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New Rules for Finance to Partner with Business Units

  • By Anders Liu-Lindberg
  • Published: 7/29/2015

In practically every company you will find business finance functions whose purpose is bringing finance closer to the business. But although these functions and teams were created with good intentions, many of them are not yet yielding the value that was expected.

The main reason for this is that there is no clear definition of what activities a business partner should engage in. Therefore, the position becomes a free-for-all to put whatever job content in it a company or manager wants. So in many of these positions you will find tasks like reporting, budgeting or even accounting-related responsibilities. None of those should be at the core of what a finance business partner does though.

We therefore need business partnering transformation. There are several key rules that finance business partners should abide by.

  1. The business partner’s activities must add value to the bottom-line.
  2. The business partner should be connecting strategy with execution—involvement with or driving major strategic or tactical initiatives such as cost savings or revenue optimization projects.
  3. The business partner should be the focal point between the support function and the business critical functions—meaning that the business critical functions should have one point of contact into finance.
  4. The business partner will also be the one to present the numbers to the business in order to ensure that there is one ultimate owner of the story which finance is sharing with the business.

Above provides a high level framework for what a finance business partner should do and what the company should expect from the function. Before moving on to making a very clear job description for the finance business partner 2.0, let’s first take a look at what skills and attributes are needed to be an effective finance business partner. The business partner must be:

  1. Able to work with strategic concepts that can drive a company forward or even change the direction setting of the company.
  2. Able to clearly measure and articulate the value they bring to the business.
  3. An excellent communicator.
  4. A facilitator of finance in the business to make sure all levels understand how they create value.
  5. Savvy with technology, using intelligent tools to analyze financial and operational information.
  6. A top finance talent, as this is the finance position with the highest potential impact.

Having defined the requirements to finance business partnering and the skills needed to be a finance business partner, let’s take a look at how you should then write the job description or job ad for your future finance business partners.

The job

As a finance business partner you will work with top management and functional leaders to create alignment between strategy and execution. Depending on the size of the company you might work across functions or specialize in one or two functions, i.e. sales, operations, etc. You will act as a facilitator who, with the company or functional strategy in hand, works with functional leaders to translate strategy into concrete actions. You will help the functional leader measure the impact of the actions taken and report back to management how the company or function is tracking on executing the strategy. You report to the CFO or business finance director yet your physical location is in the middle of the business you are supporting.

Your main responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Participate in strategy meetings with management to understand the direction setting of the company.
  • Participate in target setting and ensure that both short and long-term strategic priorities are catered to.
  • Arrange and facilitate workshops with functional leaders to create action plans on how to succeed with the strategy.
  • Performance management of agreed upon actions to ensure that each action can be measured on a concrete outcome, be it growth, savings, etc.
  • Communicate performance throughout the organization to ensure one set of numbers rather than each function and management team making their own assumptions.
  • Share best practices across the company, functions and locations.

Now try and compare this job description with the people you currently have sitting in your finance business partner roles. Also use it to take a good look at who you are recruiting in the future. Very few companies have managed to fully nail it when it comes to setting up and developing their business finance teams.

Anders Liu-Lindberg is Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line, Copenhagen, Denmark.

A longer version of this article appears in the July/August edition of AFP Exchange.


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