Finance Business Partnering

Posted by on Dec 12, 2013 in Business Partnering | 4 Comments

shutterstock_122895541Thanks for all of you who responded to my recent survey and I have summarised your views below.

The finance business partner seems to be the “new black” in the context of accounting roles with job sites increasingly requiring such skills. I have experience of working with companies with well developed finance business partnering competencies and am also currently writing a book on the subject. However I have been taken aback by the attitude from some of the business partners I have experienced at seminars I recently delivered for one of the major professional accounting bodies on their executive development programmes. It would seem that some of them have simply had their role either renamed finance business partner, or the role has been created and they were sent on a seminar to me to find out what they need to do.

The term business partner in my experience is used to apply to many varied roles with not all of them accurate. A finance business partner is someone who operates in a cross functional role helping the organisation understand the financial dimension of its challenges. A good finance business partner will have the trust of the management team and will be the person they go to for help on finance issues. It will normally involve very little transactional accounting and has evolved as a result of improvements in technology which have led to much of transactional accounting being automated, outsourced or transferred to shared service centres. In such organisations finance has had to redefine its role to remain a key business player.

There is a lot of academic journalist comment on how it is changing the role of finance and how everyone is embracing the role but from my recent exposure to many finance business partners I was not so sure and decided to conduct my own research to see what was happening.

Unlike a detailed rigorous academic research project I simply asked a series of short questions to a cross section of about 700 finance staff ranging in roles from group finance directors to newly qualified staff working in a cross section of organisations covering: financial services, healthcare, FMCG, media and public sector. 25% of the respondents worked in organisations with 54 000 average employees with the rest evenly spread from 25 employees to 2600 employees respectively.

I wanted to see what their take on finance partnering was and how their finance function operated as I was not convinced it was how many articles would have us believe.

I was interested in how much time finance staff spent performing transactional accounting work and nearly 28 % of respondents spent more than 75% of their time on this with only 22% spending less than a quarter of their time on transactional work. In the more progressive organisations you will find that a finance business partner is often completely free from transactional responsibility with organisations often creating their own separate dedicated transactional department.

I was also interested in the functional dynamics of the office. Often a finance business partner is more effective when not located in a financial silo but as part of a cross functional team. It was interesting to note that in 72% of respondents, the organisation’s finance team all sat together with only 10% working in an organisation that had no distinction between functions.

In terms of personal development 22% said that this was part of an organised program with 34% saying it was done on an ad hoc basis as and when time allowed.  Many successful organisations would provide people with the opportunities but would not force them on the individual but hope for them to use their own initiative and drive in their development.

In terms of where finance development had been focused, almost 30 % of people had been exposed to specific job placements with a similar number having had development on presentation skills, coaching and business awareness.

I had not intended the survey to be too finance business partner focused and did not actually use the term until towards the end of the survey and it was interesting to observe that nearly 50% of those surveyed had never heard of the term “Finance business partner” and the term was only used as a job title in 22% of organisations. In these organisations 50% of the respondents believed that its use lead to a more successful business.

The main challenges that most people considered most relevant were those of resistance to change when trying to implement partnering and a lack of trust and communication amongst the senior management team.

If you are currently working in a partnering role and would like to learn more and share your experiences with other partners I have agreed to coordinate a business partnering network on linked in. To enrol simply go to Financial Business Partner Network on linkedin

To those of you who contributed many thanks and hope the information is useful.


  1. Andy Green
    March 11, 2014

    Sean, very interesting perspective, would welcome further conversation with you on this topic.

  2. Neil
    October 29, 2014

    Hey Sean

    as an active FBP for more years than I care to remember…I would love to get a copy of that FBP book when written


  3. Neil
    October 31, 2014

    this is pretty accurate

  4. WiseUpNow » Light bulb moment
    September 29, 2015

    […] of the key things we see when working with finance business partnering teams (link to a finance partnering blog)is that the successful ones consider if the information they […]


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