What trends are emerging and how does the future of finance look like in this context?

The world is changing fast and will change even faster as we look into the future. We face a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. Globalisation and technology is dictating the rhythm; everything is readily available and commoditised; business is moving fast and everything is interconnected. Advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and topics like Advanced Analytics, Big Data are evolving fast. Investors and companies are pumping massive money into this area to gain competitive advantage and conquer new businesses. We also see massive shifts in demographics and population. The planet therefore needs to find ways to host more people who will grow older with significant impact on society, environment, and in this case, the healthcare system which is the area I´m working in. Funding healthcare needs for the growing and older population will be one of the biggest challenges in the
next decades to come. I´m discussing this point as this is setting the scene for the future, and the world community is in charge to address these challenges. We are all part of that. The pharmaceutical industry and in particular the generic companies will play an important role. Generic companies such as Sandoz, offer a substantial contribution to saving costs for many economies. We offer high quality medicines at affordable prices. And now more than ever, the finance teams need to lead the value creation agenda.

In this context the role of finance is changing fast:

Finance like I have experienced it in my early career will not exist anymore in the future. I used to run full-fledged finance teams with all functions in my own hierarchy and more: the CFO in many cases was also responsible for Information Technology, Purchasing, Site Services, and Supply Chain.

Many companies have changed their operating model over time. As an example, Accounting and Reporting has been lifted to service centres, off-shored or out-sourced. The same happened to Information Technology, as well as Purchasing. As a consequence, we manage services, networks, and influence people we do not have direct contact with and which we will never see face to face in our business life. The promise is that these concepts shall free up capacity for finance people to focus on value creation. In many places this is to be proven.

Developments in Information Technology will further push automatisation. A study by Deloitte said, that Accountants were found to have a 95% probability of automation, mainly in AR, AP, general ledger, closing. This sounds brutal but of course some disciplines will stay, such as: policy making and technical accounting, tax, treasury etc. The rest will be taken over by robots. This might seem as a big threat but at the same time it provides a significant opportunity.

What skills do finance business partners need in order to drive value creation in the organisation?

Value Creation is the paradigm. The sole identity of finance professionals will be their contribution to value creation, partnering with the business, defining the strategy and driving execution along the agreed direction. It is about keeping the ship on course with superior performance in the market place to attract capital. Direct involvement, full contact, sparring partner in contrast to hiding behind spreadsheets, analytics and numbers – no excuses, no hiding. Many finance professionals have chosen finance, because it is a place to hide – thus they are not in sales – finance is not such a cosy place anymore.

What skills does a finance business partner need (beyond functional knowledge) in this changing world:

Know the business! How can we add value, when we do not know the business context, the value chain, and money trail? The issue is that this is not a given and many finance people struggle with this. In my view, everything starts with the passion for the marketplace and the business. You need to make time to connect with your commercial colleagues. This is a question of attitude and curiosity. Of course you need time for doing this and many fundamentals also need to be fixed first, however I believe that the time argument is very often used as an excuse. When the attitude is right, all will follow. You will eventually figure out what you need to learn and how topics relate to each other. Product and customer knowledge, market access, business development, production and sourcing environment as well as supplier base are just some areas you need to become familiar with. As a business partner you have the unique opportunity to see the business along the entire value chain leaving the functional silos behind – this is your big chance to connect the dots to lift business potential.

Vision! Being able to inspire people is an important skill. The business partner is more successful, when he or she can explain and discuss how the future will look like and why the teams should move the business to that direction as well as indicating the benefits for them. One might argue that this is the job of the CEO and I agree! However, this does not mean that other people are not allowed to discuss about the future. The better you can picture the future, the more likely it is that people and teams will follow, when it is also attractive for them. The business partner can only be successful when he or she is able to influence the stakeholders to change direction or to work on specific topics and projects which will make a difference. In this context, collaboration across functions, countries, divisions, and companies is essential. In a world where everyone is selling the same products and services, having access to the same technology and resources, the ability to collaborate effectively is one of the big differentiating forces for success. When I select people, I look for people with mental agility, curiosity, and people that are comfortable with complexity, as well as fast and flexible thinking. People who are able to think through issues from a new and different perspective and are able to change perspective is a pre-requisition to find creative solutions and to obtain buy-in. Communication skills are in the centre of everything. When we are not able to get our points across we miss out on big opportunities. I also think that resilience is a key attribute. This involves the ability to stand up on your feet as quickly as possible when you fall, and remove any negative experiences from set-backs, whilst using what you learnt to improve in the future.

How can skills be developed and what approach is Sandoz utilising to develop skills in people beyond training?

In Sandoz we take people development very seriously. We think that people make the difference. In this context we have career and development discussions with our employees. We offer trainings and career moves across countries, functions and divisions. In my view, we need to look into people development from different perspectives and ask how we can develop people on their current job, beyond classical training. Booking a training course is the easiest way out to tick off the development discussion but at the same time the least efficient. Research shows that formal learning, e.g. in trainings, has a relative low impact on development relative to experience based learning. I believe that we need to create real life experiences in the business context, where employees can learn and develop skills needed to be successful. This is a leadership challenge for all of us, since this requires courage and serious commitment for continuous coaching and dialogue. This entails that, as leaders, we have the responsibility to bring our talents into the business to define and agree with peers or commercial leaders on projects, tasks forces, or temporary assignments, whereby finance business partners can develop business knowledge and develop skills to strengthen their ability to add value to the organisation. The projects or assignments need to be exactly tailored to the development
needs. This does not come for free and requires a concrete profile for desired competencies, an honest self-assessment of the employee, and feedback from the manager to agree on development opportunities. This requires vision, creativity, and a genuine desire of the manager to develop talent. I want to implement this thinking in our organisation.

How can finance be integrated in business planning?

I think there is no other way. Finance needs to be integrated in business planning. I want to push this one step further as finance needs to own business planning. There must only be one set of numbers telling the truth. In order to do that, we need to have a holistic and integrated view across the value chain of the business. When discussing operational planning and forecasting in my company, we start with the monthly Sales and Operations Planning meeting, where commercial functions, supply chain, and finance are at one table and agree on the business plan for the next month, quarter, or year. The outcome will drive demand plan, trigger supply chain requirements, and will result in a financial outlook for sales, gross margin, and investments needed – an aligned and agreed plan across the organisation – as a one set of numbers. We need to build and implement the necessary routines and systems to facilitate the process. If you cannot do it yourself, an entire consulting industry is happy to support you there.

What would you like to achieve by attending the 6th Edition Business Performance Management Conference?
I want to meet with colleagues form other industries to discuss business challenges and learn. External input is essential to get fresh ideas and inspiration. Berlin is a fantastic place for that.


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For more information, contact:
Yiota Andreou



Ahead of the 6th Edition Business Performance Management Conferencewe spoke with Mr. Martin Bischof, Regional CFO Western Europe at Sandoz International GmbH, about the future of finance and what skills the finance business partners need in order to drive value creation in the organisation. 

Previous Attendees Include:
AB Inbev
AB Tetra Pak
AB Volvo
Arcelor Mittal
Casco Adhesives AB
Coca Cola
Deloitte Consulting
DHL Global Business Services
Fortum Power and Heat OY
GDF Suez
Goodyear Dunlop Tires
Kinepolis Group
Kraft Foods
Maersk Line
Philips Electronics
Raiffeisen Bank
ST Microelectronics
Stora Enso OYJ
Vestas Towers
World Trade Organisation


About the Conference:

This marcus evans strategic finance event will look beyond KPIs and scorecards, and discuss topics around a more proactive and market-oriented approach to controlling. We will discuss finance business partnering, and people development challenges around that, change management and turnaround projects, pricing transformation and reporting innovations, as well as other hands-on business finance topics. The 6th Edition Business Performance Management Conference will take place from the 22nd to 24th of May 2017 at Novotel Am Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany.


Copyright © 2017 Marcus Evans. All rights reserved.

Practical Insights From:


Amadeus Data Processing


Berlin School of Economics and Law

Bilfinger GVA





IBM Europe

LEAX Group



Novus International

Sandoz International

Snellman Group


Thomas Cooper


About the speaker:

Martin Bischof, brings 25 years of experience in the health care environment. During his career he was holding senior positions in reputable companies like in the originator business of GlaxoSmithKline or in the consumer business of Novartis. Currently heading the finance function in Sandoz, a world leading health care company, for Western Europe and also in the past for Middle East and Africa, his international experience gives him a broad perspective, how businesses and related finance functions have evolved over time and will develop in the future. Leadership and talent development are topics close to his heart.
Business models and related finance service delivery concepts, including technology development, are changing fast and he is of the opinion that finance leadership, business partnering and value creation need to become a top priority for all finance executives. In his view there is a shortage of excellent finance people living and breathing the concept of value creation. As a consequence the finance community need to step-up skill development beyond class room training in a more serious way, to position the finance function as business partners in a unique way.


How can Finance unlock value for the business?






An interview with the Regional CFO Western Europe at Sandoz International GmbH

Mr. Martin Bischof, Regional CFO Western Europe at Sandoz

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