Do you have what it takes to succeed as a finance business partner?

By Robert Half on 26 October 2019

Business partnering has existed in one form or another for decades but in recent years the business world has seen a growing demand for effective finance business partners with organisations of all sizes.

As the business environment becomes more complex, the finance department is having to adapt. The finance function is evolving to meet growing demands from the business and is increasingly expected to take on a value-added, ‘business partnering’ role, to help other parts of the business improve their analysis and decision-making.

Business departments are eager for the support of finance professionals who understand the objectives of the business and can analyse real-time information to support their decision-making. Businesses need a culture of governance, accountability and scrutiny, where strategic and tactical decisions alike are based on data and projected figures.

If you are an accounting or finance professional who is eager to expand your role within the business, read on to find out if the role of Finance Business Partner is right for you.

What is finance business partnering?

Finance business partnering often means different things to different people and supports or solves a variety of challenges.

Broadly, though, it involves finance executives working alongside different business departments, providing financial information, tools, analysis and insight to executives, challenging their thinking, helping them make more informed decisions and driving business strategy.

In effect, the partnership breaks down the barrier between accountancy and management to support business objectives.

What value does a finance business partner provide?

Overall, finance is not just checking the data and the formulas, but understanding and checking the hypotheses behind management’s views, and ensuring the goals being pursued are aligned with the company strategy.

Faced with a complex and volatile environment, companies need to develop a clearer understanding of the drivers of business performance and the effect of new initiatives on the development of the company. Finance business partnering can help to achieve this.

The process is agile and open to interpretation depending on the company or department, as well as its objectives. It might be a short, mid or long-term relationship, a permanent one, or when a decision needs to be made.

Examples of how these business partnering relationships operate:

  • The finance business partner might work with business unit heads to help clarify how particular key performance indicators (KPIs) are calculated, or how exchange rates are managed.
  • The finance business partner can work with HR to help calculate compensation packages across the business – using comparable data, and correcting for inflation. They might review forecasts to ensure these are realistic and that no big risk factors have been overlooked.
  • The finance business partner may explain to a sales team the financial impact of certain guarantees included in a sales promotion.
  • The finance business partner might work with the R&D department, ensuring that competing research projects are evaluated consistently, or by setting the criteria, such as short-term returns, level of risk, or strategic interest, in order for such judgements to be made.

What skills does a finance business partner need to possess?

While technical finance skills used to be perceived as the only requirement to perform a finance and accounting job, soft skills have become a must-have for finance business partners.

As business partners, finance professionals now need a commercial appreciation of the business, as well as leadership, team-building, interpersonal, presentation and other soft skills.

Those working in a business partnership role need to have the right blend of both data and communication skills, so that the relationship works fluidly. Building interpersonal skills alongside a thorough understanding of the overall vision and mission of the business are possibly the biggest advantages a business partner can possess.

A business partnership is a dual role, which can provide a pragmatic financial overview balanced against the management and operational needs of a business unit.

Key communication skills together with a clear understanding of both budgets and KPI are prime skills.

A successful business partner will be able to show that he or she can analyse data; can understand what both sides of a given partnership require; can identify strengths and weaknesses across a business unit or entire company; and set company and individual goals.

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