Last May 2019, The Ortus Club gathered CFOs and senior finance leaders from prominent companies in Singapore 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 Andaz, Singapore on Wednesday, May 29th. Chatham house rules were followed so while we are unable to assign specific quotes to the guests, Present at the discussion were the following:
- Ingrid Setiabudy, CFO at Sephora
- Sandrine Dorin-Blanchard, APAC CFO at Adecco Group
- Ying Zheng, CFO at IBM Singapore
- Jasmine Zhong, CFO Asia Area at Astrazeneca
- Poonam Singh, CFO at Flender
- Agnes Lim, CFO, APAC at JLL
- Paul Lennie, CFO at Asurion
- Marcelo Higashi, Vice President Financial Products at BOC Aviation
- Neil Dalgliesh, Senior Vice President, Finance at Pan Pacific Hotel Group
- Stephane Thierry, Regional CFO at Decathlon
- Ross Chappell, CFO at Zurich Insurance Company
- Sheinal Bhuralal, CFO at LenddoEFL
- Rajesh Shroff, CFO – Global Coal Business & Head of Finance at Adani Group
- Andrew Cropp, CFO at Family Dental Centre
- Seng Ti Goh, Senior General Manager, Finance and Administration at Isuzu Motors Asia
- Togi Gouw, CFO at Sarment Holding
- Amanullah Mohamed, CFO at Sysma Holdings
- Hansjoerg Mueller, VP, CFO at Electronic Arts (EA)
- Hitesh Shah, CFO at Womar Logistics
“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.
In particular, there were three questions that the discussion wanted to answer:
- 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.
Getting People That Know What They’re Doing
One of the consistent issues raised throughout the discussion was how the conversations between finance and business people can be vastly different, yet based on the same sets of data. One CFO says: “Finding that is the challenge — people who can bridge that gap between finance and the business side of things. To have a conversation between a businessman about the business side of their business, based on the financial data I have at my desk. We have a lot of people that can send powerpoints, Excel data, and presentations, but to have a business to business talk… now that’s something else.”
Acquiring talent also means having to deal with the expectations of incoming employees. As younger workers join the financial workforce, there’s an underlying need to meet their expectations about the job they’re trying to enter. Some CFO’s expressed the strength and weakness of having finance today having a tech-related role: “Expectations of new, incoming workers or talent to work with blockchain” was a particularly stressed point.
Why Finding The Right Talent Can Be Surprisingly Difficult
One question asked at the discussion was “Do you find the right talent in Singapore?” The answers were mixed: The ones who said no cited that the “education system has yet to produce the kind of people needed for the tasks of today’s finance teams”, implying that most of the talent needed should be trained internally, The ones who said yes stated that AI and other tech was already playing a large role in their finance operations, implying that it was less of a staffing issue, but more of a mindset that needed to be addressed.
The challenge facing most CFOs was trying to integrate modern strategies (AI, automation, advanced forecasting and so on) with the traditional methods used in the finance sector. To quote: “What will our people do when machinery takes most of the job? We need to change roles and responsibilities based on that.”
Finance Vs. Business Conversations
In particular, finding people that were skilled in the business aspect (or at least, can hold good B2B conversations) were of particular interest to the CFOs that have gathered. One CFO said “I’m not looking for a finance role anymore. Our services now exclusively leverage blockchain, so what’s left in my own organization is commercial finance and FP&A.”
This statement was widely agreed upon, with other finance leaders saying: We have the entire finance side tied up. We keep generating reports, but we need to know what it means… There’s the need to make decisions in a timely manner based on data, and we don’t have the people to bridge that gap.” From these remarks, it can be concluded that most companies are already comfortable with their financial state — either by practice or slowly integrating digital transformation roadmaps, — but now need the personnel that can bridge the gap between reports and data.
How Do You Keep Skilled Employees?
One of the challenges with keeping people that can accurately discern the business vs financial side of their jobs is the mentality behind how they approach their positions. In particular, younger staff are most tricky to deal with: “The incoming talent has a tendency to see their roles as a 9 to 5 job, and doesn’t have the heart or soul to pour more into it,” one CFO said. “We need to learn how to shift their attention from a ‘so what?’ mentality.”
Some CFOs offered their own strategies into retaining talent, such as work flexibility in assigned roles: “stay where you are, but take an extra hat when you need to,” says one. Others felt that offering job security was better: “People sign up for something that they feel safe in, they can make decisions in, and can get back to.”
In particular, leveraging the need for cross-function between different finance teams was seen as the biggest factor in whether or not companies can retain their employees. “Automation already takes so much, but even tech can only be as good as the people overseeing it,” one senior finance leader said at the beginning of the discussion.
Some other alternatives being done by other CFO’s focused a lot more on succession planning and skills training to ensure employee engagement. Giving employees autonomy and surety of what they have to do was crucial in this strategy.
The discussion was wrapped up with a question about how CFOs are implementing digital transformation roadmaps into their strategies: some had already integrated them, while others said they were a “constant work in progress.” Skilled talent will undoubtedly be needed when it comes to these strategies, and the changing role of the finance teams of the future will be shaped by these key employees.
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.