12 Nov 2018
Mr Tay Peng Huat, Chief Financial Officer, Jumbo Group is not your typical accountant. Armed with over 28 years of experience in finance and accounting, Peng Huat, a Fellow Chartered Accountant (Singapore) ISCA, is a seasoned accountant with strong business acumen.
In the Jumbo Group, he is responsible for the overall finance functions and accounting matters of the Group, including implementation of internal controls, monitoring and reporting on the Group's financial performance and overseeing the preparation of accounts and financial statements of the Group.
Jumbo Group’s vision is “to be the leading innovative Food and Beverage (F&B) group advocating Singapore food culture”. Peng Huat is passionate about the finance function playing an important role in business partnering to deliver greater business value and to fulfill Jumbo Group’s vision.
Business partnering – an increasingly important skill to possess
Similar to many accountants, Peng Huat first started his career as an auditor. Stepping out into the commercial world made him realise that accounting was not merely about numbers. In fact, the value of accountants lay in their ability to understand the operations and incorporate their finance know-how to value-add to the business.
With the Jumbo Group’s strategy of continued expansion overseas, he sees the finance function taking on a more business advisory role within the organisation and marrying their finance capabilities with the business’s operational aspects. As such, Peng Huat stressed the importance for accountants not to work in silos, but to communicate and build synergies with business units.
To illustrate, he shared how his finance team gets involved with the business units for new projects at the onset. Through this early involvement in the planning stage, the finance team can better anticipate the financial needs of the project and plan the financial resources in advance. This enables the business to meet its obligations and ensure the project implementation does not get derailed due to financial needs. Such financial needs range from accounting treatment, cashflow projections to the financial support needed from banks.
With digital transformation, the finance function has to think from the business perspective, rather than being mere book-keepers.
“We have to think from the CEO’s perspective. If I were him, what would I do in a business situation? This is why I work closely and hold frequent discussions with my CEO to better understand the strategic direction for Jumbo Group. From there, we collaborate with each other to grow the business.” - Mr Tay Peng Huat, Chief Financial Officer, Jumbo Group
Ingredients to success: Leveraging financial and non-financial data
As the Group expands, he sees the need for him, the CFO, to plan the capability development of his finance team to meet the evolving business needs. In addition to finance business partnering skill, other important skill-sets for the company include franchise management, sustainability reporting, internal audit and analytical skills. Soft skills like interpersonal and communications skills are equally important for effective finance business partnering. The ability for the finance team to deploy these skills to support the Group’s internationalisation effort is increasingly becoming more crucial, as more transaction-based finance processes are being automated using enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
With the ERP system, the finance function is able to expedite the month-end closing cycle. As a result, the team can dedicate more time to focus on value-adding work, such as business intelligence, and on enabling management to make informed decisions using financial and non-financial data. Eventually, the analysis of non-financial data will roll up to financial performance. Thus, the finance function needs to be involved in the business activities and take a step further beyond number crunching.
For example, while increasing prices can be the quickest way to increase revenue, Peng Huat does not deem this as sustainable in the long run. Instead, he places more emphasis on the business’s ability to attract more customers to visit the Group’s restaurants. Besides working with the business unit to determine the pricing mechanism, the finance function also pays attention to non-financial data when analysing the performance of each outlet. For instance, he constantly researches on consumer traffic and shopping patterns to determine ways to increase revenue during off-peak dining hours. He analyses tourists’ purchasing patterns and their arrival numbers, as tourists often frequent Jumbo Group’s restaurants. This demonstrates his keenness in understanding the operations and digging deep into the business drivers.
Further, he engages in frequent discussions with the business units to brainstorm on how they can offer different products and services to increase the topline at marginal cost. This is where they conceptualised the idea of conducting culinary classes and selling sauces to tourists. These allows the tourists to continue enjoying delicious Singapore food, even after they return home. This demonstrates the ability to think out of the box and how the finance function can value-add to business.
When asked about the impact of technology on the finance function, Peng Huat aptly replied, “While finance can churn out many ‘good to have’ reports, the finance function will need to make good use of the data collected to produce key reports that are critical and relevant for business to make informed decision”. The analytical skills and business acumen, possessed by professional accountants to transform data into business insights, will make the difference in today’s competitive and fast changing environment. This is the sweet spot where professional accountants and technology-driven data will complement each other.
This article is part of the ISCA-CIMA “Embracing Change: Evolving Jobs and Skills” series.
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