Do less FP&A: The art of becoming a business partner

If you want to be more influential in your business, you and your team need to spend less time in the FP&A weeds. In his new column for AccountingWEB, Andy Shambrook talks about how this transition could be managed. 

What’s the different between an accountant and a finance business partner? No, it’s not a joke!

Most of us go into finance to do more than just turn the wheel. I know I did. But I soon found myself up to my eyes in reporting, budgeting and forecasting with no time to really get involved in the commercial business.

When I became a FD, I realised that if I wanted my finance team to influence commercial decisions, I had to free up time for them to actually do it.

So, I created a new FP&A team solely responsible for reporting, budgeting and forecasting. And I created a small number of dedicated finance business partner roles. One for sales, one for marketing, and one for supply chain.

These roles had no traditional finance process responsibilities. No month-end. No reporting. No budgeting. No forecasting. FP&A all did that. In fact, the finance business partners became customers of FP&A

I gave the finance business partners a simple brief: go out there and get to know people. Find out what they need. And help them achieve their commercial and operational objectives.

Help make the financial outcomes of commercial ideas better, without making the commercial ideas worse. Splitting traditional finance activities from finance business partnering made a real difference.

You see finance business partnering isn’t a job title. You can’t just change someone’s role from management accountant to finance business partner and expect them to suddenly start influencing.

Finance business partnering is a mindset and a set of activities, that are very different to the mindset and activities of an accountant.

Accountants focus on transactions, reconciliations, reporting, analysis, budgeting and forecasting. All are important activities but watch out, because over the next five to 15 years we will probably see large parts of them automated.

Finance business partnering on the other hand is about three distinct activities: building relationships, turning data into insights, and bringing numbers to life.Do those three things and you’ll influence decisions. And that’s the point of being a finance business partner: to influence decisions.

For the last five years I been helping companies all over the world develop finance business partnering, and here are the two most common problems I see:

  1. People don’t really know what finance business partnering is

  2. Even when they do know what it means, they are too busy reporting, budgeting, and forecasting to do it!

Accountants report, budget, and forecast.Business partners build relationships, turn data into insight, and bring numbers to life. Two very different skill sets. Two very different preferences.

Yet we try and find someone who can do both and enjoys doing both. And those people are really hard to find. Sure, it’s easy to find people who are good at and like reporting, budgeting and forecasting. But those people are not normally natural relationship builders.

They don’t normally love to be on their feet presenting. They would often prefer to be at their desks working on their computer, rather than having a coffee or visiting a customer.

And if you do find someone who is great at building relationships, the last thing they probably want to do it sit at their computer all day churning through spreadsheets.

So, what’s the difference between an accountant and a finance business partner? Well in most companies, nothing. Because for the most part all we’ve done is rename accountants as finance business partners and left the activities the same.

If you want to become a true finance business partner you need to substantially reduce the amount of time you spend reporting, budgeting, and forecasting. And if you lead a finance team and want to improve their influence, you need to free up the time and head-space for people to build the relationships they need to turn data into insight and influence.

Because if I only had one word to describe finance business partnering, it would be relationships. While accountants build spreadsheets, influential finance business partners build great relationships.     

This is the first in an ongoing series of articles on developing finance business partnering. Next month we’ll look at how we turn data into insight, the cornerstone of successful finance business partnering.



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