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Defining the FBP: "Finance Business Partner" or "Financial Bottom-line Protector"

Synergy Group CFO Advisory Executive Director, Doug Tyler, discusses contemporary Finance Business Partners and the Challenges Facing CFOs in finding these "Unicorns"
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22 July 2024
Doug Tyler
2 minutes
“Finance Business Partner” or “Financial Bottom-line Protector”

Can the role be both? What should a high-performing and effective Finance Business Partner look like?

An exemplar Finance Business Partner (FBP) will be a trusted advisor to the business who performs their role by:

  • being agile and adaptable
  • personable and persuasive
  • knowing the business
  • knowing their clients (and their thinking styles)
  • are analysis driven (continually monitoring relevant data and business intelligence)
  • know how to navigate an organisation's decision making

In contemporary finance environments FBP roles are mobile and have access to systems, data and reliable technology and communication functionality.

Effective FBPs influence operational decisions through proactive involvement, are agnostic to the issues at hand, and lead through educating others. Pure business partners specialise in their craft, they are perceived as independent and not aligned to individual stakeholders, they provide proactive analysis before the business realises a decision needs to be made and institutionalise learning from past decisions to develop new tools and methods for operational decision making.

These roles are not “Business or Finance Generalists”. Financial operating models fail to deliver scale and breadth, practical expertise, and timely support for executive decision making when relying on generalists. The art of business partnering is ‘pre’-suasion and the ability to influence is paramount. FBPs recognise the best time to influence is when decision makers do not realise they are being influenced and this generally occurs outside of the decision-making window. To enable this proactive influence, being physically and/or virtually embedded in the business and being on-demand, whilst maintaining strong connection and accountability back to central finance and the CFO is key.

People skills are their greatest weapon, however FBPs are best armed when fully qualified and have broad experiences in their personal toolbox. Qualifications can range, however greatest acceptance and trust often comes with CPA / CA status underpinned by an Accounting, Commerce, Finance or Economics bachelor degree. Strong financial accounting, management accounting and commercial experiences are excellent foundations. Project management and executive soft skills provide professional rounding. Post graduate qualifications (for example MBA) and other business/commercial degrees (for example – data science, information communication and technology) are also advantageous for senior Finance Business Partner roles in large organisations.


 Where do you find these ‘Unicorns’?

The answer is: You generally can't just find them, you have to grow or develop them. In the market you will find talent who tick many of the FBP boxes, but to be fully effective, organisations need to intentionally invest in their growth. FBPs need the right environment and support to mature and grow into their potential.

Not all organisations are the same and the mx of environment and support will differ. Key areas for CFOs to consider are the following:

  • Financial Operating Model
  • Functional foundations (People, Processes, Systems and Tools)
  • Organisational and team cultures
  • Reporting lines and location (embedded versus central)
  • Training and development (including foundational inductions)
  • Career pathways, mentoring and communities of practice
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