5 keys to effective finance business partnering

Patrick Whatman

Published on March 5, 2024

Every business wants to be data driven. A huge percentage claim to be already, but most have little proof. And for the vast majority of businesses, it’s a never-ending work in progress. 

The challenge isn’t always in finding good data - although that can be the issue. Often, it’s about who looks at the numbers, and how they use them to make decisions

Despite the best intentions, your marketers, salespeople, engineers, product designers, and HR team don’t look at numbers like finance people. They need help. 

They need a finance business partner. 

Business partnering intentionally connects finance managers with other departments. They help plan and deploy budgets, find the right KPIs and success measures, build models, and analyze performance. Most importantly, they ensure that decisions are made for the right reasons, with financial performance in mind. 

That sounds amazing, and often is. But it’s not always easy to put into practice. 

Here’s a brief introduction to the role and aims of finance business partners, and five keys to implementing them successfully.

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What is a finance business partner (FBP)? 

Finance business partners use corporate finance knowledge and analytical skills to help businesses make better strategic decisions. This takes the finance team beyond the traditional realms of bookkeeping and compliance, making a greater impact on overall business performance.

What it looks like in practice

In many (often larger) companies, Business Partner is a job title. Someone with a finance background and analytical skills works as part of a non-finance department.

Common examples include: 

  • Sales: Embedded business partners help to find new pricing models, pinpoint the packages bringing the best return, and measure the impact of seasonality on new revenue. 

  • Marketing & advertising: A finance business partner analyzes your various advertising investments - digital, television, billboards, print - and helps to both allocate budget and assess the effectiveness of each campaign. 

  • Product: Working with product managers, they scope the potential impact of new product lines on revenue, the investment required, and the time taken to recoup this investment.

In these cases, the finance professional is part of another business unit - not in the finance team per se.

But the business partner role doesn’t have to be formally embedded in this way. Your FP&A team might include analysts who focus on one or two specific areas - sales and marketing are an obvious pair. 

That analyst still reports to the CFO or Head of Finance and is part of the finance team, while building strong relationships with and helping guide another department.

Why is business partnering a key aim?

PwC surveyed hundreds of CFOs as part of their 2023 Pulse Survey. When asked for their priorities for the next 12 months, “establishing finance as a business partner” was chosen by 43% of respondents - the third most common answer.

Strong business partnering is a common goal for many finance teams and CFOs. But this wasn’t always the case, and companies were traditionally happy to have their finance function as simply a corporate unit that oversees legal and tax obligations.

Modern companies are performance obsessed, with performance ultimately defined by profits, losses, and growth in the market. These financial KPIs impact every department, but not every department has the skill set to interpret and act on them.

Thus, the need for a finance manager to support and help influence business decisions across the company.

Benefits for companies

Encouraging effective finance business partners has several advantages:

  1. The finance team becomes a real strategic force and adds real value to the wider business.

  2. Financial reporting becomes more dynamic. Instead of top-down reports at the end of each month, teams can get real-time guidance that impacts behaviours and leads to better decisions.

  3. Teams can more easily tie their performance back to financial metrics and see the impact of products or initiatives on the company overall.

  4. Company financial planning is more effective as the finance team has direct access to and feedback from other departments.

Benefits for finance leaders

Working as a finance business partner lets you:

  1. Hone your communication skills and build strong relationships outside of finance.

  2. Build a deep understanding of other teams’ tactics and motivations and develop your own entrepreneurial mindset.

  3. Evolve your finance career beyond qualified accountant or auditor and become a business leader.

And there are very few downsides for either the company or your team members. It’s a matter of resource allocation, and ensuring that you first cover your basic finance responsibilities.

If you have the will and the people power, finance business partnering is a no-brainer.

Best practices for successful finance business partners

Once you decide to embrace this corporate finance approach, how can you ensure it succeeds? From conversations with dozens of CFOs, some key themes have emerged.

1. Open up communication

Cross-department communication is always a work in progress. We even have awkward terms like “SMarketing” (Sales + Marketing) that reflect this need for alignment.

The finance function is at the heart of every business, yet is often overlooked in these “alignment” conversations. “If you go back, finance teams were reporting the numbers but not really interacting with the business,” says Dan Wells, Founder & CEO of GrowCFO. When you were traditionally at the end of the line, there wasn’t much need to collaborate regularly.

“I'm always getting asked in our community, what is the best way for a CFO to really get to know the business. How can they properly understand the commercials behind it? The answer of course, is to go and talk to the teams and work closely with them.”

What is the best way for a CFO to really get to know the business. How can they properly understand the commercials behind it? The answer of course, is to go and talk to the teams and work closely with them.

Dan Wells, Founder & CEO, GrowCFO

It’s as simple as having finance business partners involved in other team meetings, and arranging regular check ins with stakeholders. Find out what new initiatives are on the horizon, and build relationships that put you at the centre of decision making, rather than the outside looking in.

2. Provide feedback & influence decisions

Let’s take the above theme further. Open communication channels and strong relationships with other teams are a great start. But the point of creating these is to be able to point out issues, give feedback, and help make key decisions.

As ex-Finance Director at Nested, Tiago Dias puts it, “Finance’s key purpose is to partner with people to ensure, in a helpful way, that the vision is executed (which is why I love my job).

“This is achieved by continuously providing feedback on a company’s trajectory. By repeating this process, a feedback loop is created, to ensure either that the company stays on track or if a destination change is required (e.g. pivot the business so that it is sustainable ahead of scaling).”

For starters, the CFO must be a key decision maker in overall strategic planning. That’s business partnering at the highest level.

But it also works on a team-by-team basis. Business partners are there to help departments construct and deploy budgets effectively, create strong business cases, and forecast the future impact of projects.

3. Prove the value of financial information

Every team has its own KPIs and success metrics. At first, it can be hard to introduce new, unfamiliar data. According to Daniel Yubi, Founder & CEO at Payable, your job is to make this information compelling and comprehensible for wider teams.

“With the right data and context, you will see a powerful narrative unfolding. Those are the insights your leadership will want to see as it will open conversations for product and growth investments.”

Daniel is particularly interested in finance teams partnering with product development. “If the product team solely focuses on solving customer problems without considering the commercial model, or if the finance team fixates solely on profitability without understanding the core product principles (desirability, feasibility, and viability), they inadvertently work against their own success. Cross-collaboration between finance and product teams is essential.”

If the finance team fixates solely on profitability without understanding the core product principles (desirability, feasibility, and viability), they inadvertently work against their own success.

Daniel Yubi, CFO, Payable

The goal is to give decision makers (in both Product and senior management) new perspectives on what’s actually helping the business succeed.

“Oftentimes that will mean sunsetting products that do not make viable sense. All in all, your finance and product teams will be better aligned to make decisions that will directly impact your business' bottom line.” 

4. Create and monitor the right metrics

Other business units don’t necessarily have the financial reporting acumen to take high-level metrics and apply them in the day to day. Which is exactly what makes business partnering so compelling.

A chief aim for every finance business partner should be to install the right metrics for each business unit to measure its own impact, and educate those teams on how to use them effectively.

This often goes beyond the core measures on your profit and loss statement. As IVP Partner James Black says, “monitoring only financial performance is not enough, it has to be complemented with operational metrics connected to investment areas. In addition, having a regular cadence for financial planning ensures that we check our course and take actions to course correct when needed.”

Aiven SVP of Operations & Strategy Katariina Korhonen says “the key is to have both financial and operational metrics in place, and then follow those up with product, sales, or marketing. For longer-term investments, cater for a longer horizon in the planning phase, and have leading indicators to enable early course correction if needed.”

Start by defining and agreeing on the right success measures for each business unit. These should be under their control, and connected directly to the wider business strategy.

5. Invest in your business partnering approach

The final tip is both obvious and constantly overlooked. If you don’t take partnering seriously, it will never succeed. For CFOs and finance leaders, this means holding your team accountable.

  • Are they meeting regularly with and offering feedback to other departments?

  • Do they understand those units’ business strategies?

  • Are they mentoring others and building new competencies across the business (and for themselves)?

The best success metric may be time spent. As Tiago Dias explains, “from a value creation perspective, [partnering] is where Finance should spend most of its time. If it is instead spending more than 50% of its time producing numbers, there is something wrong.”

Ideally, you’d have finance represented in all business planning. That’s hard at first, particularly if team members feel they have to do their “real job” on the side. You need to clear space and make partnering a core expectation - at least for specific finance team members.


Finance business partnering presents a real opportunity for modern companies. It lets you instil smart, data-centric decision-making across the organisation, guided by people who understand and can communicate that data. 

As IVP Partner James Black explains, “other than the CEO, the finance organization is across the entire business more than anyone else. You’re in the best position to have strategic insights and provide a lot of business value.”

To be effective, this approach requires strong communication, honest feedback, and extra effort. The reward is a company built on a foundation of sound strategic planning and strong interdepartmental relationships.

In other words, a high-functioning company.

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Experts quoted in this article