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Finance business partnering: the conversations that count Logo cgma

  Free |   CIMA |   2015 |   Thought leadership

The CFO cannot participate in every decision in the business. Deploying Finance Business Partners to work alongside the managers of business units is a means of ensuring that financial disciplines and the influence of a good CFO permeates the business. As businesses adjust to a new post-crisis reality, these partners or management accountants have an ever more important role to play in ensuring that the information they need is filtered up to decision makers including the CFO and ensuring that the influence of the CFO is cascaded through the business. This report, based on 25 interviews and roundtables globally with senior executives, shows the kinds of decisions management accountants support. It also shows how they contribute to these decisions.

Topics covered:
  • Management accounting: People: Collaboration & partnering, Advanced

5 Comments/Reflections

Jason Sweeney

Jason Sweeney Jun 2018

This report provides the Chartered Management Global Accountant (CGMA) take on the role of a Finance Business Partner (FBP). The report does focus on commercial entities, however the relationships that are built through effective finance business partnering are relevant in both the private and public sectors.

Issues such as stakeholder engagement on financial matters or the need to dig beneath the numbers run across both sectors. The report does nevertheless also refer to the public sector and government funded organisations.

The opening paragraphs of the executive summary highlight how finance business partnering is an extension of the management accounting function. It states, “…Finance Business Partnering begins after the standard reports and analysis have been produced”.

There is an unfortunate acceptance that budget holders do not always use the financial evidence available to them as well as they might. The FBP should help drive change, that is, provide information and insight which aids stakeholders in their strategic and operational thinking.

The report displays graphically in the form of a grid the key functions of a Management Accountant (MA). The grid is split into four segments, Steward/Controller, Influencer/Enabler, Trusted Reporter and Commercial Analyst. The grid an its labels are similar to that found in the Civil Service handbook on Finance Business Partnering, these being, Business Expert, Trusted Advisor, Influencer and Financial Advisor. This similarity for me does highlight the close relationship between the role of a MA and FBP.

The report states that Finance Business Partnering should be part of a comprehensive finance transformation. This I believe is an important point. The concept of FBPs does require a shift in the dynamics and relationships between finance and the rest of business. Fundamentally, the finance function needs to move from being the “big brother” to the business its “friendly cousin”.The relationship should be close, but too close as to remove the objectivity on the part of the FBP.
Changing this historic relationship from oversight and review to one of sharing and collaboration will take time and effort from both sides. I would say that much of the work to drive this change should be on the part of the finance function.

The report provides three key areas where FBPs can contribute to the business:
  • 1)Supporting decisions at group level
  • 2)Decision support at business level
  • 3)Performance management
The report highlights common threads running through the global business world, references to shared services, digitization and collaboration with other business partners, eg HR business partners.

Failure to adapt to change is a significant risk for any organisation. We in the public sector have a duty to citizens to ensure that we are efficient, economical and effective in the delivery of public sector services and programmes. Finance Business Partners should not shy away from their responsibilities.

A key point which the report highlights is that much of the work of a FBP is at the operational as opposed to the strategic level. I agree with this point, strategic cycles are commonly three to five years, whereas operational decisions and planning are far more frequent.

Assisting the business with performance is an area where FBP should be involved, for example helping to set KPIs. FBPs should be able to add a degree of objectivity to the setting of targets and performance measures. The report emphasises the need for FBPs to measure performance against budgets and schedules. The report’s reference to risk is interesting, it explicitly states that it is the responsibility of the FBP to review the risk register to assess how identified risks may impact on performance.
The report covers the skills and traits of an effective FBP, I have made a note of these to aid my future CPD programme.

The overriding message is that effective communication in order to provide timely, useful and relevant information to decision makers. As Finance Business Partner it is my responsibility to understand the business and to ensure I communicate in a way which drives improvement and adds value.
The report was a worthwhile read.
Paula Bray

Paula Bray Mar 2016

An interesting report. It clarified some of the challenges my current organisation has with this transformation including cultural and IT issues. Important to remember the importance of engaging in conversations as part of this process, even if you have to start in an informal manner.

Javed Sultan

Javed Sultan Feb 2016

This case study has allowed me to reflect on the dynamics of my new role and a Finance business partner within my organization. It has allowed me to understand the VUCA world we live in and hence understanding the need for finance business partners to:

 - support decisions at group level

 - supports decisions at business level

 - Performance management

It has enabled me moving forward to encompass the entire value chain in order to effectively discharge my duties across the organization.

Arjun Malik

Arjun Malik Dec 2015

This was a very interesting article that reflected my experiences in a variety of organisations business partnering since 1998 , mainly support and professional services. The importance of behavioural competency is absolutely paramount in these business partnering roles - the ability to empathise with Operations colleagues as well as challenge them requires some skill. I believe I have developed this ability over this period but I also think it has helped that I am a natural listener with strong analytical skills too. These 2 attributes have helped me to be an effective business partner. This article also touches on the importance of Big Data in the modern environment - no organisation I have worked in has used this properly or invested enough in developing their IT systems to enable them to analyse the data they are collecting across various sources. This is an area I am pushing within my organisation - it will transform performance in the mid to long term. The business partner cannot be truly effective without access to detailed analytical data from operational and financial systems. The different insights provided by various accountants were very useful. 

Stephen White

Stephen White Dec 2015

A very good report which clearly demonstrates that the way forward for management accountants is for them to become finance business partners. This means that I will move from efficiency via information to influence leading to more influence in decision making. To achieve this I must develop my behavioural skills - understand the business more which will allow me to challenge with more authority, develop my communication skills to have greater influence when putting forward my opinions and develop further the ability to put the financials into the wider business scenario.