The current political, economic and social environment and the pace of change provides a challenging era for business. The business world has become flatter and more volatile. This means that companies must differentiate to gain competitive advantage to avoid crisis’ ahead. The quality of decision making is becoming the discriminator of business success.

It takes professional rigour to ensure that business decisions are not subject to bias and are taken in the best interests of stakeholders on the basis of proper analysis of the evidence available. The discipline of management accounting as applied through ‘finance business partnering’ could provide the solution.

In many organisations, the accounting and finance function are being transformed to be efficient at times by developments in information technology. This transformation provides the capacity for the role of finance to be extended to include finance business partnering.

Finance business partnering begins after standard reports and analysis have been produced. At this point the focus shifts from accounting to management. This is when the disciplines of management accounting are applied and insights developed to inform decisions and improve business performance.

Providing efficient and effective finance business partnering is a challenge for many businesses. There are capacity constraints and accountants may not be recognised as having the necessary soft skills such as communication, negotiating and explaining decisions using non-technical language. It is important that businesses and accountants begin to address this challenge by engaging in a series of regular and meaningful conversations.

An effective finance business partner is one who makes connections between people and between issues. They act as a broker, bringing the various parties to the table to help the organisation connect the dots, and enable everyone to see the bigger picture.

Influence and communication skills are particularly important for making these connections. Research has found that insights into how to improve business performance are usually generated through conversations with colleagues.

Management accountants bring their accounting toolkit but also their business acumen, professional objectivity and a commercial perspective to these discussions. They are expected to contribute insights into what can be done to improve the business performance. Through constructive conversations and asking questions, they can facilitate partnerships in collaboration with managers across the organisation.

This series of conversations can help improve business understanding and generate insights:

Area of focusWhat it means to businessConversations / Thought starters
Business modelDeveloping the story on how the business works.
  • Are you having discussions to help everyone understand the business’ position, performance, and prospects?
  • Are you having discussions to enable the organisation to focus resources in a manner that generates value?
Horizon scanningEnvironmental scanning
  • Are you considering possible scenarios to identify opportunities to pursue?
  • What actions are you taking to build the resilience needed to safeguard the business’ future?
Performance measuresNon-financial metrics
  • What non-financial metrics should be monitored to create meaningful performance data to support both current and long-term value creation?
Data sourcesManagement reports
  • Which sources of data at the company’s disposal can be utilised to create a competitive edge?
  • How does the business go about capturing, interpreting, and acting on those data?

More information on finance business partnering in the CGMA report: Finance Business Partnering – Conversations that count:

Brigitte Holtz
Head of Finance & Operations – CIMA Africa


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