3 dos and don'ts in business partnering (you’d be surprised!)

Posted by  Douglas Yeung

 The Dos

1.    Take your time – A lot of times finance business partners are eager to prove their value add so they tend to jump right into the issues and hope to solve them.  Sometimes it is worth the wait just to be on the side lines and observe.  Play the newbie card if you need to but you are better off observing the culture of the team you support and understand the mandate before suggesting solutions.

2.    Take sides – As a business partner, do take sides.  If you support the sales team, take  the side of a sales person and think like they do.  Once you start framing an issue from the lens of your customer, you can better find a solution that is more appropriate for the business.  However, you need to frame it within acceptable finance parameters, which means it should be in the best financial interest of the company, in compliance with internal controls and most importantly, ethically and legally sound.

3.    Engage in politics – As a finance business partner, you need to navigate across the organisation to support the initiative the business is driving.  Stay alert on all the discussions across functions to make sure you understand different concerns from different functions, and then engage the functions and provide your insights.  As discussed in my other article “How finance can frame better strategy for the business”, FP&A can be strategic and drive actions across functions so your ability to navigate through the politics and organisational challenges will be critical to your success.

The Don’ts

1.    Don’t believe in the numbers – Many times finance business partners rely on data and numbers to make decisions.   However, numbers actually do lie.  How you interpret and present numbers can bring about very different conclusions.  Therefore, as a finance business partner, don’t believe in the numbers you see without understanding how the numbers come about.  Challenge the assumptions, challenge the analysis and challenge the conclusion.  You may have two sides of the same coin, but you get multiple conclusions when you look at a business situation.

2.    Don’t always think strategically – Although being strategic is a key objective for being a successful business partner, there are times when you shouldn’t think strategically.  For example, when looking at what can be impacting business results, a finance business partner may be better off looking at the basic and mundane processes.  Fixing some of these foundational issues can bring better business results than just looking at strategic initiatives.

3.    Don’t focus on finance acumen – As a finance business partner, you deploy a lot of your financial analysis skills to solve problems.  If you look at the steps of resolving issues, the first step is to understand the problems.  Unless a finance business partner has a good understanding of the business, he or she might frame the problem inaccurately.  Therefore, you need to focus more on developing your business acumen, and not just focus on your finance acumen.

These dos and don’ts are really about getting a finance business partner to transform himself or herself into a business manager with strong financial acumen and not a professional providing financial advice to the business.


Douglas Yeung

Douglas is a partner at Epitelligence Consulting, a management consulting firm specializing in helping startups and mid-stage companies scale up their operations.  By implementing the right business processes, these companies are able to gain operational efficiencies and improve profitability while maintaining a high growth model.

Before starting Epitelligence, Douglas spent 20+ years with Fortune 500 companies and startups in various finance and business roles.  His industry experience includes software (SaaS), travel, ecommerce, FMCG, industrial automation and telecom equipment manufacturing.  He has led FP&A teams for Asia Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong and Singapore and also worked in China and the United States.  In addition to finance roles, Douglas has led APAC wide strategy and pricing teams and was appointed interim general manager of a well-known beauty brand’s China business.

Douglas has conducted finance training in different companies and also gave speeches to students at universities in Hong Kong and Singapore to promote a career in FP&A.

Douglas holds an MBA from Rice University, a BBA in Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin and also a BA in Philosophy from Birkbeck College, University of London.  He is also a member of Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants.