How To Create Impact as a Finance Business Partner | Podcast | Episode 002

How To Create Impact as a Finance Business Partner | Podcast | Episode 002

In this episode, we chat with Christian Frantz Hansen from the Business Partnering Institute, whose customers include PayPal, HSBC and P & G. Christian is the Director of Finance Business Partnering - Learning & Development and has a background of consulting within the CFO services space, having worked for companies such as EY and the Implement Consulting Group. Christian has over 15,000 followers on Linkedin, and is an expert in finance transformation and business process optimisation.

Audio Podcast Links

Please find the show notes below.

How did Christian end up doing what he does now?

  • His background as an introverted finance nerd
  • His interest in the space between data and decision making
  • Data modelling at the bank of Denmark
  • His work consulting for EY
  • His work with Implement Consulting Group
  • Now working with the people side of finance
  • Now heading large scale learning programs, specifically around up-skilling finance

Christian's work in Mexico

  • General work is with big companies in multiple locations
  • Mexican client has a global presence
  • It was a two day off-site training session for the finance team and their CFO
  • Work started out more than six months ago, working on their finance strategy, working on the role of the finance business partner in their compan
  • Designed a competency model
  • 360 assessment getting feedback from the business as well
  • Designed a six month learning journey comprised of several training sessions, but also a lot of on the job stuff.
  • A lot of e-learning self-study, other means of learning.

Views on e-learning

  • Previously sceptical
  • Done quite a lot of e-learning with large international companies, including general moTors
  • E-learning is a brilliant way to get some simple informational insights across, especially if you make it interactive, but it shouldn't be a standalone
  • Packaged together with other elements of training, it's a valuable tool in a package, in a toolbox of many tools

The skills of a good business partner

  • Built a model referred to as the ‘impact equation’.
  • Finance business partners in particular should create an impact for the business they're supporting by creating better business results by having satisfied business customers.

  • Impact = Insights x Influence

  • Insights are worth very little if we are not able to influence anybody in the business to take action based on the insights
  • Under each of the elements, insights and influence, there is a comprehensive 12 skill, competency model.

  • Insights
  • Technical abilities
  • Data analysis
  • Business Models
  • Business Strategy

  • Influence
  • People skills
  • Partnering skills
  • Communication
  • Self/Team Leadership

Is training on influence difficult For introverts?

  • People tend to struggle over the influencing piece more than the insights piece as finance professionals.
  • You can train that just as much as you can train being better data analysis.
  • You can actually strengthen your EQ as well as your IQ.

“I regain my energy from being alone and being focused in studying stuff, but I can go out of that comfort zone sometimes, and when I know that I need to go and influence people, I'll do that, but I'll give myself adequate time to recoup afterwards if you will.”

The party example - Introvert vs Extrovert

  • The introvert would very quickly lose energy levels because they don't do well with having to manage conversations between multiple people as it’s energy sapping
  • The extrovert thrives in this environment. So it's the inverse.

Data and Storytelling - Introvert vs Extrovert

  • Communicating finance data to non finance professionals is an art.
  • But to tell that story, and to get that data across you, you do need to have those influential skills within the organisation.
  • Being an introvert is sometimes useful, as if you’re good with deep detail, you are more likely to be aware of the words that you use and the story you tell.
  • If you’re extroverted, you might use a lot of words and it might not always be the best way to present your data.

“Absolutely. Because any story you tell, especially when it comes to making important business decisions, has to be well-founded.”

  • The core of the impact equation is:
  • Knowing your insights
  • Balancing this with the ability to influence
  • Good storytelling and the ability to create trusted partnerships

Why are Finance Business Partners now more recognised than they used to be?

  • The first article ever that came out talking about the move from being bean counter to business partner was already back in 85 or something.
  • We have been talking about this for a long time
  • And we still see articles boosting that idea of going from bean counter to a business partner.
  • In the last five and 10 years, it has seen some kind of exponential growth and finance business partnering is more and more a concrete concept.
  • Previously it may have been more of a mindset
  • Now you tend to see more dedicated roles and the title is becoming more prominent

“AI, machine learning, robotics, RPA, whatever, helps us automate a lot of the things that we would manually do in finance, it frees up time to do the data extrapolation, the analysis, the finding the right insights.”

  • It should also give us the ability to present and tell that story behind the numbers.
  • Businesses are starting to recognize that finance is sitting on such a vast amount of information that it's a strategic advantage to have finance business partners.

  • It's not that the role didn't exist before, it's the fact that we are now giving it more of a label.
  • We are actively going out and saying, as opposed to finding a senior finance individual who could also be a business partner, we're now saying this is a specific role that we want to fulfil.
  • We have the tools, we have the data, we need somebody to come in, take that and tell the story about what that means to the business.
  • Previously the CFO has always acted as a finance business partner to the CEO and other parts of the business.

  • But it seems like that role is kind of cascading down through the hierarchy. So you see finance business partners, at more or less, all levels of the organization now as well.

What is good data? And what data is most useful to a Finance Business Partner?

  • People tend to first look at the data they already have
  • There needs to be a more holistic approach
  • Finance business partnering is about also being able to think outside of the data structures that we actually have.
  • Run experiments, get some data, do a survey,go and interview, gather some qualitative data rather than just your quantitative data from the systems.
  • We can compare financial and non-financial data
  • Non financial data could be:
  • How many employees have we got?
  • How many contractors are we using?
  • How many site installations have we got for a certain product or service?

  • First, figure out "What do I need to know?" "What would have to be true for me to solve this problem?"
  • Don't get stuck in the data you have. Think about what other data you might need to solve a problem
  • "What would be useful to us as a business to be able to track, let's backfill, as opposed to work with what we've got?"
  • Think about the bigger picture
  • Think about what that future needs to be, and then work back from there.

  • Christian is teaching a lot of classes on, on structured problem solving and being more clear on what is it that we are trying to solve
  • Scope it, because when you know your problem, your analysis becomes so much easier.
  • If you haven't gained the perspective of, of other team members, then you're almost having to mind read.
  • Sometimes it's simpler to just to ask the question.

"I've often spent hours and hours and days and days as a young consultant building and leverage financial models, and I thought that I had done something amazing and my BPA code was that was glorious. But when I showed it to the stakeholder, a lot of things were not what they anticipated and I would have to go back and redo a lot of stuff."

So I could have skipped a lot of work and saved a lot of time by just asking the right questions early on in the process, but that's how you learn right. So I know from experience."

Is there a time and a place for spreadsheets?

  • Spreadsheets are still a tool being used by the majority of finance professionals
  • But Excel doesn't work very well as a database
  • When models start getting complex, it's impossible to keep everything up to date
  • Use it wisely perhaps for back of the envelope type analysis
  • Ft's for month-end reporting, things that are recurring, definitely try to be an automate, there are so many good tools out there.
  • It's amazing what is capable with AI and machine learning today

  • But what we're now finding is smaller businesses can adopt more advanced tools as the cost of ownership is coming down
  • Using something like Xero as an example
  • It will grab purchase invoices so that you don't have to manually key them
  • Bank account reconciliations can be setup with auto-matching rules

What outcome are we working towards with Finance Teams?

  • Support with systems implementations
  • But more focused on the people side of things
  • Emphasis on upskilling
  • Making sure people are ready for the change that's happening, and a lot of changes are happening, then that's when Christian will get involved
  • Mapping the service delivery model is important, as good Finance Business Partners can't perform if they're bogged down by manual task
  • A holistic approach is taken, and roles and responsibilities are defined
  • Learning journeys are then customised based on roles and responsibilities
  • Having one individual assume multiple roles isn't an efficient way of working
  • Other business stakeholders sometimes get confused (especially in larger organisations) if roles and responsibilities aren't clearly defined

"We often talking about like having almost a key account manager set up and finance. So if the business needs help, they go to their key account manager, their finance business partner, and they know that that person can then rely on his organization to help solve their problems.

Otherwise, if you don't know who to talk to in finance, because you talk to somebody else, somebody new, every time you end up not asking maybe, and that's, that's a shame, right?"

  • Sometimes analogies comparing finance to sales and customer interactions are used.
  • If you're a good finance business partner, you do have customers, they're internal customers, it's people in the business, but you're servicing them, you're providing a product and a service to them.
  • Sometimes concepts similar to Net Promotor Score are introduced for internal feedback on how the finance function is performing
  • This then opens up a dialogue and a feedback loop for improvement
  • Have quarterly meetings where you reflect on your collaboration and ask for feedback on how you can do better.

"The best piece of business partners I've seen in finance, they they're so close to their stakeholders that they have dialogues like that on a weekly basis, almost, on how do we work together the best possible way."

"Remember that you have customers that you're serving, and your success depends on their success, if you will."

The digital world, curiosity, and human to human connection

  • When we start moving into a world of ones and zeros it can sometimes limit our ability to have true human to human connections.
  • A lot of the time when somebody's speaking, you'll be then thinking about what your reply is going to be.
  • Instead of speaking first, think about what that person has said. And do you need to delve a little bit deeper?
  • Somebody from another team's asking you a question, like "Can you give me this report?" Or "Can you tell me a little bit more about how we're doing here?"
  • Instead of going straight to a spreadsheet or downloading a report from your ERP, pause, and think about why they're asking the question
  • If you are becoming more curious to the point where you are able to be a better problem solver, then you're going to continue to improve the value that you’re generating to the business.
  • 9 out of 10 times, when somebody from the business asks something of finance. They asking for data, then they're asking for input, but they're not conveying the problem they're trying to solve.
  • You can extract the data, but you might help them much better if you actually spend that time asking the right questions, getting to the bottom of what is the issue of the problem?
  • Ask more questions

  • Christian teaches a course about real conversations between finance and business.
  • It's about that balance between inquiry and effort and efficacy.
  • Are we good enough at inquiring and asking all the questions, or are we just telling and advocating and providing our answers.

"And very often, especially if you want people to buy into an idea, asking the questions, getting them to realize the same points as you might be able to tell them, it's much more effective, that makes the ideas their own, and they are much more likely to act on it that way.

So, ask them ask more than you tell basically. It's very important as a finance business partners. We tend to believe that we are here to only advocate be here to provide answers, but it's not the case."

  • We should be asking more questions than providing answers in many cases.
  • The more curious you can be, the more you can uncover the thought process, that's gone into asking that question, the better you're able to advise.
  • It's safer a lot of time, because if you said that time upfront understanding the question to a deep enough level, it becomes relatively easy to solve.
  • If you have an hour or two to solve a problem, you would spend 55 minutes asking questions and trying to understand it, because when you know the problem, you only need five minutes to solve it, because then the solution is obvious.
  • So being explorative and staying explorative longer is a really good advice
  • Definitely saves the emails back and forwards.

Recommended resources for those interested in becoming a better Finance Business Partner

  • You need to be good with data and analysis.
  • Then move to stuff that builds your people skills
  • Don’t only read the articles about data modelling, also read the articles about how you build trusted relationships and how to become a better leader.
  • APQC and their benchmarking resource is one to investigate
  • Harvard Business Review articles about leadership and, and how to influence people.
  • Not your average finance resources necessarily. It's more about being a good leader, being a good professional.

How is this space is going to evolve into the future?

  • Research studies still show that 50% of current jobs will be eliminated entirely within the next 20 years and 85% of jobs in just 10 years might not even exist today.
  • Jobs will change significantly due to some quantum leaps in technology soon.
  • Especially in finance functions, some of the manual stuff. If you're still doing manual work, you need to upskill because it will be automated.
  • Accountants may be the first 'digital refugees'
  • There won't be a role for stuff like, you know, an expense admin, for example, or an AP administrator, you know, those roles will just cease to exist because every system will offer it,
  • This will give people the opportunity to really drive business forward
  • There's no harm in having more people thinking more strategically.
  • A lot of the people sitting in those roles, they have great foundation and a lot of skills
  • It's just a matter of adding skills related to being more strategic, more holistic thought about the wider business rather than just the finance function.
  • Everybody needs to think about how they can expand what they already have, with new skills.

What piece technology could you not live without?

  • A small Danish company called Actimo.
  • They were recently acquired by Kahoot, the bigger software company and Actimo has an app or they provide, an app that you can customize.
  • With the platform Christian has developed a training app for the for the clients
  • There is also an app where we you can build a community.
  • It's almost like a social media platform for training
  • Real life applications of the training can be shared there.
  • It's a great way to share insights.

Where can you find out more about Christian and the Business Partnering Institute?

Follow him on on LinkedIn -

He does posts daily in this space, on CFO services and finance transformation.

Otherwise, it's

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