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The Future of Finance: Advice for hiring in Asia-Pacific
Part one of this Tomorrow’s Talent chapter explored key drivers of change for Finance in the Asia-Pacific region. Next, we discuss how businesses can best ensure they benefit from the enormous opportunities presented. Through the attraction, retention and overall development of key talent over the coming years, Finance leaders can not only remain competitive, but even take a valuable lead on their business rivals.
Top advice for hiring in Finance
1. Finance data gurus in hot demand to make forecasts fly
Three key new-generation forecasting and analytical roles will be key to helping Finance teams to leverage the opportunities of data insights. Larysa Melnychuk, CEO and founder of the International FP&A Board, says modern FP&A teams require three distinct people – the data architect to build out the key driver-based models; the data analyst to track their progress; and the storyteller, a business partner to sell it to the business. “It’s difficult to find these three people in one role – as analysts and architects can often be introverts,” notes Melnychuk. “We’re leveraging the emergence of big data, from which you have to analyse these key drivers – that 20% of data drivers will explain 80% of your results,” she explains. Low of Experian notes that the new generation analyst roles are the toughest for CFOs to hold onto. “That's literally what my half of my day today was spent doing,” he notes. “Storytelling, backed up with facts and data – that’s the sweet spot. Think of it as the financial data scientist.”
2. A suite of future-facing skill sets join Finance teams
In the race to future-proof Finance teams, new hiring is increasingly turning to a host of non-traditional profiles. EY’s Donelly says the array of newly-demanded skill sets reflects the changing face of Finance. “As we move more toward a decision-support and business partnering lens, the skills and capabilities that hirers will be looking for include influencing capabilities; project management; governance, and negotiation skills,” she says. Notable among the new entrants will be those helping ensure financial controls are in place, and assisting with decision support such as enabling new AI technologies. “Process architects and those who understand the latest modern technology will be of value,” she predicts. Fahey says new Finance talent may come from outside areas, including consulting organisations, leading to a merging of Finance and commercially-savvy roles – yet still with a sound theoretical pedigree. “There will still be a need to have a basis and strong understanding of Finance and its related capabilities,” he adds.
3. Hosting higher level companies demands more critical thinkers
In fast changing economies of Asia-Pacific, state-level planners need to ensure that what they are creating space for, can also be matched by local talent flows. For example, Singapore has always served as a strong hub for Finance, with the government investing time, money and effort to attract regional Finance functions. “They know we have a solid pool of Finance talent here,” says Jeffrey Ng, Regional Director at PageGroup Singapore. “But what we have now in terms of skill sets and exposure might not be what the future needs,” he suggests. “Do we really have the talent to create strategies and tactics for companies – or are we just good at following instructions?” For governments looking to host more globalised companies, and more strategic and creative functions, talent suitability gaps must be addressed in advance, he notes. “Begin thinking about how you start building up that critical thinking at an earlier stage. Is Singapore producing enough talent for its next generation of disruptive companies? We’re coping with these disruptors for now,” says Ng. “For the next five years I'm not so sure, because what they need might not be what we have in the market.”
4. Progressive skill sets help the new and old school blend effectively
To fully embrace change, today’s businesses need to host talent armed with more technology and digital skills, and blend them in with today’s highly-experienced Finance cohort. In practice, this can only be achieved if everyone has a proven set of progressive skills. “Successful Finance functions will comprise of new, younger talent particularly around emerging technology – combined with the skill sets and knowledge brought forward by those in the business for some time,” notes EY’s Donelly. The glue? She says all team members will require a collaborative mindset, natural curiosity, a focus on business outcomes, and excellent interpersonal skills. “When people are interviewing for Finance professionals, those will be the traits businesses look for and pick up in the conversation,” she says. “Because it means there’s an agility there, and the desire to do multiple, different things.”
5. When hiring change-makers, prepare your company first
As Finance develops and changes rapidly, AstraZeneca’s Fahey says those in a hiring capacity must ensure that their internal environment keeps up with market trends. This is especially so when hiring those in charge of leading radical change. “The type of people we want to be bringing into Finance roles are not the type of people happy doing one to two weeks’ work of repetitive tasks,” he says. As back office tasks become automated, he believes the expectation for Finance people will increasingly lean toward commercially-oriented partnering work – which in turn attracts a more dynamic, and perhaps demanding profile with it. “Companies need to make sure they bring the right processes in to streamline the business, so the new hires are able to complete the type of work we want from them from the outset.”
6. Interpersonal skills make the difference to business partnering
With the opportunity and necessity for business partnering, Finance professionals increasingly need to ensure they’re armed with interpersonal skills, to truly enable and drive the discussions. Fahey says skill sets in influencing, partnering, listening and storytelling are often the most difficult to find: “Someone who understands the drivers of the business, who can build relationships across all the different groups, yet still has the right level of ability to challenge things as well – that’s the mix of skill sets the Finance function now needs to find.” Professionals will likewise need to maintain a sharp financial acumen as well. “They may not be doing the transactional accounting work anymore, but they still need a very good lens on the principles and processes,” he notes.
7. An emerging need to split reporting and commercial teams
As financial reporting and regulation compliance spikes in terms of its complexity, there is a growing need for Finance teams to carefully demarcate this function from more commercial-facing tasks. “There’s a continued split between the information you need to run the business, and the information you must produce to go into reporting and accounts,” says Hyslop of Global Petro Storage. “It makes life much harder frankly,” he notes. “The technical knowledge one requires for reporting is such now, that even auditors don't always have answers to the most technical questions.” As a result, the commercial skills a CFO needs must be matched by a strong technical team: “For the CFO, it means a greater need to have someone technically very strong alongside them – so they still have the time to do the commercial part of the job,” he says. “And that probably also means that the department is getting bigger, just to deal with the extra workload.”
8. For virtual teams, hire those skilled at bridging the gap
Finance discipline professionals of the future will increasingly need those who can overcome the tyranny of distance, and can work in teams on highly complex tasks – without necessarily even meeting those they work alongside. Fahey says hiring people with a mastery of virtual swarm teams will become an art, as connectivity and cross-border business is now the norm: “This could be working with the different shared services structures that a lot of organisations have in place – someone who can work across those groups to deliver outcomes is important, working over different times and distance,” he explains. “You need someone who really embraces these groups and understands how they are part of the business, rather than just an outside service provider.”
Massive thanks to those who made Future of Finance happen: in particular those who’ve provided finance insights: Peter Fahey, Chief Financial Officer, AstraZeneca | Janine Donelly, Performance and Improvement Partner, EY Australia | Graeme McKenzie, Oceania Financial Services Managing Partner, EY | Eugene Low, Finance Director, Southeast Asia, Experian | Alan Hyslop, Corporate Finance Director, Global Petro Storage | Jeffrey Ng, Regional Director at Michael Page Singapore | Larysa Melnychuk, CEO and Founder, International FP&A Board. Plus our huge thanks to PageGroup’s Finance discipline leadership team throughout Asia-Pacific.