Adding value as a finance business partner

19 May 20

Find out how a finance business partner can become a trusted advisor within an organisation, and how you can adopt similar practices whatever your role.

Key takeaways:

  • Consider the role of the finance business partner
  • Examine the qualities that make one effective
  • Study a practical example
  • Think about how you can implement similar principles

 

What is a finance business partner?

A finance business partner (FBP) is a specific role that is positioned as an intermediary between the finance department and other operational departments within a public sector organisation. Their function is to assist with decision making, support, advice and analysis as they liaise between different stakeholders. The FBP needs to be an excellent communicator, interpreting and presenting key financial information for non-finance colleagues who may need to make decisions based on this information. They may also be called on to give opinions and act as an advisor.

The FBP adds value to the organisation by being willing and able to challenge decisions, and deliver information that people may not want to hear. This requires integrity, which is something that all finance professionals should prioritise.

 

What are the qualities of an effective finance business partner?

An effective FBP is willing to ask difficult questions – closely scrutinising information, seeking clarification and bringing things to light. This will require good attention to detail, getting into the minutiae and specifics of financial reports and cross-checking information. The FBP will not shrink from questions that may be uncomfortable or received badly, putting service to the organisation and the public first, above personal delicacies.

Having integrity in this case means risking being personally disliked by those who may not appreciate their figures or practices being questioned in this way. The focus of the FBP is on making sure that people have accurate information in order to make the best decisions, and therefore on presenting a full and clear picture of the situation that is not sugar-coated or overly optimistic.

 

What does this look like in practice?

Suppose you notice a small discrepancy in your organisation’s financial reports. During the usual month-end reporting process, the overall figures suggest that this particular business area is doing well, with actual expenditure within a small margin of the budgeted forecast. However, in one line of the report that figures are slightly higher than would be expected – though not enough to impact the bottom line. There could be several different explanations for this anomaly, from a simple mathematical error through to deliberate fraud. How should you proceed?

One option is for you to ignore it – the overall picture is not affected, and the rest of the figures are accurate. However, this risks overlooking something that could have serious implications for your organisation further down the line, if it turns out to be an instance of undetected fraud.

A better option is to query the anomaly with the finance manager or accountable officer in order to obtain a narrative that gives a satisfactory explanation. There may be a sound and legitimate reason for the additional expenditure, but this can only be ascertained through being willing to ask questions and raise a constructive challenge.

 

How can I add value?

This process of careful scrutiny provides another safeguard against unethical financial practices and can therefore help to increase assurance for the organisation. Being subject to challenge should improve accountability and transparency among finance teams, and this methodology of constructive questioning could be employed by any finance professional regardless of whether or not they are a finance business partner.

Acting with integrity is crucial – demonstrating that you can be trusted to behave professionally and ethically will allow others to place value on your advice when making decisions. This can also help your organisation to foster a culture that promotes transparency and adherence to ethical standards, and encourage others to follow your example.

 

Questions for you:

  • Are you prepared to question your colleagues if you spot something that doesn’t look right?
  • How can you make sure you are acting with integrity in your role?
  • Does your organisation’s culture promote constructive challenge and transparency?

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