Discussion Summaries

Curated Insights from the Discussion on “Evolving Talent in the Finance Function”, Kuala Lumpur Session

by Sabrina Manansala on June 18, 2019

This month, The Ortus Club once again gathered CFOs and senior finance leaders from prominent companies to discuss, debate and theorise on evolving talent in the finance function: specifically how having a finance vs. business mindset affects the new function of finance teams, and how companies can retain the talent necessary to keep these teams running.

The discussion was held in Grand Hyatt, Kuala Lumpur, on June 13th, 2019. Chatham house rules were followed so while we are unable to assign specific quotes to the guests. Present at the discussion was:

  • Alexander Chin, CFO of Sarawak Energy
  • Cheryl Chee, CFO of Taylor’s Unversity
  • Hafizah Shariff, CFO of Ekuinas
  • Muniandy Krishnan, CFO of KBZ Bank
  • Nik Aisyah Mansor, CFO of Sapura GE Oil & Gas Services
  • Nor Adni Ismail, CFO of GITN
  • Sereen Teoh, CFO of AirAsia BIG
  • Ying Ying Low, CFO of SELLBYTEL
  • Khairul Rifaie, CFO of CIMB
  • Joanne Rodrigues, CFO of AmBank Group
  • Hsin Ye Lee, Finance Director of GE Aviation
  • Ricardo Guardo, Finance Director of British American Tobacco
  • Hyder Hasan, Global Operations Finance Director of Pure Circle Limited
  • Steven Kho Chai Huat, GM of Finance Sarawak Energy
  • Komathi Balakrishnan, Group Financial Controller of Axiata
  • Chiung Jui Yap, Senior Manager, Finance & Accounting of AEON CO.

“EVOLVING TALENT IN THE FINANCE FUNCTION”

The discussion centered around the role of skilled people in finance teams. With the advent of technology, innovation, shifting business strategies, and consumer demands, it’s necessary for CFO’s to get the people that can bridge the gap between a finance mindset and a business conversation. Not only is new talent required, but existing talent and positions will have to change to meet the needs of the times.

Like the previous discussion that took place in Singapore, there were three questions that guided the talking points of the discussion:

  • How do you ensure that your team’s expertise matches their roles and responsibilities in the company?
  • How are you addressing the need to retrain and retain the evolving skills from recent innovations?
  • What is your company doing to ensure finding and equipping the right skills amongst your team?
  • The following article is a summation of the answers to those three questions, as well as other key points raised during the discussion.

What Role Are Millenials Going To Play In Cultivating Talent

“How do you take the skill-sets and expectations the millennials have coming into your business, and how do you tie all that together?”
Most attendees agreed that adding value was the best way to get to the younger generation interested in their roles. There’s an inherent assumption that most millennials have a different way of looking at career progression than the older generation, and it falls on the CEOs and CFOs to meet these expectations.

This “added value” was strongly based on knowledge – on providing younger employees with the paths that they could take to their career growth. It’s not enough to simply guarantee job security anymore (which was a topic explored later in the discussion) but the need to balance progression with personal goals.

Soft Skills Vs. Technical Knowledge

One of the biggest talking points of the discussion was how finance teams (and employees in general) needed to swing away from the strictly technical mindset that business has been using. In regards to incoming young employees, one CFO remarked that “they come with the technical skills, but they lack the communication skills – the soft skills that we find ourselves needing more.” If recent trends are any indication, finance teams need to start incorporating other skill sets that didn’t focus on just numbers.

In particular, this is incredibly crucial to finance teams since CFOs are being called to do more cross-functional tasks and interactions than ever before. Many CFOs felt that their job was no longer confined to the realm of pure numbers: “CFOs will need to acquire an HR mindset if they want to get the correct talent in their teams.”

What Is Education Doing To Raise Talent

But what is the education sector doing to grow the talent required? The answers were split down the middle: some felt that while the education that incoming employees receive is enough to get them skilled enough in the technical side, the changing expectations of today’s employees – in particular, the ability to act cross-function – was something that wasn’t being focused on.

“A finance team has the technical skill, that’s to be expected. But how do you communicate that insight to management? That’s something that the talent we have now don’t have.” Some expressed frustration that more often than not, these skill-sets need to be learned on the job, therefore slowing down the employee integration process.

On the other hand, those who felt that education was doing enough to prepare future employees for a changing work environment stressed the possibilities of coaching. One CFO said that “Competency is given. So you don’t have to cultivate those skills – in fact, they may be better than you since you haven’t caught up with the latest skills that they use. So they all look forward to the mentoring part: how they can learn and grow their career path.”

However, others were quick to caution about the importance of following up on this training: “It’s important to keep at this and not just run out of steam after the one week of training because you’re back to the grind the next day.” With the fast pace that many functions are facing in companies, it’s important to keep an eye on not just implementing changes, but being consistent with them as well.

The Role Of The Leader In Developing Talent

But how about the role of the leader? Everyone present agreed that the CFO will need to be hyper-aware and prepared for the rapid onset of changes facing finance teams five to ten years from now. “In a way, CFOs almost act like deputy CEOs”, one CFO remarked. Since the finances of a company are ultimately tied to the performance of their CFO and their team, it was important that all concerned personnel be ready for the incoming changes.

Admittedly, the CFO’s role will only get varied as the years go by, and there are cases where it may feel rather impossible to pull middle management to align with the vision of upper management. Some shared their experiences of burned-out managers leaving companies and teams due to frustration with unwilling participants. “It’s a rough deal, but it’s unavoidable,” one CFO remarked. “For now, our focus has to be on that middle part – the people who are willing to listen to the CFO.”

More than just a figurehead of the company’s finances, the CFO also plays a critical mentorship role, especially for younger, newer employees. In particular, CFOs need to start thinking more creatively about how to lead their teams, as one CFO puts it: “So we have to be very innovative in how we get our employees to do what we want, without outright asking them to.”

Mindset, Job Security, And RPA

Finally, the role of automation – and the fears that it brings about job security – was the last talking point of the discussion. Many CFOs shared that while their company understands that automation is more or less an inevitability, it’s led many of their employees to fear for their job security. “I just held a town hall, and everyone was talking about RPA,” one CFO shared. “They said that ‘we understand what it is, but does that mean we will lose our jobs?’ It’s a real fear of my employees.”

Other CFOs shared their ways of dealing with this change, but understand the inherent risks of doing so: “we’re looking a lot into RPA – it’s a thing that’s going to happen, and it’s not very far away. A lot more people will have to upskill and become analytical when it comes to the data. Can they handle these changes?” one CFO asks. Ultimately, it falls upon the mindset that CFOs and CEOs inspire their employees.

“Everything is changing already, but a lot of people have not yet,” one CFO shared. Employees can be slow to catch on that the once-essential tasks of their job can now be fully automated, which can be seen as a threat to job security. The key, one CFO reveals, is that automation should be framed not as a reason to fire an employee, but to provide them an opportunity to focus on the things that matter. “RPA cannot replace a lot of jobs.”

Conclusion

The discussion formally ended with the moderator capping the points of the hour-long talk: in how CFOs will need to both acquire and teach different skill-sets in order to train and keep talent. In the next couple of years, CFOs will need to face the challenges of their jobs not completely being about finances anymore and will have an aspect that relies heavily on data analysis and training of viable talent.

“Things will move very quickly. It’s best to be prepared.”

We will be continuing the discussion at our next meeting which will be taking place in Singapore on August 29th. If you are keen to attend and become a member of the group, please apply to attend on the groups landing page here.

Alternately, if you have a particular topic you would like to see discussed. Please let us know through the form here.

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Sabrina ManansalaCurated Insights from the Discussion on “Evolving Talent in the Finance Function”, Kuala Lumpur Session