The Finance Business Partner — An Employable Role?

By Ben Wann, Founder of The Numbers Guys
& Benjamin Stoter, Contributing Member of The Numbers Guys

Imagine this: you need to hire someone for your team who is well-rounded, dynamic, affable, and has the leadership potential to help the organization deliver on its strategic priorities.

So, you walk over to human resources, and you try and explain what it is that the business needs from this role. You explain the situation as such:

We need someone who can build respect, influence, and strong relationships across the organization AND
who can take the lead on strategic projects and deliver results AND
who has a strong accounting background AND
who has the ability and willingness to dive into the data AND
who can explain accounting terms to non-accountants AND
who is naturally inclined to work across business units and departments to build close relationships, real and active partnership with both operations and management AND
who comes with a natural curiosity and continuous improvement mindset that understands the skills and knowledge in-demand today AND
who is comfortable working with strategy formulation, negotiations, and decision support AND
who understands data models, productivity tools, and business intelligence solutions AND
who can take the lead on business analysis; whether it be optimizing current data models and tools or being able to recommend and implement new ones.

How would you even begin to put a title on this set of requirements and expectations for the role?

Senior accountant? Too restrictive. Project manager? Not technical enough. Finance Director? Too high level. Financial Analyst? Maybe, but what about the leadership aspects?  IT analyst? Not enough focus on industry knowledge. Where do we find an accountant with charisma or selling skills?

See the problem?

We know that the business need is real for these skills and capabilities. We also know that the accounting roles today are rapidly shifting. The question then is, can we apply the same traditional terminology to a radically different breed of professional?

This is where Finance Business Partnering comes in. 

Many people across the business world have worked to discuss, define, and scope out what the Finance Business Partner is to the point where most thought leaders are in agreement. This matters because the job description that we started with explains what a Finance Business Partner is expected to do and how they do it. The term serves as a common flag or banner that we can all unite under; regardless of geography or culture.

To further explain the Finance Business Partner role, let’s talk about what it isn’t. This is not an entry-level position. The level of experience and responsibility will be that of at least a manager. Several years of experience (at least five) and a variety of roles in different aspects in a business is expected as the minimum threshold.

The Finance Business Partner is a role that is demonstrated, not proclaimed. Jim, the accountant, is not suddenly Jim the Finance Business Partner because he wanted to rebrand himself after a one day workshop. This is a results and action-based livelihood.

In short, the finance business partner is an experienced, well-rounded, and dynamic professional who can step into any organization and quite quickly deliver long-term value.It is important that we identify and apply the term Finance Business Partner in the hiring process to clearly communicate and align our business needs and expectations of the candidates.

We will continue to recognize that the Finance Business Partner represents exactly what businesses need not only in the current environment but in the future, as well. It will only become more accepted with each new advancement in technology that drives more complexity in businesses.

To answer the question posed in the title of this article, “Is the financial business partner an employable role?” The answer is yes. 

The idea of a new future-ready role is not just a fantasy, a prediction, or self-interested delusion, either. If you were to go to the job site or even the LinkedIn Jobs page, there is page after page urgently requesting the role. The Finance Business Partner is a recognized beacon of business excellence who works as an internal consultant within a company to deliver results by driving accountability. 

Key insights

Skills and attributes required to be an effective Finance Business Partner.

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

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 met
  • 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

A Finance Business Partner must…

  • Must be able to influence and challenge across the business to ensure processes and activities are geared for maximum performance.
  • Must be involved in business decision making, not just as a “trusted advisor”, but as a key influencer. That is true partnership. The Finance Business Partner should be part of the management team and should contribute to discussions and decisions as an equal rather than an observer.
  • Must know the business and know Finance, inside and out. This not only instils trust and confidence in you from your business colleagues. It means that together you will improve the performance of the business.
  • Activities must pass the value-added test. Are they related to adding value to the bottom line?
  • Should be connecting strategy with execution- i.e. driving major strategic or tactical initiatives such as cost savings or revenue optimization projects.

So, what does the future look like for the higher-end Finance Business Partners? 

As demand for the role accelerates and the supply of candidates dwindles, there will be several boutique recruitment firms that will take notice of the trend in demand for this very specialized role that pays very well.

The pioneering firms will then focus on building a pipeline to attract and match the candidates in the market with employers who recognize the value of Finance Business Partnering. 

Furthermore, in order to attract these candidates in the market and build this pipeline, recruiting firms will need to facilitate a strong website that is backed by articles, blogs, books, and courses; all around the Finance Business Partner. 

“If you build it, they will come.”

Part of the journey will be to help identify people who do Finance Business Partner work and haven’t self-associated themselves with the role and to also connect younger professionals with the educational and mentoring resources that they need to develop into a Finance Business Partner over time.

We have only just begun on the path of the Finance Business Partner, and there is massive potential and change ahead of us. The expectations and demands of finance are rapidly transforming, and we need to be ready and answer with a defined skill and competency set that bridges technical acumen, technology, and influence.

This article is republished with permission.