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How to Turn Finance into a True Business Partner to Help Drive Growth

Posted by Thomas Sutter, Financial Centre of Excellence

The term business partnering has been in the finance lexicon for a number of years now.

It’s one of those phrases that you might associate with the most sophisticated organisations – with lots of resources to invest in developing accountants to support the business and supplemented with all the bells and whistles of the latest data mining, analytics and dashboard tools.

Thankfully, the cloud – along with automation and burgeoning consciousness of AI – means that the opportunities for finance to truly partner with the rest of the organisation are now in reach for lots of businesses.

And that’s not even just the next rung of corporates. Nascent, growing businesses’ finance teams can easily use business development and support-focused technology.

Before we move into the whys and hows, there’s a fundamental question that, as a CFO, you might be asking: Is this finance’s responsibility?

The short answer, is yes. The longer version takes in finance’s evolution.

The finance function has traditionally focused on gathering historic information, then auditing and verifying this data for use in either management and financial reporting, or to pay tax and payroll. Finance has also helped produce budgets and forecasts, though often to limited success. It has also, of course, managed cash flow.

The resource-intensive processes around ‘tidying up’ financial information, plus making sure all the relevant parties then gain access to that information, created a compliance-focused and backwards-facing department.

But new technology has enabled many finance processes to be automated. The verification of data can be reduced to checking exceptions. The information can also be manipulated more and moulded as required. And this all takes place more rapidly.

Ultimately, the answer is that highly-qualified and curious by nature, finance staff are brilliantly placed to be able to understand how different teams and units work – and then match their requirements with the information being produced in their systems.

High-growth organisations typically focus on making sales, generating cash flow, developing products, expanding market reach – so finance professionals can provide clear, level-headed advice on the financial implications of strategic and operational decisions in a fast-moving and stressful environment.

There is work to do to make this all possible. For starters, you could describe this blog as the older sibling of my previous article – which discussed how you get to grips with structuring your systems and teams prior to developing business partnering.

And once this path is set out, it’s vital to ensure you have the right team members who will venture forth from behind their finance desk.

I strongly believe that most finance professionals will leap at the opportunity to develop both their soft skills and broaden their operational experience. And with many basic tasks being automated it’s a sensible move.

Becoming a business partner requires development and experience. As a CFO, the planning effort you have put into setting up your systems and processes must be matched by how you approach talent management.

When recruiting finance professionals for high-growth companies, soft skills and attitude are as important as technical know-how. Then you will need to plan their development through finance before moving into other business roles.

But it is an exciting prospect. To ‘turn’ finance around from looking backwards to looking forwards. From compliance function, to integral business support. From bean counter to strategic advisor.

 Learn more about NetSuite’s financial management