David Blasco: It's not just about the numbers - what makes the best accounting and finance professionals?

David Blasco: What makes the best accounting and finance professionals
By David Blasco, Associate Director, Accounting & Finance

It’s common knowledge that market conditions have shifted over the past few years, especially across some industries that have suffered strong restructuring exercises due to mergers and acquisitions and cost pressure.

The accounting sector in particular has seen an oversupply of candidates, as compared to the number of open accounting job vacancies. This oversupply of accounting and finance talent has led to a trend where companies often focus on candidates who appear to have the most technical knowledge on their CVs, with many hiring managers resorting to checklists to select such "technically competent" candidates for a potential interview. This is however just a threshold requirement and is a bare bones procedure to procuring finance talent. Whilst this is commonplace, this often does not yield the best talent solution for the role.

When we source candidates for a finance role, we often advise our clients to look beyond the required technical skill sets to ensure we identify the best possible talent. So which are the most overlooked skills that the best accounting and finance talent typically possess?

Business partnering skills

Across the finance community, and particularly among senior level staff, business partnering has become the buzzword du jour, so much so that a study by Deloitte showed that 94% of organisations in Asia wants to increase the time spent on finance business partnering over the next three years. The finance function has evolved drastically in Singapore and Asia over the past decade: a number of years ago the main objective of a finance function would largely focus on avoiding issues with tax authorities, closing accounts on time and reporting results accurately to headquarters.

In today's highly complex and fast-changing business environment, this is no longer sufficient. With the volatility in the economic climate and growing competition, businesses are required to be even more robust in their revenue generation and cost management. With the increased pressure, employers are increasingly seeking finance leaders who are able to communicate and partner effectively to help steer business decisions using strong commercial and financial judgement. 

One of the toughest challenges for an organisation is achieving profitable and robust growth. Finding the optimum balance between top line growth, investment and profitable returns is a constant juggling act. Finance leaders who have strong commercial acumen tend to make more competent business partners - and are typically depended on to make sound decisions with regards to managing costs and investing for long-term growth.

Business process improvement
With technological advancements, finance functions are constantly challenged to improve, upgrade, streamline and automate. A finance leader’s capability is enhanced when she or he is able to strategically map the finance process and work with various stakeholders to close gaps in areas where there are inefficiencies. Senior talent who can demonstrate this capability showcase an appetite to add value in their function beyond reporting the numbers. Besides improving workflow operations and productivity in their finance operations, more importantly, you'll also find them focusing on growth and improvement.

Such talent will be a true asset to any business leader or organisation and should be prioritised when it comes to hiring, yet the global CFO survey published by KPMG revealed that less than half of CEOs feel their finance functions are doing a strong job exploring and implementing the best new technology. There is clearly a significant gap between the type of finance talent needed to propel the business forward, and what companies currently have in their teams.

Cultural adaptability
In the Asia-Pacific business environment, offshoring practice to countries such as Philippines, Malaysia, China and India is gaining popularity. As such, finance leaders are no longer restricted to working within one operational setup to deliver results. Instead, they need to manage teams from different cultural backgrounds and drive business operations remotely. Understanding how various cultures and people work effectively has become more crucial for finance leaders to properly manage offshored functions.

Leadership capability
When hiring good finance talent, it's important to assess their capability to lead in their function in the future. Finance leaders are often appointed due to their financial knowledge and years of experience, but seldom properly assessed for their leadership competencies. This oversight often brings about high attrition, poor performance and low engagement in finance divisions when the individual turns out to be a poor leader.

Finance divisions are often pressure cooker environments with tight deadlines, high volume of process work and lower job satisfaction from repetitive tasks. Without a strong people leader at the helm to combat and manage these issues, organisations will find themselves struggling to build a highly functioning and efficient finance capability.

Influencing skills
In order to drive business, senior finance professionals nowadays are constantly interacting with teams outside of the finance function, which include colleagues from operations, logistics, sales and marketing. A key skill we find in some of the best finance talent is their ability to communicate effectively and influence the decision-making process. Senior finance professionals can at times rely too much on data and their technical knowledge to make decisions, often forgetting how to interact and communicate with people from other functions - many of whom might be wired in a very different way and would find it challenging to understand the finance terminologies or see the benefits of a particular finance-focused solution.

Summary
Quoting Charles Holley, the ex-CFO of Walmart, "A talented finance team is not static, but rather continually changes based on financial, regulatory, technical, market and other developments."  Which is why it's increasingly critical that as employers, we recognise the need to step outside our standard checklists when evaluating potential candidates. There is a need to do a deeper dive to uncover the high potentials who possess the aptitude, business acumen, strategic thinking, communication skills, leadership and business partnering qualities - to build your next generation of finance leaders. A forward-looking finance team who can keep pace with new demands, such as in the areas of analytics, artificial intelligence, digitisation and robotics, not to mention the skills to look ahead for business model disruption.

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If you enjoyed this update, check out this infographic that highlights the high demand pressure for quality accounting and finance talent, and lists some of the top accounting skills and jobs in demand for 2017.
Posted: Friday, 12 May 2017 - 10:30 AM