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What makes the top Finance Business Partner candidates stand out

What makes the top Finance Business Partner candidates stand out

Finance Business Partners are among the most in-demand and challenging roles for companies as astute financial decision making becomes more and more pivotal in a fast-changing and often volatile world. Whether it be better cost management or the discovery of new revenue opportunities through trend analysis, the role is becoming increasingly crucial to businesses.

Competition for the most influential roles is tough both internally and externally as the Finance Business Partnering community looks to be at the forefront of company strategy and have their seat at the decision-making table.

Over the past decade I’ve interviewed thousands of people for accounting and finance jobs, and many of those for Finance Business Partner roles, so I’ve come to see a clear pattern of attributes that make the top candidates stand out.

Here’s what the best candidates have in common:

  1. Ability to influence

    Finance Business Partners need to be able to tell a story to a non-finance audience. Whilst they are passionate about what the numbers say, a good Finance Business Partner can draw out the key messages in a concise, relevant and punchy style.

    It’s not enough to have good PowerPoint skills; you need to be able to communicate the message effectively, and demonstrate how the financial data ties into strategic business objectives.

    Tip: It’s not just the CEO that is time poor. You have a small window of opportunity with your key stakeholders, so make every second count! Each successful presentation strengthens relationships and credibility, resulting in future opportunities to influence decision makers.

  2. Ability to build networks

    The top-performing Finance Business Partners are fundamentally excellent problem solvers – and importantly they know that they can’t solve problems on their own.

    They use their networking skills to build relationships with stakeholders, finance or otherwise, across a variety of departments within the business. Finance touches every single area of a business and this means that financial solutions can come from a wide variety of sources or contacts, whether that’s working with the sales team on key accounts, helping marketing prioritise their advertising spend or liaising with hundreds of store owners at an operational level to drive a more accurate forecasting process.

  3. Ability to embrace and drive change

    The most sought-after soft skill by Australian employers is the ability to drive and manage change, according to research by Hudson and the best Finance Business Partners thrive in a change environment. They are not only prepared for it, but they evolve with it and own the change that comes with it. In short, there’s no place for change phobia. The best candidates actively seek out change and always look for new ways of doing things.

    Tip: Natural curiosity is a real weapon in a Business Partner’s arsenal so adopt a continuous improvement mindset. Change is not purely done through analysis – look to streamline all that you can. Things like better processes, simpler models and the production of fewer ‘unwanted reports’ will result in a more productive desk and, ultimately, give you more time for the ‘value-add’.

    For example, one standout candidate led a project to improve the budgeting and forecasting at a large financial institution. The project involved analysing the current processes and technology platforms, designing better solutions and then rolling it out across the business.

    She then went on a road show around the country as part of the roll out, which she used as a forum to listen to stakeholders and encourage interaction between divisions to help each other through the changes.

  4. Tenacity and patience

    Driving change can be challenging. Accept that it’s not going to go smoothly. Anything can happen on any given day with issues ranging from systems crashing, working with inaccurate and/or buried data and, naturally, difficult and/or unsupportive stakeholders.

    The best Finance Business Partners take everything in their stride and never externalise their frustrations. They know that they are not going to reach their goals by getting people offside. They’re patient in their approach to building relationships with stakeholders, escalate only when appropriate, and never give up.

    Tip: Don’t be an email person. Be proactive and arrange meetings to discuss issues in person. Once in the diary, over prepare, consider presenting something innovative that the stakeholder has not thought of and always listen to and acknowledge your stakeholder’s way of doing things.

  5. Ability to live in the grey

    You might be able to adapt to change, but can you live in the grey? As an accountant, your role is to use your keen attention to detail to spot inaccuracies right down to the last cent. A good accountant is at the heart of every Finance Business Partner, however the top performers quickly learn to be comfortable when things don’t add up.

    Whilst it is imperative that the individual fully understands their numbers, the great Finance Business Partners are aware of who their audience is. Key messages are found in the analysis of trends, poignant insights and solid financial facts, not decimal points.

  6. They don’t always say ‘yes’ or ‘no’

    Finance Business Partners are constantly juggling priorities between ad hoc requests, projects and the business-as-usual deliverables as well.

    One of the key traits of an elite Finance Business Partner is their ability to prioritise. They know how to push back, are clear on the reasons why they are pushing back and provide SMART alternative timelines. By managing stakeholder expectations, the top Business Partners avoid the risk of over promising and under delivering.

    Tip: Everyone thinks that their deliverable is the most urgent. Whilst you can’t instantly say no, don’t be afraid to ask more questions and understand just how urgent their request is in the greater scheme of things. All too often we see Finance Business Partners working crazy hours for long periods of time. Whilst it is great to impress, a healthier, balanced approach to work will mean that you are sharper, more productive and ultimately more help to the business.

  7. They’re ambassadors for the finance function

    A high percentage of individuals in a business-facing finance role will experience a time where they need to rebuild the relationship with the business that they are supporting.

    They’ve come into a business and found that the finance team has lost credibility or they don’t have a seat at the table for crucial business decisions.

    Their first job is to be a sales person for their product: for the finance function in the company. They use their influencing and networking skills to help the business better understand the role of the finance team and how they can support better decision-making.

    For example, one standout candidate overcame initial resistance to form a strong stakeholder relationship with the pricing team. She persuaded the pricing team to include finance representation at the weekly pricing meetings, which led to the pricing and finance teams collaborating to develop a pricing estimation framework. This resulted not only in margin improvements but an increased understanding of the role of finance throughout the business.

  8. Inspirational leadership

    You do not have to be a people manager to demonstrate inspirational leadership. Top candidates lead by example, whether you are inspiring your own team, peers or the wider business. They’re positive, collaborative and inclusive in the strategic goals they set as well as the problems they look to overcome. They will avoid ‘knee jerk reactions’ and be a calming, supportive influence.

    When you add it all up, ultimately, the best Business Partner candidates are the ones who can inspire growth in both the business and the people around them.

What do you think? Let me know if you have any other suggestions for what you think makes a great Finance Business Partner.

If you’re interested in a confidential discussion about where your next role could be, please contact me.



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