To fully understand the topic of finance business partnering, we need to look at those that the finance business partner support and what is needed to adequately deliver this support. First, I’ll repeat an unscientific survey I did in one of my posts last year. I simply searched for open jobs for Accountant, Finance Business Partner and “Business Finance”. My thesis would be that there are now more jobs related to finance business partnering and business finance whereas accountants would remain at the same level.
Accountant: July 2015 = 17,000 – September 2016 = 22,000 (+29%)
Finance Business Partner: July 2015 = 100 – September 2016 = 90 (-10%)
Business Finance: July 2015 = 4,000 – September 2016 = 6,000 (+50%)
From above it’s clear though that while “Business Finance” is in heavy growth and there are even more openings looking for an Accountant the role of the Finance Business Partner doesn’t seem to gain traction in the US. Searching for vacancies of Finance Business Partner in the UK gives a more positive result with 500+. In the US, it’s still the Financial Analyst that reigns supreme with 8,000+ openings when it comes to the more value adding part of Finance. Having already described the differences between the financial analyst and the finance business partner, I still firmly believe that finance functions by adding the finance business partner role under the right circumstances can be a lot more value adding. I say the right circumstances because it requires a certain degree of finance transformation which I have described in the previous posts of this series. If you haven’t gone through this transformation journey your finance business partners will be less successful and not yield the value you expected.
To support someone you must KNOW, UNDERSTAND and BE GOOD AT what they do
There’s one more requirement if you want your finance business partners to be successful and that is acquiring business knowledge. Not just general business knowledge but deep functional expertise in the area they support. Historically finance business partners have been appointed in a generalist role where they needed to support the business as best as possible. It was not clear which business function they supported and whether they found value from savings, additional revenue or process efficiencies didn’t really matter. Now I say it does matter. If you truly want to help someone become more successful themselves you must have an in-depth understanding of what they do. If you don’t know anything about Sales how can you support a Sales Manager? If you don’t know anything about production how can you support a Plant Manager? You need to at least know and understand what they do and ideally, you should also be good at it. If you don’t develop this functional expertise you will find it hard to gain their trust and buy-in which is so crucial for being a finance business partner.
Putting Finance Business Partnering on a formula
Once you get this then putting finance business partnering on a formula that everyone can follow isn’t that complicated. You need to align the job description of your finance business partner roles to those of the functional managers they support. Their one goal is clear and it must be to make sure the functional managers are a success. They do that by providing insightful analyses derived from their own business knowledge and discussions with the functional managers. Together they agree on actions to drive the business forward. Simple yet so very difficult to execute because there are so many pre-requisites. Reaching this stage also makes it easier for you to find people that can fill the finance business partner role as it’s now much more clearly defined. They don’t need to be the Jack of all Trades but rather someone with business knowledge and analytical savviness combined with effective communication skills. These people are findable. Your Superhero does-it-all finance professional doesn’t exist.
Now tell me what’s preventing you from delivering the support you want to your business stakeholders? Which part of your finance transformation journey is still unfinished? What business knowledge and acumen do you feel you lack? Answering all these questions to improve yourself or your finance business partners is crucial to the future success of Finance.