Background
Trends 22 December 2016

Finance becomes
a business partner

In modern financial departments it's not only about the numbers, but above all about how you use them to properly manage the company. Finance is becoming more strategic and is developing into a management business partner.

"Correct numbers are essential to making good decisions."

Sounding Board

Alex Gijzenberg is an International Controller at HZPC. In his function, he is the contact point for financial professionals of HZPC's international memberships. He has seen the advisement role of Finance greatly increase. Alex Gijzenberg elaborates: "Traditionally, controllers were close to the accounting themselves. Are the numbers correct and complete? Are we operating in line with expectations? A report is then created about it. 

In addition to traditional tasks such as controlling, analysis, reporting and budgeting, it is becoming increasingly important to be a partner to the management in decision making based on the correct data. I see the job shifting more and more to business partnering. In this, you still use the numbers, but mainly as input for advisement on the manner in which the company must be managed. This could be operational, but also strategic. Finance becomes a sounding board for the management."

HZPC & Innovation in Finance
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Within HZPC, Finance is investing in actions to further increase the quality of work and to win time. Alex Gijzenberg explains: "We are looking very closely at our own work and making sure that we are taking steps forward. We are also striving for a good mix of competencies within the team which fit in with the new roles in Finance. We have people who work in a business partner role and people who work on correct numbers and compliance. It is important to know that the various roles exist and that different people can fulfil them. Through focus and specialisation we can cope with growth and complexity.

The profession continues to develop and it is important that you keep on top of it. To keep scanning for opportunities, to keep reading professional literature and to keep talking to other companies. We regularly implement benchmarking, in which we visit well-known companies to see how they solve certain issues. We look at companies within our sector and outside of it, where we can learn from best practices about the design of the financial function.

In addition, we have further expanded the financial function with the use of non-financial issues. Consider the performance measurement of new varieties. This also flows out of business partnering. Finance is good at measuring whether you are on the right path toward a goal. Often, Finance is implemented afterwards, but if you formulate interim steps, you can make adjustments in the process sooner. Based on a redesign of the previously used Balanced Score Card, we are developing a new tool for this.

Naturally you can't measure too much, that'd finish you off. But it is important to find the right criteria so that you can determine whether you are on the right path. Measuring must be in balance. In consultation with various sections within the company, we are looking at what the organisation needs. The discussion on this alone has already created awareness." 

"ICT can make the job easier, but you have to set it up."

Tensions

The new role creates a new area of tension, because a task is being added. Correct numbers are essential to making good decisions. In this, the pressure on oversight has increased in recent years and regulation is only becoming more complex, as in the area of reporting and taxes. Globalisation requires more knowledge of the variety of regulations and often complex structures that apply in other parts of the world. All tasks which put pressure on the available time of the financial department.

Alex Gijzenberg, Controller International at HZPC
Alex Gijzenberg, Controller International at HZPC

Critical

Big data is another trend in which others look to Finance full of expectation. "We are expected to structure the data related to Finance into something you can do something with", says Alex Gijzenberg. "ICT can make the job easier, but you do have to set it up. To be able to effectively fulfil the role of business partner, we are looking to win time through greater automation. If you can standardize processes and further automate, you have more time for analysis. We are making greater use, for example, of digital invoicing and automating its processing.

My tip is: stay critical and approach your processes with your eyes open. Don't let the fact that you've "done it this way for years" be a reason not to change. It can be hard to get past it, but if you don't do it, there is the risk that you won't have enough time for analysis and strategic thinking. Despite high work pressure, you aren't fulfilling the wishes of the management.

Ultimately, we can't do everything. The job is getting more complex. Sometimes it is sensible to obtain knowledge from outside."

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