12 Nov 2018
In an era of rapid technological advances, the finance function under the leadership of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has to level up and drive growth in the business. One of the strategies recommended by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) for Singapore to thrive amid disruption is to acquire and utilise deep skills. The ISCA-CIMA “Embracing Change: Evolving Jobs and Skills” roundtable was held to gather the key insights of top honchos in corporates and accounting firms.
Some of the roundtable panellists shared that one consequence of technology which they observed was the emergence of global shared service centres. The benefits of global shared services include easy access to data which are stored in cloud, economies of scale, as well as standardised reports and processes.
The model of utilising global shared services has enabled the local finance function to spend more time on exception reporting and narratives, to provide a story behind the numbers for the business, rather than on generating reports. The local function’s responsibility is increasingly focused on areas such as financial planning and analysis (FP&A), as well as commercial finance, whereas the finance team partners and helps the Sales and Advisory teams to structure deals and consider new business models.
Other panellists observed that shared service centres used to be in lower-cost countries where there was wage arbitrage. Increasingly, however, there is a trend of using robotics to replace some of the tasks and services provided by global shared service centres. Thus, the workforce in countries where shared service centres are located, need to level up their game, lest their work be replaced by robotics. A panellist highlighted that Google is already using artificial intelligence (AI) to programme AI. Thus, these technological developments are happening fast and furious.
Some panellists also shared how cloud-based software and applications can help companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to adopt technology. This is in contrast to some larger companies which may be saddled by legacy systems, which can make technology adoption more expensive and cumbersome.
Evolving Finance Function Skill-Sets To Value-Add To Businesses
The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) reported that “technology is the principal driver that enables the finance function to be a more effective business partner.” It further elaborated on how finance teams would require skills to assess and implement technology-driven initiatives to add value to businesses and improve the transformation of finance functions1. In light of technological disruption, finance teams need to critically evaluate how their functional roles are changing and the implications to future work and skills.
Against this backdrop, the panellists agreed that finance teams have to be introspective and ask, “How do we take the opportunity to value-add to the business?” As the finance function changes, the skill-sets required of finance employees are also changing.
Finance and IT functions can be expected to work more closely together, to develop software and applications which can be customised for the organisation. The ability to ask good questions, by identifying the problem statement rather than generating endless reports without an end in sight, was also highlighted as critical. It may be more productive to also have conversations with business units to gain a better understanding of how reports are being used and work together to streamline reports.
As global virtual teams become increasingly commonplace, finance employees would have to get used to working in a virtual environment. Thus, developing conference call etiquette, and the courage to speak up, will become increasingly important. This could prove culturally challenging for Asians, who may at times be quiet and only make their thoughts known after the call via email, which may not be optimal for effective and timely decision-making.
The expectations of the finance function in organisations are changing. In the past, while the finance function focused on transaction processing, the finance function is now spending more time on exception-based reporting. There are also greater expectations for finance employees to provide more insightful analytics and possess the ability to manipulate and interpret larger volumes of data to help senior management with future plans and growth strategies for the business.
The panellists also cited a need for mindsets to change. They highlighted business partnering as becoming more imperative for the finance function, which is a big shift from the book-keeping role – a traditional finance function. This involves a more collaborative and commercial mindset, and working cross-functionally with others, such as with colleagues in sales and operations.
In some instances, this close collaborative partnership even translates into the finance team physically sitting side-by-side with business units, thereby facilitating the provision of timely inputs and advice. Thus, being business-oriented and having the ability to “connect the dots” becomes more prized. Some of the soft skills cited by the panellists included: strong communication, interpersonal and project management skills.
Continuous Training and Being Equipped With Necessary Skill-Sets
For finance employees to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced and highly disrupted business and work environment, there is a need for them to continuously upgrade their skills or develop new ones. Finance employees need to be intellectually curious, to develop an awareness of what is out there, and have an agile mindset to be prepared to change as the need arises. There is a need to learn how to learn and thinking time is also important. The panellists agreed equipping oneself with the necessary skill-sets is a journey.
A panellist cited online courses as useful avenues, especially for busy young finance professionals to gain knowledge across diverse disciplines, learn continuously and on the go. The panellists agreed that professional accountancy organisations (PAOs) also play an important role in the mindset change and capability building of the profession.
In terms of practical training, exposure to other roles through job shadowing and job rotations will help to develop more well-rounded employees. Already, employers’ requirements for finance employees have changed. Hiring managers are now increasingly looking for accountants who possess not only hard skills (technical accounting) but also good soft skills such as interpersonal and leadership skills, business acumen and global savviness.
This roundtable is part of the ISCA-CIMA “Embracing Change: Evolving Jobs and Skills” series.
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