Financial insight: challenges and opportunities

This joint report from ACCA and IMA suggests ways the finance function can improve current approaches to business partnering. It proposes nine pragmatic actions to improve partnering practices anchored in three core component parts: creating the mandate, fixing the information and deploying the talent.


Don’t believe everything you read. Finance business partnering, and the commercial ‘insight’ agenda are not new phenomena. For those of us old enough to remember, enterprises had established ‘commercial finance’ operations before the nomenclature ‘finance business partnering’ was established. Nor should business partnering be seen as a responsibility now being added to the remit of the finance department. The finance function has always had a role to play in providing information insights to the enterprise to support better business decision making. These are, however, extraordinary times.

Today’s business operating environment is competitive, complex, nuanced, volatile, fast changing and entrepreneurial; there are broad social and demographic changes affecting how and where business is done to meet the demands of a changing global consumer population, amid the broader economic rebalancing of the world’s economy. Despite this, it is the advent of technology that is having the most profound impact on working lives. At the heart of creating competitive advantage will be technological innovation. How the business uses the data at its disposal to take more effective decisions will be the ‘make or break’ of corporate success.

The growing digitisation of businesses, a more entrepreneurial climate, and new successful business models that meet customer needs more efficiently will drive a highly competitive enterprise landscape. These developments will also have a profound effect on the future of the finance function because, in a fast-moving, data-rich business environment, enterprise data insights will be central to creating advantage and corporate value.

ACCA and IMA see these developments as a great opportunity for the finance function, but they also present a challenge to its internal influence and reputation. This is particularly true because this study, focused on the financial insight agenda, suggests that many practices in finance business partnering are failing to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment. Essentially there are three impediments: leadership and strategic alignment of these practices are falling short; the finance department is ineffectively ‘tooled up’ with poor technology; and there remains a shortfall in capability and talent equipped to deal with this changing environment.