Dollars and Sense:  Finance as a Business Partner

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As we’ve seen in the evolution of Finance and the CFO’s role, strategy and planning have enhanced the traditional back-office support provided by the Finance department.  But beyond Finance, there remains ample opportunity for CFOs and their teams to better partner with sales, marketing, and other key business areas.

I recently moderated a boardroom discussion on this topic at the Evanta CFO Summit in Chicago.  In this session, we discussed the changing role of Finance and the CFO in relation to various line of business executives and what tools, processes, and techniques can help strengthen this partnership.  Here’s a summary of the discussion. 

What new responsibilities does Finance have in addition to core responsibilities?

One panelist mentioned that the CFO is picking up some of the functions the CEO doesn’t want to deal with, such as IT, Legal, and HR.  But beyond these, attendees mentioned multi-year forecasting and more what-if modeling and risk management as new processes they are taking on.  They also spoke about providing more support for LOB executives, participating in operations reviews, helping with actual vs. forecast analysis, and developing mitigation plans.

How has your role with other LOB executives changed? (i.e., IT, Sales, Marketing, HR)

Finance has a seat at the table and is invited to participate in planning and strategy meetings with Sales, Marketing, and other operational functions.  Finance often helps the operations teams evaluate new opportunities and understand the full financial impact of potential decisions. 

bigstock-Two-men-discussing-laptop-pres-84887885.jpgThe group also spoke about the need to assign Finance staff to various lines of business to provide ongoing support.  Some of the panelists mentioned using rotational programs where Finance staff spend a period of time embedded in operations as a valuable technique.  But panelists also cautioned that the CFO must assign the right Finance people to the right assignments in order to be effective.

What challenges have you faced in raising the influence of Finance across the business?

One of the biggest challenges mentioned was freeing up Finance staff time to spend on value-added analysis and working with the lines of business.  This is typically easier for FP&A staff vs. Accounting staff, who have a full plate of day-to-day responsibilities.  As mentioned earlier in the discussion, some panelists mentioned the need to match the right people to projects. 

Some key skills that are important in partnering with the business include performing data analytics, communicating effectively, solving business problems, connecting the dots, and being creative.  Finance people assigned to work with the lines of business need to have a business mindset, but also act as Financial educators within the organization.

What tools, processes, and techniques have you leveraged to be a better business partner?

This topic generated a lot of discussion among the group.  Here are some of the key techniques mentioned:

  • Linking operations executives’ compensation to revenue, as well as to costs/margins.
  • Integrating data from multiple systems, providing a single version of the truth for analysis.
  • Standardizing on a single ERP and common EPM platform for reporting, planning, and analysis.
  • Locating FP&A staff together so they can share best practices and ideas across functions.
  • Using monthly dashboard/scorecard that includes cross-functional metrics and is shared across functions to create visibility and competition.
  • Conducting regular business reviews, typically monthly and quarterly.
  • Diving deep into particular problem areas with high-level monthly reviews and more detailed quarterly reviews.

One panelist mentioned that his company gave an award to the best-performing group each year.  This was based on the cross-functional scorecard and 20 key metrics balanced cross financial and non-financial objectives.  Pretty creative!

What new skill sets are important in order to add value to the business?

Some of these topics were mentioned earlier in the discussion, but key skill sets for Finance staff assigned to support LOB executives include technical skills in reporting and analytics, strong communications and interpersonal skills, business understanding, leadership skills, and the confidence to challenge LOB executives and provide suggestions on how to improve performance.

Learn more

This was a great session that generated a lot of discussion and sharing of ideas across the group.  To learn more about how Finance can become a better business partner, read the results of a recent survey Host Analytics sponsored on this topic.

Download the Free Survey Brief

Posted by on June 7, 2016
Topics: Finance
John O'Rourke

John O’Rourke is Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Host Analytics. With a background in accounting and finance, John has over 30 years of experience in the software industry and 20 years of experience in EPM product marketing at Hyperion Solutions, Oracle and Host Analytics. He has worked with many customers and partners on financial reporting and planning initiatives and has spoken and written on many topics in EPM. John has also held positions in strategic marketing and product marketing at Dun & Bradstreet Software, Kenan Systems, and Decisyon. John has a BS degree in accounting from Bentley University and an MBA from Boston College.

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