What does it take for finance business partnering to work in practice?

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Ruthless prioritisation, controlling the comms, and resolving conflicts are just a few of the success factors for three finance business partners.

Finance business partners can bring a unique view of the business to bear, understanding its challenges and objectives, while applying deep financial knowledge.

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Core finance can be backwards-looking, but finance business partners set out to be entirely forward-thinking. They work with numbers and data to create highly analytical reports and bring context and insight to help drive future business performance. It’s not always easy to achieve.

Here, three individuals share their successes and challenges.

“People want us to be strategic advisers”

Tendai Nyoka (pictured), Senior Finance Business Partner, Save The Children UK

I take an intermediary role between business and finance and vice versa, whether it’s problem-solving, making things more efficient or ensuring people have the right resources and information to do their job.

A finance business partner’s goal is to be a trusted adviser. We are multi-disciplined with technical and soft skills and have a unique 360° view of the business because we work across every department. People are looking to us to be strategic advisers to help drive performance.

We are the people in the team who have the accounting expertise in terms of processes, compliance and regulations. We’re in a good position to help navigate the business and work with senior leadership, providing insight into business performance and drive strategy.

Making sure vulnerable children are getting the right interventions and support is always on your mind

One of the big issues we face is managing conflicting priorities between business and central finance. The teams I work with are agile so things can happen quickly, but that doesn’t always align with financial processes. I often have to find solutions that work for everyone involved. It’s usually about conflicting objectives, so I’ve found it useful to make sure that everyone involved understands timelines, interdependencies in their work and what we’re ultimately trying to achieve.

As we’re a children’s charity, there’s a fine balance between assessing the impact on children and value for money – we have quite limited resources to achieve objectives and I often have quite challenging conversations with stakeholders around how funding is used to deliver the strategy. I address this through planning and ruthless prioritisation of activities to focus on impact. Making sure we have robust procurement processes and monitoring progress, so we can adapt when things don’t go to plan.

During the pandemic, we supported more than 14,000 children across the UK, so making sure vulnerable children are getting the right interventions and support is always on your mind.

“Senior leaders value me as a commercially-driven trusted adviser”

Manil Johal, Finance Business Partner, SAGE Publishing

When someone asks me what I do on a daily basis, I find it really hard to answer because every day is different. Being a finance business partner is not prescriptive – my role is constantly evolving and changing.

As part of the senior management group for my division, I manage the communication flow between business and finance – it’s a two-way street.

So while I ensure the finance director and chief financial officer are kept informed of business developments such as new product launches, divisional performance and business opportunities, I also work closely with non-finance stakeholders across different departments, communicating financial performance and providing insightful analysis.

“I’ve worked with IT on systems to improve data accuracy, visualise data and speed up repetitive tasks.”

I balance input from multiple stakeholders and take an objective look from a wider business perspective and reflect it using visual reports and forecast submissions. Often, it’s about challenging stakeholders and asking them ‘are we heading in the right direction?’ or ‘what could we be doing differently?’ So it’s really digging into the business and analysing the data we have. 

The business thinking is reflected in financial forecasts. Then I provide analysis and use KPIs to drive performance. It’s about adding colour and commercial insight through narrative and that’s where finance business partners should be adding value.

Yet because my work involves data analysis from multiple sources and creating recommendations, the prerequisite is that the data must be accurate, but that’s not a guarantee.

We’re currently going through a financial transformation here at SAGE. I’ve built reports and worked with IT to bring in new systems that improve data accuracy and speed up repetitive tasks, along with visualisation tools and automatic dashboards updated in real-time to transform financial data into digestible information for stakeholders.

I get a lot of job satisfaction knowing the impact my role has on the business. Senior leadership recognise the value in having a dedicated, commercially-driven, trusted adviser who has the financial know-how and contextual knowledge to provide data-driven insights and recommendations.

“Finance business partners add value because they have that all-round perspective”

Lisa van Bosch, Director of Strategic Finance, PRS for Music

“Historically, accountants and finance teams were focused on core finance activities, which are mostly backwards-looking in terms of analysis and reporting for what has occurred in the past. I’ve seen a big shift over the last 20 years in the value that finance business partners can bring to a business.

I see the finance business partner as a middle person between core finance and the business, having access to all financials and historical data, working closely with the business and other decision-makers.

But in many ways, I think the finance business partner’s role is quite understated. Finance business partners add a lot of value because they have that all-round perspective and they are so embedded in the business and have access to a lot of data. And that’s key – having robust systems in place and data that is readily available.

“Business partners can spend a lot of time collating information, whereas if the data was readily at their fingertips, they could spend more time forward-planning…”

That’s actually one of the pinch points for us – having readily available data.

A lot of companies invest in front-of-house technology, which is necessary and right, but it’s also important to make sure back-end technology is up-to-date, too. Business partners can spend a lot of time collating information, whereas if the data is at their fingertips, they can spend more time forward-planning, delivering insightful analysis and adding value.

Our key focus at PRS for Music is making sure we’re getting value for our songwriter, composer and publisher members. Unlike profit-driven businesses, every decision to spend money has to be about the benefit it brings to members – they are at the heart of every decision we make.

Main photo by Richard Gleed.

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Annie Makoff is a freelance journalist and editor.

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