What does a Finance Business Partner do?
Whilst varying from business to business, the role of a Finance Business Partner can be categorised into two core skillsets: analytics and stakeholder management. The fundamental priority of a Finance Business Partner is to work alongside internal stakeholders, both finance and non-finance, to disseminate performance-related information to assess KPI’s and aid improvements. The analysis of business performance will vary dependent on factors such as business size, sector etc. but the fundamentals remain.
Aside from specific systems, Microsoft Excel will always hold a prominent place in a Finance Business Partner’s workload. With intermediate Excel an expectation, an advanced skillset is becoming more relevant (SQL) as the likes of Pivot Tables, V-Lookups, and Sum-if become required more and more often. It is common for larger organisations to have a heavier reliance on robust systems, and therefore experience in common platforms such as SAP and Oracle can improve success in an interview process. Likewise, there is a growing need for further analysis on data as organisations continue to develop their online presence. As a result, there is becoming a greater reliance on systems such as Power BI that can create dashboards to clearly communicate performance.
What makes a successful Finance Business Partner?
An essential skillset all Finance Business Partners must possess is the ability to effectively communicate complex financial information to colleagues (especially non-finance colleagues)in a format that is easy to understand and allows for a robust assessment of business performance. Having the capability to share information and ideas on efficiencies, improvements and enhancing the organisation’s KPI structure is imperative to creating a successful Business Partner.
Confident and capable communication skills are vital for Finance Business Partners as they will work with a wide variety of stakeholders on a regular basis. In large finance functions they could be working with Divisional Finance Directors, Group Financial Controllers and Heads of Sales. Within smaller setups, a Finance Business Partner would typically collaborate with Product Developers and Site Managers to determine the performance of business units. An example is in a manufacturing business, where the Finance Business Partner would work closely with Site Managers to assess stock and costing.
While the fundamentals remain in place, the Finance Business Partner position will vary role to role with this often referring to the level of input an individual has within the core finance function. Dependent on the size of the finance team, a typical Finance Business Partner may have month end responsibilities, coupled with monthly analysis of financial performance. The success of a Finance Business Partner is determined by the value and contribution they make to business performance measured through means such as achieving KPI’s, transitioning to new systems and effectively collaborating with colleagues to implement best practice.
How do I become a Finance Business Partner?
The routes to becoming a Finance Business Partner can vary greatly depending on the industry and environment. It is worth noting that the Finance Business Partner job title is generic and can be assigned to a number of different roles at varying salary levels. Therefore, it is always worth considering the skillset required for the specific role and what the client’s expectations are.
The two most common routes people take are described below, but given the breadth of this job title, you can enter a Finance Business Partner role providing you have exposure to both analytics and stakeholder management.
ACA/ ACCA practice qualified
The route from practice is an uncommon one, but is certainly achievable. The experience of working in an environment where you are working with various clients, shapes and sizes provides invaluable exposure to stakeholder management. Often working to strict deadlines, an auditor must adapt to their client’s way of working, deliver the required outcome and articulate this clearly. This experience is akin to partnering with various stakeholders in industry. Whilst an auditor will be assessing against different measures, the soft skillet that is developed is an essential attribute to have. If you can combine this with having an inquisitive mindset and a strong analytical capability (Advanced Excel), then Finance Business Partner roles are certainly in reach.
The route to Finance Business Partner straight from an accountancy practice is one of the most popular pathways to take. Therefore, we would recommend you partner with your Recruitment Consultant to determine how you can best position yourself to be successful in an application process.
CIMA/ ACCA industry qualified
An industry qualification is typically a more straightforward route given a more natural alignment to previous duties. Those who have qualified in industry, working in Management Accountant roles or similar, will often look at the position of Finance Business Partner as the next step in their career. The fundamentals of a career in industry prior to qualification is financial reporting, whether this be statutory accounting or month end duties.
Individuals who have gone through a more commercial route (Management Accounting/ Cashflow forecast etc) will have exposure running similar analysis and partnering with relevant colleagues to better understand the performance of a business or division. A common step for those qualifying in industry is to look towards the route of a more “commercially focused” role such as Finance Business Partner or FP&A Analyst. In its simplest form, this transition removes aspects of a core finance role such as management accounts and focuses more on the performance and analysis of a business, creating the sense of a more “value add” position.
The Finance Business Partner job title and most titles in finance can often be broad and have a wide variety of expectations assigned to them. If you are considering a route into a more commercial role then positions such as FP&A Analyst and Commercial Accountant may be more relevant. We, at Axon Moore, would always advise a close reviewal of job descriptions since roles such as Finance Manager or Management Accountant can often have a large proportion of commercial responsibilities and offer similar opportunities to the Finance Business Partner role.
The measure of any commercial role is the contribution you make to business performance. This is much harder to obtain if you are working in a failing business or one with minimal growth projection. We therefore recommend focussing your job search on high growth, fast paced and dynamic environments where your contribution will go further and you will have a direct impact of the business, and therefore inevitable further achievements to add to your CV.