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How to become a great Finance business partner... even if the thought scares you!

By Andy Burrows

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Many of those who observe and comment on the state of the Finance function in general portray Finance people as being fearful of change.

The hype around robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence, the explosion in different tools on top of the ERP system and Excel, the speed of business change, and the cost pressure on Finance, add up to a significant feeling of uncertainty.

I have to say, when I work with Finance teams, I don’t necessarily feel that fear tangibly. People seem to get their heads down and work hard, and grab automation opportunities with both hands as something that will make their lives easier.

But I think it’s the way we characterise or explain things.

You see, I don’t think Finance people are fearful of losing their jobs, which is often the way it’s expressed by commentators (like myself). I’ve lost my job several times in my career – and it’s a...

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Why culture and strategy are the key to future CFO and Finance success

By Andy Burrows

I do quite like that saying (originated by Peter Drucker), “culture eats strategy for breakfast!” I’m not quite sure what it means exactly... but it conjures images of tasty eggs, bacon, sausages, and maybe a couple of slices of toast, so it makes me smile!

But what of culture and/or strategy in the Finance function?

I’m going to argue in this article that Finance is increasingly under pressure to change. Or, more positively, we’re presented with an opportunity we should be reaching for more confidently than we are.

And that’s the opportunity to be involved in business decisions, the opportunity to drive business performance through helping to improve performance management.

The irony is that it’s the CFO who often stands in the way of the Finance fulfilling its potential to help the business and create value. And that’s because the CFO often has cultural blind spots and strategic blind spots.

The drivers of change in...

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Is the drive for efficiency actually making Finance any better?

Uncategorized May 30, 2019

By Andy Burrows

In the generally accepted paradigm for the Finance function, where Finance is an overhead that needs to be kept down and reduced constantly, efficiency is often the name of the game.

And the ways we get efficiency are normally through simplification, standardisation and automation.

Those three words were the mantra of a Finance Transformation programme I once knew. And it’s a great mantra!

We don’t want to be adding layer upon layer of complexity. We don’t need to have multiple ways of doing exactly the same thing. And why would we do something manually when a computer can do it for us?

But…

We need to be careful. There is such a thing as oversimplification. And even as we shave more costs out of the P&L through simplification-driven efficiency, there can be bigger negative impact on overall performance.

Let me explain…

Why Simple Wins… But Not All The Time

In her book, Why Simple Wins, Lisa Bodell talks about what she...

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Let's stop messing about with project budgeting!

By Andy Burrows

Budgeting creates problems for projects in business.

Projects are often something of an anomaly for Finance when it comes to expenditure control and resource allocation. At least that’s the way that it’s felt.

The problem, however, is really budgetary control.

When I was doing management reporting for functional expenditure areas, that’s what I used to feel with projects.

And the problem was that we were trying to manage project expenditure in the same way as every other kind of expenditure.

We’d create cost centres for projects as if they were business departments. That would mean the nomination of a cost centre manager, and the inclusion of the project costs within the ‘actual vs budget’ variance analysis each month for each function.

When it came to forecasts, we’d collate the data in the same way as every other cost centre. And we’d challenge their forecasts, and their spending against budget in the same way as...

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Why business needs more boring accountants!

By Andy Burrows

When I came out of public practice and went to work for a business in its Finance team, I was fairly naïve. I still had a very black and white view – an auditors view - of accounting. And so, some of the practices of the management accountants were a real shock to me.

My point in this article is that they should be a shock! Finance professionals in business are supposed to tell it how it is, and to be the ones that keep the business honest.

There’s a general joke about the term, “creative accounting” (it’s supposed to be an oxymoron!) But if we’re honest with ourselves in Finance, much of that practice happens with the intention of misleading people. And the only reason we don’t call it fraud is because these things normally involve judgment, and therefore we think we can justify it as just being “very prudent”, or saying, “it’s a grey area”.

Accruals and provisions

In that first job outside...

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Finance transformation without new software or shared services

By Andy Burrows

This article was inspired by a comment someone made a while ago when I was talking recently about innovation within Finance: “Can innovation in finance be as simple as: Put away the spreadsheets! Get off email! And absorb yourself in the business! It seems simple but is it innovative…?”

That struck a chord with me. It would be quite a new and different thing for many Finance people to spend more of their time with the business. It's not what we'd normally class as innovation, but the definition of 'innovation' is just the application of something new to bring about an improvement.

The big question is ‘why?’

The big question is 'why?' What benefit would there be from Finance people spending more time with non-Finance people in the business? Are we saying that there is more value in simple conversations with non-Finance business managers than spending time on the spreadsheets we love (and love to hate)? How can that be?

Many people may...

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Another Brick in the Finance Wall – We Don’t Need No Innovation!

By Andy Burrows

This is my second article looking at the relationship of Finance with innovation. In the other article I shared a few thoughts on how Finance can support strategic business innovation, which benefits customers and provides competitive advantage.

This time I want to turn my attention to innovation within Finance, affecting what we do on a day to day basis.

What is innovation?

One question we’d probably better get sorted in our minds is, what is innovation?

I remember attending a presentation a while back. In it they expressed great concern that a survey showed very few CFOs had priorities in innovation within Finance. (Well, of course, they did. The event was sponsored by one of the big software vendors! Ok, I’m being cynical, I know!)

And I sat there thinking, what do they mean by innovation?

And why is it such a high priority thing to do?

We’re all so busy. And some software sales person comes along and says we really need to consider their...

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How Finance Can Support Strategic Business Innovation

By Andy Burrows

Two innovation problems for Finance

When we think about the attitude of Finance towards innovation, there are two key questions:

  1. What should our attitude be towards business innovation? And,
  2. What should our attitude be towards internal innovation within Finance?

I’ll deal with the second question in another article.

But, before I kick off let me be honest about my thinking about innovation and Finance.

I approach innovation, whether in business or Finance, with a mixture of scepticism and mind-boggled wonder.

I am still staggered when I think of the rate of change over my working life. The internet, mobile communication, digital music and photography, to name but a few. Life has been transformed in less than 30 years.

And in order to achieve that, brave entrepreneurs – the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg – had to take risks with their new inventions. They reaped the rewards, and continue to do so.

And there have been hard lessons...

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7 Things Finance Can Do to Make Business Projects Successful

business change projects Mar 28, 2019

By Andy Burrows

I’ve worked in many businesses, and only two of them had what I would have judged to be a proper grip on change projects. In the other ones, senior Finance people would sometimes talk disparagingly about certain projects, and almost ‘tut’ with disapproval in seeing projects underdelivering and overrunning on time and costs.

I never had much time for that kind of ‘standing-on-the-side-lines’ mentality. It’s always struck me that there’s so much we can do in Finance to help projects succeed, rather than standing watching them crash and burn, wringing our hands, as if it’s some sort of spectator-sport.

So, here are seven observations – things that I think Finance can easily improve that will give change projects in our businesses more of a fighting chance.

1.    Appreciate the Importance of Projects

First of all, I don’t always get the impression that Finance business partners really appreciate...

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All forecasts are wrong - so what?

forecasting fp&a Mar 21, 2019

By Andy Burrows

 “Does anyone in FP&A ever review the accuracy of their predictive financial models from time to time?” That’s the question I posed on LinkedIn a while back, and it generated a good discussion. And it turns out that FP&A professionals generally care quite a lot about the accuracy of their forecasts.

One of the businesses I worked in was strongly linked to the travel industry. So, our business tended to fluctuate seasonally. But we never seemed to be able to get our P&L and volume forecasts right. It was low margin, high volume business. So, volumes made a big difference. It was so frustrating trying to predict things like the effect of Easter being early or late, public holidays, school holidays, and other factors like the economy, the weather, and exchange rates.

When we did variance analysis, the Managing Director would get frustrated with us, because sometimes the explanation for a variance would be that we’d neglected to...

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