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The Importance of Business Acumen for Finance Professionals: Q&A with Monty Magleby

Today we are welcoming Monty Magleby, one of our Senior Financial Consultants. We are delving into the importance of business acumen for finance professionals. Let's get started!


Understanding the complexity of finance is pivotal for finance professionals because it is more than just accounting, right?

Absolutely. Even experienced finance professionals may struggle with applying their

technical knowledge of real business scenarios. For instance, knowing debits and credits is one thing, but understanding how they impact business decisions can be a challenge. Similarly, calculating metrics like EBITDA is essential, but comprehending how to leverage them for strategic choices is where the real value lies. Finance encompasses various functions, such as treasury, cash management, financial planning, and more. To excel in our roles, we must grasp how these functions intertwine with the broader business.


I've heard it mentioned that even seasoned finance professionals can have gaps in their business acumen. Could you share some common examples of these gaps and how they impact their roles?

That is right, unfortunately. The first challenge involves not just having technical knowledge but also the ability to apply it. For example, closing the books and issuing reports is important, but do we truly understand the underlying business dynamics? Have we engaged with business leaders to comprehend their challenges and market influences? Being able to interpret the numbers and explain why they changed is crucial for moving beyond reporting.


In one of our videos, we talk about two significant challenges when trying to bridge these gaps. Can you elaborate on the challenge of applying technical knowledge to the business and understanding its context?

The real challenge here is making that technical knowledge click with the actual business game plan. It's not just about knowing the strategy; it's about truly getting why it matters. This means we've got to wrap our heads around what's happening in the market, what trends are steering the industry, and where we fit into the big picture of the business. Understanding our department's strategy is important, but linking it to the businesses we work with and the overall corporate strategy is where the real magic happens.


Interesting. So moving on to the second challenge, how can finance professionals connect with their organization's strategy and the broader corporate strategy? What steps can they take to achieve this?

Alright, so here's the deal with connecting finance to the big-picture strategy. It's not just about crunching numbers anymore. We've got to get in the mix with the people running the show. That means diving into discussions about where the business is headed, sharing our financial insights, and actually pitching in to shape plans that sync up with the overall strategy. We must aim to be more than just employees, but someone who is a partner to the business.


So then how do we become more like a business partner? Can you give us some practical advice on how finance professionals can transition from being seen as bean counters to strategic partners?

So, going from bean counters to strategic players takes a bit of a mindset shift. Step one is diving deep into what's driving the numbers, not just what they are. We've got to really understand the ins and outs of what's affecting how things are going and figuring out what actions to take. Step two is linking those numbers to where the company is headed. It's about being the translator between finance and the big-picture strategy. Understanding not just the 'what' but also the 'why' behind where the organization is going is key.


Monty, why would you say that taking a business or financial acumen class is important for finance professionals, even though they're already financially savvy? How can this type of class help connect all the dots for them?

You bring up an excellent point because a business acumen class often feels unnecessary to finance professionals since they’re already well-versed in the finance world. But even in the finance arena, there is a lot of areas of specialization in very specific roles. So taking a business acumen class can often refresh them on the big picture of how a business operates and where their role fits into that grand scheme. Besides, finance professionals often speak a language that can be challenging for those

outside the finance world to understand. When they interact with colleagues in operations,

marketing, sales, or other divisions, it can sometimes feel like they're speaking a foreign

language. This is where business acumen training becomes invaluable. It helps finance

professionals bridge the gap and speak the language of business to non-financial peers.


So, in essence, business acumen training isn't just about numbers; it's about helping finance professionals communicate effectively with their colleagues across the organization? Is it a crucial part of becoming a well-rounded and strategic contributor to the business?

Certainly. I've witnessed finance professionals truly elevate their impact within organizations by embracing business and financial acumen. One notable example involved a finance manager who, after undergoing comprehensive business acumen training, transformed their role. Previously, this manager had primarily focused on financial reporting and budgeting. However, armed with a deeper understanding of the business's strategy and operations, they began collaborating with department heads. They started interpreting financial data in a way that provided actionable insights for improving operational efficiency and strategic decision-making.

In meetings, this finance professional could discuss not just financial metrics but also the

broader context of how those metrics are tied to the company's goals. They effectively communicate how various financial levers could be adjusted to support the strategic direction. This approach significantly enhanced their credibility and influence within the organization.

In essence, by increasing their business acumen, this finance manager became a true partner to the business, making a more substantial and lasting impact rather than solely focusing on reporting.


Monty, as we wrap up, what advice would you have for finance professionals who are

considering enhancing their business and financial acumen? How can they embark on this journey to become more strategic contributors to their organizations?

My advice to finance professionals looking to enhance their business and financial acumen is to embrace continuous learning and engagement. Start by seeking out courses or training programs that focus on business acumen. These courses can provide valuable insights into understanding the broader aspects of how a business operates.

You could also actively engage with colleagues from different departments within your

organization. Take the initiative to understand their challenges, objectives, and how your

financial expertise can support their goals. This collaboration can help you bridge the gap

between finance and other functions, making you a more effective communicator and strategic partner.

Also, don't underestimate the power of real-world experience. Look for opportunities to take on cross-functional projects or roles that allow you to apply your financial knowledge in diverse settings. This practical exposure can significantly enhance your ability to connect the dots between finance and the overall business strategy.

So just to summarize since that was long, the journey to becoming a more strategic contributor involves a combination of formal education, collaboration, and hands-on experience. Embracing business and financial acumen as an ongoing commitment can position you as a vital asset to your organization and help you make a more significant impact on its success.


Now that you've explored the impact of the finance department, let's engage in a learning activity you can do during your next team meeting:

Exercise 1: Financial Decision Making

1. Ask your team to imagine they are part of the finance department in a company facing a critical financial decision. Provide a hypothetical scenario: The company is considering either investing a substantial amount in a new project for revenue growth or implementing cost-cutting measures to improve profitability. Divide the team into groups.

2. Each group should deliberate and present arguments for their chosen approach: investing in growth or focusing on cost-cutting. Encourage them to consider financial implications, risk factors, long-term impacts, and alignment with the company's strategy.

3. After the group discussions, have each team present their decision and rationale to the entire team, emphasizing the financial implications and strategic alignment of their chosen approach. Facilitate a discussion to compare and contrast the different perspectives presented, highlighting the potential impact on the company's financial health and strategic goals.

This exercise aims to encourage finance professionals to think critically about financial decisions and strategic alignment. By simulating real-life scenarios and assessing the impact of financial choices on the business, teams can better understand the nuances of financial acumen in decision-making. This activity is designed to reinforce the importance of aligning financial strategies with broader business objectives, a key aspect of enhancing business acumen in the finance realm.

Continue your learning…

Business Acumen
for Finance People

Is Business Acumen
About Finance?

Finding the Business Acumen

Why Business Acumen is
Essential for
Financial Services

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