At the Business Partnering Institute, we recognize that even though thousands of business partners are out there creating an impact every day it might be difficult for them to make a permanent impact through one initiative only. That’s because even if they find millions in savings or new revenue those findings become a part of the new baseline meaning next month, quarter year, etc. they need to help their stakeholders do it again. Just different money to be found. That’s not the case with this week’s story in the “Value Creation Series” which is brought to us by Marco Singh. Marco is currently an Interim Finance Director at WorldRemit and previously a long-time senior finance professional with Visa Europe (Visa) where amongst other roles he was a VP of Management Reporting and Interim Business Partner to Corporate Communications (Comms). Back in 2012, Marco helped Comms create something that to this day is still used and creating an impact on the UK business environment. So, we’re very happy that Marco has decided to share his story with us!
It’s the economy stupid!
In April 2018 Visa made a press release stating, “Consumer spending decline continues as March rounds off the worst quarter in five years”. This statement made Marco reflect on his time with Visa and how he helped them get this index started.
“The recent press release by Visa on their UK Spending Index wasn’t great news for the economy – with consumer spending the weakest since 2012. Fingers crossed the economy picks up over the coming months. It did, however, remind me of when this Index was first started. At the time, amongst other things, I was the Finance Business Partner for the Corporate Communications team.”
Spending on Visa cards accounts for £1 in £3 of all UK spending and while it might be unstructured data and doesn’t contain the full picture of how the economy is moving, it should be able to tell something about how it’s doing. That’s what the Comms team had thought of when they envisioned creating a high-profile index that would generate media interest and positive brand awareness. Marco was brought on to help the team with two objectives as he recalls it.
“I was asked to help them think through (1) what data would be required and (2) support the building of a model that could assess consumer spending patterns.”
Sounds like a simple task you’ve heard before as a finance professional, right? That might be but remember that the goal here was not just to find some dollars on the bottom-line but to make third parties outside the company take an interest in the work you do. This also leads us to an important Business Partnering tip.
Business Partnering tip #8: As a finance professional, you often have the luxury of not only sitting on top of a ton of data but more importantly the know-how to put it to use. All you must do is structure the data and the story in such a way that it’s easy and intuitive to understand for your business stakeholders. This is a unique position to have and to be successful you need to use it time and time again.
Building this index would require some advanced data-modelling and working with other business stakeholders to make it happen. As Marco termed it he needed to move “beyond the financials”.
“As part of the finance team I had sight of our financial data – but that was not what was needed here. I had to dive beyond the financials, identify and then source the underlying drivers that could be used as indicators of consumer spending. Working with some excellent external macro-economists and after some extensive data-cleansing, we were able to eventually produce a viable dataset & model.”
Now came the tipping point. Simply building the model wasn’t enough. The model might tell you what happened but not why it happened. Which results were statistical anomalies and which were significant and an indicator of spending? That’s where a business partner’s career makes or break. Do you bring “Analyses” to the table or do you bring “Insights”? Marco clearly brought insights to the Comms team and this was recognized by the team as well as in an endorsement from the Communications Officer for Visa at the time.
“Marco was an invaluable partner in using data to build credible corporate stories when I led the corporate communications function for Visa Europe. The UK Visa consumer spending index that he built, working alongside external macro-economists, has been sustained over multiple years, and is now referred to by HM Treasury as a source, and has been widely quoted, including by the FT. Marco is thorough, collaborative, has a strong business acumen, and is not afraid to challenge when needed.”
Not bad creating something that is being referred to by the Financial Times, Marco!
The key levers for success
Marco then goes on to list the keys to success in this particular case.
“Looking back, there were three key success factors from a business partnering perspective (1) there was a clear direction from the top on what needed to be delivered (2) going beyond the financials and understanding Visa’s trading performance (3) regularly communicating progress on the analytical model in a positive way and in terms that resonated with the non-financial team members.”
There’s a lot of food for thought when it comes to Business Partnering tips here but let us pull out an essential one.
Business Partnering tip #9: As you accept a task to do any work for your business stakeholders make sure you keep them informed along the way. If you fail to inform them and calibrate you might end up going in a completely wrong direction. It doesn’t mean that you should ask them every time you make a new formula in the Excel sheet but rather that you check in with them at key stages such as 1) reframing the issue ensuring you’ve fully understood the problem you’re trying to solve 2) presenting them with different solution options before you go all-in on one of them 3) present your conclusions after having tested the proposed solution to get a go or no-go.
Obviously helping the Comms team created a breakthrough in the external market and made a real difference in creating a true partnership. A true partnership is never just handed over to you but is built by helping your stakeholders achieving their goals. It was no different for Marco.
“It was a great team effort, but becoming a true partner occurred as the project proceeded and I was able to translate financial data into driver data and then into insights the Corp Comms team could understand. Essentially, I used their language, creating trust.”
Another textbook example of Business Partnering where a real impact was made! This one even with a 5+ year impact that’s still going strong!! We would like to hear your story too so don’t be shy! Simply send Anders a message on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you to report on your story too!