Finance business partnering survey
Making the right move
In February 2013, Deloitte launched the finance business partnering research study inviting finance leadership from top Irish and multi-national companies to share their views on finance business partnering.
“Business partnering” can be defined as the role that finance undertakes to support and challenge the business in ensuring that the chosen business strategies deliver the required shareholder value at an acceptable level of risk.
Encouragingly, the results show that finance business partnering is at the forefront of the Irish CFO’s agenda, with 91% of respondents indicating that they are looking to increase the time spent on partnering activities within their organisations over the next three years.
The role of finance and the demands placed on finance from today’s business are ever-changing. Driven by shifts in economic dynamics, finance needs to be agile, lean and ready to respond to the needs of the business and drive performance.
Taking a strategic view
The increasing demand on finance to create a high-performing business culture has encouraged CFOs around the world to look to and embrace finance business partnering.
This opportunity to redefine and invest in finance business partnering has been further enhanced by:
• The explosion in the quantity and variety of data available
• Commercial demands of new business models and economic conditions
• Opportunities presented by digital transformation
Many organisations have already started to invest in and develop finance business partnering capabilities. However, it is important for CFOs to translate such capabilities into tangible strategic benefits which are meaningful to the organisation. Making the transition from a traditional, back-office function to a more strategic, business facing, front office is not always an easy endeavour and requires commitment and effort to achieve.
The key priorities for CFOs looking to develop finance business partnering are as follows:
1. Taking a strategic view: Organisations are developing multiple strategies to provide a better environment for business partnering. Effective implementation of these strategies is key to ensuring that businesses can reap the benefits of business partnering.
2. A structured approach to drive value: Agreeing on where and how finance business partnering can add value to the organisation in order to allocate resources accordingly can be a challenging process. An uncoordinated approach to business partnering was identified by 31% of respondents as the biggest challenge in achieving finance business partnering buy-in within the organisation.
3. Instil a new set of skills and behaviours in the organisation: Developing and retaining a talent pool is critical to effective finance business partnering, with 28% of our survey respondents identifying talent deficiencies as a roadblock to developing finance business partnering activity.
4. Access to high-quality timely data: Content rich internal and external data is essential to enable finance business partners to make more effective and informed decisions. Based on our study’s results, there is an opportunity for Irish businesses to introduce greater systems support along with more standardised reporting to foster finance business partnering activity. Spreadsheets are the principal finance business partnering reporting tool, as identified by 42% of respondents. Similarly, 65% of respondents rely on bespoke reporting tools which are a more time-consuming alternative to standardised reporting.
Commercial acumen was ranked the number one competency required by a finance business partner. All respondents operated some degree of dual reporting line for finance business partners.
Making your move
The expectation for finance to add greater value to the business is growing and the opportunity for finance to support business success has never been stronger. Within a complex economic context, in which the path to profitable growth is unlikely to be straightforward, finance business partners are in a unique position to help steer the business. The quantity of data available, and the tools to turn that data into insight, is enabling an unprecedented level of analytical and commercial input into decision-making.
Within this context, CFOs and finance leaders have the opportunity now to ensure that they and their teams are able to effectively step into the role of strategic finance business partner, and become a catalyst for change. While the journey to effective finance business partnering is one of continuous improvement and learning, there are some practical actions that can set the right course for this journey.
1. Be very clear on where finance can add value to the business. Set an agenda for finance business partnering to enable the business strategy, address obvious high value areas, and ensure that all value opportunities are reviewed over time (as some of the quickest wins can come from areas that have not previously received any focus). By understanding where partnering effort will add the most value to the business, activities can be prioritised and finance can work with the business right from the start, gaining agreement on the partnering role and ensuring immediate buy-in to the approach.
2. Remove the barriers to adding value, and demonstrate the results – step-by-step, area-by-areaThe most critical enabler of effective finance business partnering is leadership and good leaders make progress despite the challenges they face. Addressing each value area in turn and doing whatever is necessary to obtain the insight and influence to deliver the value creates a “virtuous circle” of belief in finance’s business partnering ability, both within the function and also within the wider business. Celebrating successes and highlighting role model behaviours will help set the tone for the way finance wants to act as a strategist and catalyst.
3. Sustain the improvement by addressing the fundamental enablers of financial capabilityWhile immediate progress can (and should) be made irrespective of the challenges, it is important to address the four fundamental enablers of financial capability in order to sustain that progress. Insight tools, data quality, skills development and career progression opportunities are all necessary to maintain the motivation of good finance business partners. Setting a clear and achievable roadmap to address the gaps in these enablers over time (with an initial focus on the higher priority gaps) will sustain the capability development.