How to Create Impact as a Finance Business Partner | Transcript | Episode 002

How to Create Impact as a Finance Business Partner | Transcript | Episode 002

[Adam] Hello and welcome to Tech for Finance, where we help finance teams leverage technology to support their ambitions as businesses and as individuals.

I am your host Adam Shilton, and in this episode, we're going to be chatting with Christian Frantz Hansen from the Business Partnering Institute, who's 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.

Thank you for joining me today Christian.

[Christian] Thank you so much Adam, it’s a pleasure to be here

[Adam] Excellent, so to start off, for anyone that’s curious, can you tell us a little bit more about how you got into doing what you do?

[Christian] Yes definitely. Let’s start with the basics. I’m actually a very traditional, introverted finance nerd to be honest, who got to work in a much more extroverted environment than I initially anticipated to be honest.

I did always explore the space between data and decisions making. I’ve always been enticed by the idea that you can find the needle in the haystack and find better solutions based on proper data analysis. So I spent some time getting a masters degree in finance and performance management from Copenhagen business school and the Hong Kong University of science and technology. And later did an MBA focusing very heavily on finance as well from two other universities.

I ended up spending quite some years on four different continents and studying a lot of that space of data and decision making. When I then became a professional I started at the Bank of Denmark doing hot-cold financial modelling and really trying to extract insight from data, and doing all of the basics of really getting into data modelling.

But soon became a consultant with EY afterwards, also exploring finance, performance management and that space, working in Scandinavia and following a girl to South Africa, working out of Cape town for some time, luckily everything panned out, she is now my wife and we have two lovely kids. When I then returned I started a company, the Implement Consulting Group, continuing to work in the space of finance and performance management.

But I’ve become more and more focused on the people side of finance as well, because, you know, initially it was all about the data crunching, but in the end, without the people being able to communicate the story behind the numbers, all that data crunching is a little futile, if you will.

So, that's how I ended up working with the people side of finance. And today I'm heading large scale learning programs, specifically aimed at up-skilling people in the finance space, both, focusing on heart and mind, you know, both mindset and will set, but much more than data analysis today. It's more about working with the finance people, changing their mindsets, hopefully for the better.

[Adam ] Very good. Thank you for that. It’s great. And I mean, I can't even imagine how much experience that you, you managed to gain, not just from obviously the different companies you've worked with, but from the places across the world you've been to.

I'm a bit jealous, I must say. I've only been over to Asia once or twice. It's interesting. But last time we spoke, I think you were on the way to, was it Brazil?

[Christian] Actually Mexico..

[Adam] Okay, very good. Can you tell us a little bit more about, I mean, you don't have to go into specifics over the customer or anything like that, but can you tell us a little bit more about the trip and what you covered and that sort of thing?

[Christian] Yeah. You know, the the companies I service, as a consultant today, are often very big global companies, having finance people in multiple locations worldwide.

So, so when we launch large scale learning and development programs, it's often, you know, bringing people together also sometimes doing virtual training as well.

But in this case, it's, it's a Mexican client, but obviously with the presence globally. So, in that case, we went to Mexico to do and offsite training session for, for two days with the entire client team and their CFO.

But getting to that point is kind of the it's, it's a long road down to that point, we started out more than six months ago, working on their finance strategy, working on the role of the finance business partner in their company, what they see as, as you know, the important aspects of that role.

Then we designed a competency model that kind of supports the role of a finance business partner and helped them carry out a self-assessment, even kind of a 360 assessment getting feedback from the business as well, on how the team, the team of finance business partners, how it was doing, and based on that self-assessment, and that insight from the business, on how they were doing, we 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. So it's kind of a blended learning journey, and that's what we, we kicked up in may kick off in Mexico last week.

Very good. And, and it's, it's good. I think that we're now getting to the point where we are having more face to face interaction.

Again, I don't want to talk about what's happened because, you know, hopefully we're getting out the back of it now, but you mentioned blended model there.

I'm seeing a lot more of that at the moment. So I'm assuming, obviously you're not going to want to go over to Mexico for every single conversation.

Right. But, but having stuff like, you know, zoom teams and that sort of stuff, I suppose, supports that blended model and you mentioned e-learning as well.

Do you find that works ok?

[Christian] To be honest, I've been very skeptical, skeptical about e-learning fall on time, but I have done quite a lot of e-learning with with large international companies, including general motors and others. And done right, I see it working, but it should not stand alone. So again, that's why I talk about blended learning. 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.

Nobody really changes their behaviour and becomes much better just from the virtual e-learning session. So, but I think packaged together with other elements of training, I think it's a valuable tool in a package, in a toolbox of many tools that you can use to up-skill finance professionals, and professionals in general.

[Adam] It makes me think about repetition. So a lot of the learning that I've done in the past or have experience of it's, it's very linear, isn't it?

So you start at point A, and then it's almost like a game, isn't it? You get your points, you move on to your next module and then the box is ticked. But it misses that gap of being able to emphasize and really internalize that message.

So I think you're absolutely right. So you mentioned competency frameworks, when you are having discussions with businesses about what makes a good finance partner and that training side of things, and without giving away what your competency framework is. Because obviously it's, it's the reason you do what you do. But what do you see as skills? I mean, what do you see as skills in a good business partner, I guess?

[Christian] Yeah, I think that's a great question. And, and to be quite frank, I really believe in sharing. So we don't - at least at a business partnering Institute - we don't believe in, you know, sitting too much on our intellectual property.

So we share quite a lot on LinkedIn about this as well. So we've built and really refined by now a model, surrounded by and supporting what we call the impact equation. Believing that finance professionals, finance business partners in particular should create impact for the business they're supporting by creating better business results by having satisfied business customers.

So impact is the goal. But the way we do that is an equation where it's basically insights times influence, and insights is, you know, what we typically do as finance people.

That's where we derive new perspectives from data analysis and all the stuff that'd be really good at as, finance people.

But as I mentioned earlier, those insights are worth very little if we are not able to influence anybody in the business to take action based on the insights.

So we have this balance between insights on one side, but also the ability to influence people, to act on those insights and that, you know, those two elements, that is what equates to impact if you will.

And, and our competency model actually builds on that. So under each of the elements, insights and influence, we've built a comprehensive 12 skill, competency model. If you will,

Under the insights piece, we have some technical abilities around data analysis and stuff like that, but we also have some business insights to really do, you know, derive relevant insights.

You need to understand the business model. You need to have kind of an idea about strategy and how, how strategy works stuff like that.

But on the influence side, on the other hand, that's more the, I don't like to call it soft skills, but the people skills, and that's where we have both, you know, influencing skills, partnering skills, it's all about communication, but also a little bit about self-leadership and team leadership, even without, you know, the formal authority, you need to have some leadership skills in order to drive things forward and make change happen as a finance business partner.

So, so those are some of the things, but, you know, the key point is you need to be both able to derive insights and influence stakeholders to actually make something happen.

[Adam] That makes sense. And coming back to what you said, right at the very beginning, you started life as a, a bit of an introvert, right?

And some might argue that the ability to influence as an introvert can be a bit difficult for some people.

So when you look at your training, is influence a difficult skill to train on, or is it simpler than people might think, especially if they consider themselves an introvert?

[Christian] That's a great question. And knowing the financial community, most of them are like me then. So it's something we sometimes struggle with as finance professionals.

I am generalizing a little bit here, but if you were to sort of balance, and I've done this survey, many times, people tend to struggle over the influencing piece more than the insights piece as finance professionals.

But I I truly, and honestly believe that you can train that just as much as you can train being better data analysis.

It's just a matter of doing it and knowing what to do. So, it is quite easy, you can actually strengthen your EQ as well as your IQ area. It shouldn't be a bad excuse for not going into that space. And, you know, I'm a good example of it. I'm standing in front of hundreds of people giving speeches about this today, even though I really enjoy sitting behind my screen diving into my Excel sheets or my data models or whatever, you know. But you need to find, you know, a balance. Because I regain my energy from being alone and being focused on 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.

So I think that's an important point…

[Adam] And I'm absolutely the same. So I am very happy on my own getting on with it.

And I can't remember what I was listening to, but when people summarized energy and the concept of introvert extrovert, I think the best example I got given was if you go to a party, the introvert would very quickly lose energy levels because they don't do well with having to manage conversations between multiple people. You know, it is energy sapping

Whereas an extrovert, they thrive on it. So it's the inverse. Yeah. So the extrovert soaks up, it doesn't mean that as an introvert, you don't like other people, but as you say, it's about the way that you reset and you regain that energy.

And if you can, if you can train people, especially on the EQ side, when it comes to that influence piece, then I think that's a really good, really good area to focus on.

I totally agree, and, and I'm quite keen on the concept of storytelling as well - And, and you're nodding your head there - but another conversation that I had said that one of the arts - and you can correct me if I'm wrong - especially with finance teams that are very data-driven, is the ability to communicate that data to non-finance professionals. So we're in the same territory there right. But to tell that story, and to get that data across you, you do need to have those influential skills within the organization.

[Christian] I think it's, yeah, definitely. It's such an important skill, like being the good data storyteller, this is at the core of any finance business department to me. So I fully agree, but I think the thing is, being at a little more introverted, sometimes combined with a bit more deep detail orientation, if you will, is sometimes really good when it comes to this, because you were a bit more aware of the words you use, the story you tell.

So you might be, you know, you might put more emphasis to the way you present your things, if you're extroverted and you love talking to people, you might use a lot of words and it might not always be the best way to present your data.

So I think there is a definite space where good data, storytelling and introversion kind of overlaps. So you can easily be a good data storyteller without being the most extroverted person. Definitely.

[Adam] Absolutely. Because any story you tell, especially when it comes to making important business decisions, has to be well-founded. Yeah.

And I'm not saying all extroverts have a tendency just to blurt out gut-feel and information that's not accurate, but I think you're completely right. If you do have that good combination of balance and storytelling, not only are you able to get the point across, but, you know, because you've done your research and, you know it's founded on accurate data, that the story you're telling is true, as opposed to just something that's based on gut-feel.

[Christian] Agreed, and that's essentially the core of that impact equation I talk about. Knowing your insights, having done your analysis, having that foundation balanced with the ability to influence through good data storytelling and the ability to create, you know, trusted partnerships and good relations with the business, you know, so that balance is, is exactly what you're talking into here, and so I really believe in that.

[Adam] Thank you. So moving on a little bit then, and again, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but the concept of the finance business partner, I am seeing… To me, it's building more momentum now.

So when you go back five, 10 years ago, you know, when I started work speaking with finance teams and that sort of stuff, it wasn't a role that we would come across very often.

But I think, and I don't know whether it's because, we've now got systems that give us better data to the point where we've got people that can be more partners to the business.

So it'd be good to get your view on that. Why do you think that there is more presence and more recognition of finance business partners now compared to where we were five to 10 years ago?

[Christian] I think that's a really great question. I recently read an article that said that the first article ever that came out talking about the move from being counter to business partner was already back in 85 or something. The same year as windows launched Window 1.0 and the first .com web page was launched, right?

So, a long time ago, so we have been talking about this for more than five and 10 years. We have been talking about this for 40 years to some extent, right?

And we still see articles you know, boosting that idea of going from bean counter to a business partner.

But I do agree that within 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. And in an often also it can create the role in many companies where business partnering was more sort of a mindset, something that everybody in finance did on did on top of their normal jobs earlier.

So, but you do see more designated finance business partner jobs today. I'm not saying that all of them actually do what I believe to be finance business partnering, but the title is be becoming much more prominent.

And I think, you know, I think that idea, even if it's old, it's still very valid and it's just becoming more and more important.

And as you say, as 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.

But it should also hopefully give us time to actually go and talk to the business, understand their needs, be able to present and tell that story behind the numbers.

So, yeah, it's, it's partially driven by the the technological advances, but it's, I think it's also a matter of, of businesses starting to recognize that finance is sitting on such a vast amount of information that it's, it's just a strategic advantage to have finance business partners that can help you because they literally know stuff about the business that nobody else does though.

[Adam] Absolutely right. And so sometimes, finance can be the underdogs in the organization, especially the way that they are perceived to the wider business, you know, you pay the salaries, you know, you sought the expenses, you know, but a lot of people don't appreciate is a lot, a lot more than that.

And going back to your point about the emergence of the role of the finance business partner, I think I'd be inclined to agree that a long time ago, maybe it was just assumed that that business partnering was included in the role of ‘senior finance individual’, but maybe it's now, it's not that it didn't exist before, it's the fact that we are now giving it more of a label. You know, 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.

So I think that's fair.

[Christian] And I think another aspect is that, previously the CFO, you know, the top finance people in an organization, they have all always to some extent, acted as finance business partners, 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.

So I think we talk about thinking like the CFO, or thinking like the CEO, sometimes actually taking responsibility for the entire business, and that's, that's part of business partnering as well.

So it's cascading down through the finance organization I believe.

[Adam] Great. So we've talked a bit about data, storytelling. So from your experience, what do you class as good data? What sort of data do you think is useful to a finance business partner?

[Christian] I think that's a really good question because I often see finance people getting a little bit too focused on what's available in the system, you know, so if I can extract it from the ERP, then, you know, that's good.

But I believe in a more holistic approach if you will. So, it’s like, you know, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Is that the saying?

So if somebody comes and asks you something in, from somebody in the business, they have an issue, they want you to help them, then you go to the tool you have available and extract some data from there, even though that data might not be fit for purpose.

So in that regard, I think finance business partnering is about also being able to think outside of the data structures that we actually have.

So sometimes just running your own little experiments, get some data and maybe do a survey like even sometimes go and interview people instead and gather some qualitative data rather than just your quantitative data from the systems.

I'm astounded how how little finance people do this, why don't we go and ask people, do interviews and do questionnaires and actually gather insights from the business by interviewing people, instead of just looking at the numbers, if you will, in the system.

So I think we need to take a little bit of a more holistic approach to data and data sources, if we want to become really good finance business partners.

[Adam] I think that's a really good point. And I love the analogy, if you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but yeah, I think systems and data are there, well, for a purpose, and, as you say, it's important not to get into the trap of saying, because this is the data that I have access to, this is the only data that I have. Because you're almost self-limiting. And coming back to your point there about, I see it is the distinction between financial and nonfinancial data, in building that holistic view.

And to use a very, very simple example. I've worked with companies in the past that are very people focused, right?

So, so their main expense is, I mean, it's the same in most organizations, right? The main expenses is the staff, but when you sell services, that's even more so. Right.

So non-financial data could be stuff that is as simple as, well, how many employees have we got? How many contractors are we using?

You know, and that's not data that you would think, I mean, maybe sometimes you would, but if you're just looking at financial data, you might not think, right well, how do we compare that against the nonfinancial data that could be useful to us? You know how many site installations have we got for a certain product or service?

[Christian] I think that's a great and you are entirely correct. And in the end, what you're trying to do is to solve a business problem, somebody from the business has a problem that you're trying to solve. That's at least the goal as a finance business partner. So you shouldn't get bogged down by what's in your system.

You need to figure out what do I need to know, what would have to be true for me to solve this problem? If you will. So, I think it's important to yeah. Really focus on, I'm not getting too stuck with the data you have available, but think about what data would I need in order to solve this problem.

[Adam] Yeah. That's it. So what decisions do we need to make, forgetting about data?

[Christian] Exactly.

[Adam] 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?

I mean, cheesy term, but bigger picture thinking, right. How do we essentially put ourselves in the future?

And I had a discussion about this in my last podcast, when we were talking about automation and not being stuck within your current workflow, actually thinking about what that future needs to be, and then working back from there.

So I think it's a, it's a very valid, very valid point.

[Christian] Start with the problem you're trying to solve the decision you need to make. And then back from there rather than start with data. Right?

So we are teaching a lot of classes on, on structured problem solving and being more clear on what is it that we are trying to solve and spending adequate time with your business stakeholders before you start your analysis, you know, getting to the point where you fully understand the problem you're trying to solve. Scope it, you know, because when you know your problem, your analysis becomes so much easier.

Otherwise you'll end up spending so much time trying to solve something that you don't really understand. So that point of really, you know, understanding the problem you're trying to solve in at a comprehensive level, do that root cause analysis and all of that, before we start, before you even open your Excel sheet or whatever data source you might look into. So, yeah.

[Adam] Yeah. And again, that ties back into the point that you raised earlier about influence, because you could spend hours and hours at your desk, as you say, filtering through spreadsheets and trying to find trends and so on and so forth.

But if you've not had a wider conversation with the business, if you haven't gained the perspective of, of other team members, then you're almost having to mind read.

You're almost having to guess what other people are wanting to see. Whereas sometimes it's simply just to ask the question.

[Christian] Yeah, exactly. 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 VBA 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. Yeah.

[Adam] Very good. Very good. So we've mentioned Excel a couple of times there, and I know, I mean, everybody loves a good Excel spreadsheet, right. You know, despite what people say about trying to get rid of spreadsheets, I think that there is a time and a place, and sometimes it can be a very useful tool.

I mean, Excel, Google sheets, a spreadsheet. Right. And that's what we're talking about.

And I know that you guys are really good at sharing the tips and tricks side of things you know, on LinkedIn, you know. I love the ones that, you know, that are ‘Did you know about the shortcut’ and that sort of stuff, because it's, it makes you smile and it's good to get stuck into.

Where do you think the place is for Excel and spreadsheets? Do you still see a lot of it, or do you see the, do you see finance moving now more towards business intelligence and predictive analytics?

What, what's the lay of the land from your perspective on those sorts of data gathering and sort of data analysis tools?

[Christian] I think if you asked me five years ago, I would have said that we would have been further towards automation and new systems than we are, in my experience, I see Excel everywhere still. It's still a tool that just being used by finance professionals, or Google sheets for that matter, it's spreadsheets in general.

And I don't think we'll get rid of that anytime soon, but it's also a matter of using it correctly because we do, you can't do, you can't use Excel as a database very well.

Like it's, it's not meant for that. Just one example. So, and some models are getting too complicated and it's impossible to make sure that you kind of make sure that everything is up to date and up to speed.

So I think we need to use it wisely and use it for the, for the things that make sense for us to do a little bit, maybe a back of the envelope analysis and all of that.

But if it's for month-end reporting, things that are recurring, definitely try to be an automate, there are so many good tools out there.

I've had conversations, and I've seen what the new Oracle, SAP, all of those solutions, and there are so many out there. It's amazing how they can do with AI and machine learning today, in terms of explaining variance, as an example. And it's not just highlighting ‘here is a variance’, it's literally like text-based explanations on what the reasons behind it might be.

It's very advanced today. So we are seeing that move and it's definitely happening. So we need to get on that wagon and, and, you know, like go with that.

But I don't see spreadsheets being eliminated entirely for a long time to be quite honest.

[Adam] Yeah. So, what we're talking about there is strategic use of a tool rather than building our working life around it, aren't we?

And we've spoken about some concepts there, you know, AI, machine learning, the concept of wider ERPs. Some people sometimes get a bit scared. You know, for larger businesses that have got endless budget, it's a little bit easier because they can justify the investment in some instances.

But what we're now finding, as well as that there's, there's now smaller businesses that are being able to get on those because the, the cost of ownership is, is coming down.

You know, every everything's in the cloud now. When you look at something simple, like Xero, for example, you know. It will grab purchase invoices so that you don't have to manually key them, and I don't have any affiliations with Xero, it's just an example. It's the same for stuff like bank account reconciliations, matching rules. Instead of having to manually key this matches with this invoice, just have a system do it for you.

You don't need to do that in a spreadsheet. So. I think that's a valid point. I mean my background software, so I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole because we'd be here forever.

But yeah, so in summary, we're saying there's, there's still a place for it, but we want to start looking at the tools that we have our disposal strategically.

So for this type of activity, this could be in Excel, for this type of activity, it could be ERP. for this type of activity, it could be a dashboard, something like a power BI or a Qlik or something like that.

So I think that's a valid point.

But coming back to your work, so you've explained it a little bit about what you do. Your equation when it comes to, you know, influence. Talk a little bit more around that.

So when you work with finance teams, where do you tend to start and what are your hopes for where you then leave them when the work is finished?

So what do you often see as reasons that you get involved, and then what is the outcome that you're working towards during your work with finance business partners?

[Christian] Yep. I am, you know, the reason why I am in this space, which is very, you know, the people space of finance, if you will, is because we actually believe there is kind of a market gap there, to some extent. You have a lot of consultancies and external vendors working in the tech space. And a lot of people are also pretty good at process optimization.

But it’s like, we tend to invest a lot in big fancy systems, implementing systems. We try to optimize our processes, but we're not always good enough as finance functions to upscale and make sure that our people are on board in the transformation that is happening.

So, that digital transformation is important, but it won’t succeed without having the people on board. So that's where we have a a role to play.

We do partner with both Deloitte and other big consultancies, and they often go in and help with the, you know, implementing a new ERP system or a planning, budgeting tool, whatever.

But then, you know, when it comes to actually upskilling the people and making sure people are ready for the change that's happening, and a lot of changes are happening, then that's where we get involved. So we very much focus on the people side and the organizational structure as well.

So, we tend to actually start off, and to talk about the service delivery model of a finance function, because if you're a bogged back down by manual tasks, it's hard to actually free up time to be a good finance business partner. That's a very common, common issue. So we often need to look at the finance function more holistically and say, who does what, and agree on roles and responsibilities before we can really start working with people.

So, that's often where we start, but then we often end with a clearer picture of roles and responsibilities, roles, meaning finance, you might have finance business partners, you might have FP & A, you might have accountants, you might have different controllers. But getting to that point, knowing who does what, and then we can start upskilling people, making sure that everybody doesn't need to know the same, you know, it depends on the role you have.

And then we customize our learning journeys based on the needs of the different teams that we're working with.

[Adam] And that's an interesting point as well. And again, it ties to some recent conversations I've had because… When you look at the modern workplace, everybody's so busy, everybody's doing the jobs of three or four different people in some instances.

So, from the work you do, how often do you see that you've got, and we won't give them a label, just say, a senior finance professional that actually has multiple roles. Is it quite common that you need to actually be quite straightforward and say, right, well, at the moment, you're trying to do the jobs of three or four people. So why don't you just focus on this because you're really good at that. How often do you see that sort of thing?

[Christian] Yeah. I see that quite often and to be quite frank. I don't think it works. I don't think it's an ineffective way of working.

So, especially in large organizations, you need to have a operating model and a service delivery model and the finance function that divides the responsibilities, obviously.

And I do often see people, you know doing month-end close, but also wanting to go and be business partners.

You need to have your foundation in place as a finance business partners. You need to, you know, be in the numbers and know the numbers and all of that. But, but again, you can't both, you know, do reconciliations and it debit credit, and then be, you know, out there influencing the business.

So I, I truly believe that as a CFO, you need to build an organization that has, you know, clearer role descriptions. And unfortunately, I do often see organizations that don't have that clear understanding of who does what, and they might have the roles, but they do things that are maybe related to other roles as well.

And it does confuse people in terms of roles and responsibilities, and often the business stakeholders who you're trying to, whom you're trying to support, they get confused because, am I supposed to talk to this person or that person, who's my one point of contact.

And 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? So..

[Adam] That's an interesting point as well, actually, especially in larger organizations, you know. For this division of the business, who do we actually need to speak to?

And that's an interesting concept, you know, a key account finance manager, you know? Yes. Yeah. I like that.

[Christian] We do talk a lot about the analogies to sales and customer interactions. When you talk finance business partnering. Key account management is obviously, or is also something that arrives which derives from, that comes from sales.

But, but it is, you know, in my opinion, 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.

So, you need to see them that way. And you need to understand the needs of your customers in the same way.

So, we often also introduce the net promoter score almost, you know, so if finance net promoters or people in the business, are you happy with what we're doing?

Get some feedback. Do you want to recommend our services to somebody else, you know, and maybe not a net promoter score per se, but getting that continuous feedback from your customers and the business to actually know whether or not you're on target and, and you can adjust based on that.

And it opens up that dialogue around how do I support you best as, as your finance business partner?

So we do use a lot of those sales analogies actually in some companies.

[Adam] I think that's a really good way of looking at it. Because when you look at fundamental human psychology, people live in their own world. It's a fact. It's not bad thing. It's just how it is. You know, we live in our minds, you know, we see the world according to ourselves.

And it comes back to your point earlier about asking questions under the influence piece.

You know, you're not a mind reader.

You can't always guess what is useful to other parts of the business. So, and yeah, maybe it's nice to have a formal process.

I mean, you mentioned the concept of net promoter score, which I think is fabulous, but even if there isn't a defined process, there's nothing wrong with you asking the question, you know, is this useful to you? How did I do?

You know, and it might just be a message on teams, you know, or slack or you know, whatever communication tool you using.

I think that's a really, I think that's a really valid point.

[Christian] That's the least you can do, like, literally. I'm not asking it all finance people to get the quantitative surveys from, from all of those stakeholder, but like, if you're servicing somebody in the business and everybody in finance is indirectly supporting somebody in the value chain, that's what we do.

You know, at least have quarterly meetings where you reflect on your collaboration and ask for feedback on how you can do better.

That's the least you can do, I think. And maybe even more frequently than that.

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.

So yeah. So I think that's important. Remember that you have customers that you're serving, and your success depends on their success, if you will.

[Adam] Yeah. Yeah. And, and it reminds me of a few conversations that I've been having recently around curiosity. Because we now live in a world. I mean, it's great. We can work from anywhere, you know like here. You're in, I'm assuming you're in Copenhagen at the moment, right?

[Christian] Yeah.

[Adam] I'm here in the middle of England, Manchester at the moment. We're having a conversation as though we were almost sat next to each other, even though it's on a screen.

But when we start moving into a world of ones and zeros that can sometimes limit our ability to have true human to human connections.

So the reason I talk about curiosity is… A lot of the time when somebody's speaking, you'll be then thinking about what your reply is going to be. And again, that's part of human nature as well. How can I contribute? How can I continue this conversation?

Whereas if you foster that curiosity element, instead of speaking first, think about what that person has said. And do you need to delve a little bit deeper?

So in your scenario, you know, somebody from from another team's asking you a question, or can you, can you give me this report? Or can you tell me a little bit more about how we're doing here?

Instead of going away, straight away and, you know, going into your spreadsheet or downloading a report from your ERP or what have you, there could be a pause when you then think, actually, why are they asking me this question?

[Christian] Yes, Exactly.

[Adam] Do I need to delve a little bit deeper here? You know, because then that, as you say, coming back to how useful you then are to the wider business. 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 your’re generating to the business.

[Christian] Right. I think you're making some really, really good points there because nine out of 10 times, when somebody from the business ask some 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.

So somebody is asking you for data, but that data doesn't tell the finance person anything about what is the actual problem you're trying to solve.

You’re using this data to extract some information that you need. So if you don't ask those questions upfront, how will you help out?

You can extract the data and just, you know, give it to them. 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? What is it that you're trying to understand better? And the problem you're trying to solve before, just diving into ‘I'll give you the data’, like, so ask more questions.

I'm teaching a course about real conversations between finance and business. And it's that balance between inquiry and effort and efficacy. So it's about, 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 are also here to help the business understand their problems better. So, it's a mistake if we think that we also always need to have the answers because we should be asking more questions than providing answers in many cases, actually.

[Adam] Yes, I totally agree. And it comes back to what you saying about root cause analysis.

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.

[Christian] And often it's safer a lot of time, because if you said that time upfront understanding the Christian to adeep enough level, it becomes relatively easy to solve.

It's the classical Einstein quote that if you have an hour or two to solve a problem, you would spend 55 minutes asking questions and trying to understand it, understand the problem, 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 advisor I believe so...

[Adam] Yeah. Well, definitely saves the emails back and forwards.

Send me this report. Oh, sorry. Can I have that with this? Oh, can I have that with this instead?

[Christian] We all know that.

And do we ever stop to ask, why do you need this? What are you really trying to solve here?

[Adam] Very good. Very good. So I'm conscious we've not got all the time in the world today, so I'm, I'm thinking about from my list of questions, where I go next.

Okay. So I suppose, useful for people.

So have you got any resources that you tend to rely on, you know, for people that are thinking about developing business partner skills, obviously they can come to you, and have that conversation.

But when you look at the sort of knowledge basis and that the areas where you point people towards, if they are thinking more seriously about how they become a better business partner, there, any resources that you'd recommend?

[Christian] Yeah. I think if you're at the start of your journey, you know, get the foundations, right.

And, you know, you need as a finance professional to be good with data and analysis. So start there, but, but really quickly move into work that also, you know, forces you to build your people skills and, and work on that.

So 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. It will help you down the line. So, I think there's a lot of good resources out there that you can use.

I particularly use the APQC benchmarking as a source of knowledge, they have much more than just benchmark. So I think that's pretty good.

But I also think the classical Harvard business review articles about leadership and, and how influence people. Those are very valid points. I'm following that intensely as well, so those are not your average finance resources necessarily. It's more about being a good leader, being good professionals, if you will. So.

[Adam] No, that's a fair point as well. Yeah, that's a fair point.

If you were to cast an eye to the future and it doesn't specifically have to relate to finance business partners, it could just relate to finance or even business in general. How, and you might not be able to say, but how do you predict roles are likely to evolve?

How do you think this space is going to evolve into the future?

[Christian] I I think we keep saying that everything will change a lot and it hasn't felt like that to a lot of people. But, you know, 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.

So things are changing up rapidly and our roles are changing a lot. And I know it's cliche, but it is happening. It definitely is. And I do see, we talked about all the tech here as well, AI, RPA, machine learning, et cetera.

I do see some quantum leaps happening pretty soon. It is exponential growth. So people said and that we will be automated 10 years ago. It didn't happen. That doesn't mean it won't happen in the next 10 years. I honestly see a lot of jobs changing significantly due to some quantum leaps in technology soon.

Especially in finance functions, some of the manual stuff. If you're still, you know, doing manual work, you need to upskill because it will be automated.

It is as, as easy as that, to be honest. Yeah. So, so I do do see quite a lot of changes happening.

I was talking about maybe accountants being the first digital refugees, because you're the classical accountant role will change a lot.

At least that's predicted by studies at the moment. So let's see. But I do see a lot of changes happening due to primarily the advances of tech.

[Adam] Yeah. And I think you’re right to focus on the up-skilling. When I look at this, I think in terms of repurposing rather than replacing.

I think roles will disappear, but I don't necessarily think that's that people will be made redundant or get fired,

[Christian] Me neither.

[Adam] You know, but that moving into the future. I believe 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, which then gives people the opportunity to really drive business forward because you have the skills to take what the systems are doing, and as we've discussed earlier, tell the story, you know. And then identify ways that, you know, how as a business, can we break into new markets? How can we diversify? You know, there's no harm in having more people thinking more strategically. That's, that's just my view anyway.

[Christian] Yeah. So that that's also the way I see it. Like people will not necessarily be fired. And 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 maybe a little more, some skills related to being more strategic, maybe being a little more, you know, thinking more holistically about the business rather than just the finance function.

So, I think everybody needs to think about how they can expand what they already have, with new skills as well.

But that's, that's modern business life, I believe for everybody almost.

[Adam] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Very good. So, so this podcast is called “Tech for Finance”.

So the question I'm getting in the habit of asking is… and it doesn't need to relate to work, it could be in your personal life.

So, do you have an app on your phone or a piece of software or a piece of tech, and it doesn't even have to be software, it could be like a gadget, you know, that you couldn't live without?

[Christian] I think it's a fun question.

But we actually, there is 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.

So I've developed a training app for the for the clients that I work with. So we do all these physical and virtual training sessions, but we also then have an app where we can have a community. It's almost like a social media platform for training, and we can interact and, you know, remind each other of how we…

The things we learn in training modules, we can try that out in our daily work, and share with the team in there. So it's great to see how you can build a community in that app, virtually with people from all over the world, who have, you know, where the common thing is they're part of a function, they've been through some training together. And then, you know, they, they share the insights on that platform and in a community. So, so I'm really happy with that at the moment.

It's a lot of fun. So it brings me closer to my clients as well.

[Adam] And the thing that brings you closer to your clients is a big tick, eh?

So that’s, A C T I M O, is that how it's spelled? And it's now owned by Kahoot you said?

[Christian] Yeah

Okay. I mean, I've not heard of it before, you know, you learn something new every day, so I'll check it out, check it out for sure. But I'll put everything on the show notes. So it will be

That’s the link that that we’ll use. But to finish off, where can people find out more about you Christian, you know, on social, on your website?

[Christian] Yeah. Yeah. I would urge people to follow me on LinkedIn. I do posts daily in this space, on CFO services and finance transformation. So please follow me on LinkedIn. Otherwise, we are at, so

[Adam] Okay. Yeah, I'll put that in the show notes.

I'm just going to get up your LinkedIn. So your LinkedIn address is,

So that's F R A N T Z - H A N S E N. So frantzhansen.

So that's where people can check you out on LinkedIn.

[Christian] Posted in the chat. I think you can check if the one in the chat is right.

[Adam] That's fine. I'll put it in the show notes too.

So that's perfect. It's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you this morning Christian, really appreciate your time, and I think there's been some interesting things that I'll definitely be applying some more thought to that's for sure.

So… Excellent stuff. Well, keep me up to date with what you're doing, maybe at some point in the future we’ll speak again, but for now, thanks ever so much for your time, Christian.

[Christian] Thank you so much. This has been fun.

[Adam] Great stuff. See you later.


tech for finance

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©2022 by Adam Shilton. Privacy Policy - Terms of Use