for insight and to add value to the situation, and most importantly, helps you get to Fiji.
So, how does an accountant move from being a compliant type bean counter to a value-add influential finance business partner?
The following three thoughts are a good start:
Get away from your desk and your spreadsheets and get out into the business. If you are in FMCG go to your customers stores and see your products and your competitors. If you are in property, visit the sites of your assets. Online businesses, use your website. Speak to people who know their function so you can also understand it. Ask questions and listen actively. All of these things will tell you more about your organisation than a spreadsheet and a table full of numbers will. It’s why horse racing enthusiasts go to the track, they don’t just read the form guide. Data is both qualitative and quantitative.
Utilise technology as best you can and be a conduit between IT and the rest of the organisation. How do your systems hang together and what is the source of truth you can anchor to. IT and numbers are really hard for people who are not in those functions. Make it easy for them. How do you efficiently extract information that is usable? And most importantly, how do you turn the information you have at your disposal (which will be vast) into usable chunks so you can visually influence people? The fact it is reconciled and complete is less relevant, what is the “so what”? How do I make it look interesting for someone? There are several tools out there these days that can help with this.
Talk to people, in person
Our lives these days are so “online” it has taken away one of the main success factors of business, people. It's why you go to visit your customer rather than emailing them. Emailing and texting people is quick and simple but it is not as effective if you are trying to understand context and performance. A phone call can be great and so can a skype call to the other side of the world. But to be the most effective communicator you can be, get in front of people and read their body language. Live. No time delay. Real things can be discussed more efficiently, you build rapport and you get a continuous read on how the person behaves which helps you when you are working with them moving forward.
Finance Business Partnering is a new word. But it is not a new concept. The best finance individuals in organisations have been doing this for years. They may not have the title of Finance Business Partner but what they do have is this ability to understand things deeply, they know where to find information quickly, they are well regarded and respected by others as they have spent time with others a lot and above all else, they add value in their organisations in the eyes of their stakeholders.