It was great sitting down and picking the brain of one of LinkedIn’s most influential individuals, Anders Liu-Lindberg. If you haven’t heard of Anders, then I recommend that you follow him on LinkedIn and make use of his regular value added articles he publishes. He has been within A.P. Moller – Maersk for over 12 years, and is currently Senior Finance Business Partner. Anders is extremely passionate about modern business partnering and founded the Business Partnering Institute and writes regularly for SAP and LinkedIn.
I wanted to explore Anders’ expertise in business partnering as I felt it was very relevant to the Middle East and the transformation of the finance function. Regularly, when recruiting for clients, I advise companies on restructuring their finance function and assist in helping them to recruit the right talent. My reasoning behind what I do is to really showcase the value add from the finance function rather than them being seen (as they have been historically) as a number crunching team. I had the pleasure of exploring the transformation of the finance function over the years and discuss what the future holds for finance with Anders in this interview.
From being involved in a number of mid-senior and senior finance hires across multinational companies, I have noticed that the shape of the finance function has evolved from a traditional hierarchical triangle to a hexagonal structure. This has been made up by expert teams, such as business partners, which were previously not part of a traditional finance function. Why do you think this structure has been introduced, and what benefits does this type of modern structure have on a business?
The main reason for this shift is down to finance operations becoming automated and are more efficient in general since the introduction of the large ERP systems up throughout the 2000’s. At the same time, CEO’s and business leaders are facing increasing pressure to create value here and now and are looking for people that can produce insights to help them make better decisions.
This put completely new requirements on to the finance function who now no longer can get by doing compliance and controlling tasks but must become a business advisor. If finance can’t produce insights it’ll get fully automated and go away.
I previously recruited into the mid-senior and senior market in the UK and the finance matrix was already set up in the hexagonal structure. The Middle East, in my opinion, is still evolving and advancing to this structure. Having visited the Middle East and having business relations here, how far off do you think the Middle East is to having the global finance set up, which can be found across the US, UK, Europe, Asia and Australia? What competencies do you think still need upskilled?
My experience from talking to people working in the region is that multinational companies with presence in the region are already implementing this model. We’ve done so in Maersk as well. However, local companies are still behind the curve and work in more traditional hierarchical ways where senior business leaders do not take advice from junior finance professionals. They know (or think they know) how to run their business and no one should tell them otherwise.
Finance must prove that it can help make better decisions for local companies to on-board this approach as well. This means better communication, influencing, and relationship-building skills.
Finance has had a massive shift from reporting what has happened in the past to leading what is going to happen in the future. Having previously been a Global Head of Finance and having a number of connections who hold senior positions in a finance function, do you think the understanding of what value finance can add to a business is changing?
I think everyone gets the idea behind business partnering and finance better supporting decision-making, however, few companies have been truly successful so far. That means everyone is getting frustrated because they expect more from finance. So in theory the understanding has changed but so far we have failed to deliver on it.
The main reason is that we simply haven’t taken it seriously enough in terms of what needs to change for us to do this successfully. Many companies have done a light touch organisational change where they have just handed people new business cards with new titles and expect them to deliver much more value. That’s of course not happening. That’s one of the main reasons why we established the Business Partnering Institute to train and develop better business partners.
It’s pretty clear that the function is changing and evolving with the times. What changes do you predict AI will have on the function and have you heard of any businesses using it as an alternative to humans?
I once heard one of the leading experts in AI mention that the finance function at a major oil & gas company could be totally replaced by AI with just one billion dollars. So in theory it’s possible that everything will be replaced but in reality we’re talking 20-50 years out. For now AI will mostly play a role in finance operations and analytics helping us become more efficient and develop better insights that we can share with management.
A company like Microsoft for instance is already running all its forecasting via AI and I’ve heard Danish Novo Nordisk to some extent do the same.
From your expertise, what do you think the future is for the finance function and growth potential for high performers?
The future of finance is all about insight, influence and impact (value creation). Anyone who can do that well (from developing the insights to creating the impact) will have glorious days. That means we need analytical and business partner talents. The days of accounting and accountants will more or less be gone but for a few highly specialised technical accountants.
I hope you enjoyed these insights as much as I enjoyed interviewing for them! Thanks again to Anders Liu-Lindberg for taking time out to speak to me. We hope to bring you more interviews in the coming months with more influential names in the finance industry.
 Insight is when you share something with your business stakeholders that they didn’t know that will help them make better decisions.