The death of the traditional accountant

Posted by on Dec 13, 2013 in Business Partnering | One Comment


If you work in a large multi national organization such as Unilever, GSK, Barclays etc. you may have been aware for some time that the role of accountants in business is experiencing significant changes. Academic journals have been reporting for some time the evolution of accounting moving its transactional traditional activies (financial reporting , month-end etc) to shared service centres and in some cases it is outsourced.

As a result finance has to evolve into a new role otherwise become an unnecessary overhead. There has been an increase in the recruitments market for a new type of accountant often referred to as a “Finance Business Partner”. The use of this term is quite varied with a fairly broad interpretation. It first came to prominence in the field of HR in the mid 90’s when HR’s role was been similarly outsourced and transferred to shared service centres.

A finance business partner is someone who is embedded within the management teams helping provide tactical financial support (eg budget planning and analysis) to business managers. Their role is not to produce accounts but resolve problems. Instead of a scorekeeper they have become a player. Instead of refusing to approve a decision because they are too expensive they help find a way of doing it differently, but profitably.

However the evolution into business partnering roles has not been an easy ride with many organisations finding that simply changing a job title and not financial organizational traits does not work.

To be an effective business partner you need to have the respect of the management team so that they will trust you to help them rather than think of you as a financial nerd without any idea about the real world.

Specific traits identified as lacking according to the research into this are:

  • Communication skills
  • Business Awareness
  • Coaching skills
  • Negotiation skills

If you feel weak in any of the above try and look at ways of improving them in preparation for the future. I will try and share examples of best practice from companies I work with in future blogs to help guide you, and share details of a recent survey WiseUpNow commissioned on finance business partnering in my next blog in the New Year.

1 Comment

  1. Arasa Velaigam
    December 16, 2013


    I was a student of yours for P3 Dec 2013.

    I thought it went well – results will tell though.

    I have been working in finance for 8 years. I work in investment banking and finance business partners are of great value in the industry especially after the crisis and the great number of constraints imposed.

    I, however, must say that the vast majority of accountants I have met (in total) lack the skills required to do fulfil the role for the reasons you have covered above.

    As such, I have witnessed (across the 3 firms I have been exposed to) the individual business lines within the organisation develop their own business partners independently of the finance department.

    The majority of accountants I have met are unable to solve problems dynamically. They are trained to apply rules and frameworks to interpret situations. Yes, there are exceptions. But one cannot point to an outlier and claim no trend exists.

    I think this may not be the fault of training alone. I think the type of candidates that enrol in professional accounting qualifications will be of a different ilk to those, say that enrol for a CFA.

    I have done reasonably well without being qualified yet because I have commercial/business awareness – a characteristic widely absent from the majority of accountants I have met both professionally and at the accounting classes I attend. Simple test, ask a group of accountants the difference between macro and micro economics – most accountants I have met are unable to answer. Why?

    Also, I think that the accounting I have studied so far is overly focused on manufacturing businesses and far too little on service based industries. Perhaps this is ill suited to the economy in London and most developed nations?




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