Number’s up for dated CFOs as role expands
In a continually evolving business environment, driving revenues, managing costs, and recruiting and retaining talent are some of the most pressing issues faced by chief finance officers (CFOs), according to the latest Robert Walters CFO Survey.
A total of 500 Hong Kong CFOs across a wide range of company sizes and industry sectors – including fast-moving consumer goods, consumer products, IT, telecoms, banking and finance, retail, property, and legal – were surveyed by the recruitment firm.
When asked what they thought was the top challenge they faced in running their business, 28 per cent chose driving current revenue, followed by recruiting and retaining the best finance talent (21 per cent), and cost management (20 per cent).
On the subject of the biggest challenge in recruitment, 32 per cent of respondents stated it was finding the right talent with the technical skills and interpersonal attributes required by the organisation, followed by staff retention (16 per cent) and managing employee expectations (16 per cent).
Angel Lam, associate director of the commerce finance division at Robert Walters Hong Kong, says there has been a dramatic and fundamental shift in the span of CFO’s responsibilities in the past few years.
“In addition to looking after core accounting and reporting duties, these days CFOs are driving or adapting to strategic shifts within their companies while managing people, systems and technology,” Lam says. “At a time when they also need to operate under intense regulatory scrutiny, you could say they have become strategic business partners within organisations.”
Lam says CFOs now need to be able to do such things as price products and services, be cost-efficient, and analyse the bigger business picture to secure profits for their organisations. She cites an example of a sales and marketing team sealing a deal based on a sales proposal, whereas a CFO would need to look at the overall cost to, and impact on, the organisation.
As CFOs are also increasingly required to be the financial spokesperson for their organisations, Lam says strong communication skills are imperative. “In addition to explaining complex financial information to their CEOs and management boards, CFOs must be able to clearly communicate with potential investors, fund managers, investment analysts and shareholders,” she says. Internally, CFOs need to be able to communicate across geographical frontiers and departments including HR, IT, and sales and marketing.
Alongside their financial and business insights, CFOs have been given the responsibility to build and maintain teams of finance professionals that can collaborate and subscribe to the same company concepts, Lam says. To drive their strategies and long-term business plans, companies need a stable financial-talent succession plan, which requires strong leadership abilities and interpersonal skills.
In Asia, Lam adds, CFOs are often working in multi-cultural environments, which require enhanced people-management skills. “Besides the prerequisite technical skills, the soft skills can be some of the more difficult skills to perfect,” Lam says.
The good news for CFOs is that those who are capable of combining their technical skills with leadership, communication and people skills are in hot demand. “In every industry sector, companies are looking for versatile individuals who can cope with changing circumstances, and can lead and help them to take their business forward,” Lam says.
Danny Lau, leader of Deloitte China’s CFO Programme, has also been tracking the expanding responsibilities of CFOs. “Operating in today’s increasingly complex and volatile business environment, CFOs are expected to provide more than just financial insights by contributing more to strategic and operational goals,” he says.
As such, he adds, CFOs need to look beyond their financial records and statements, and keep abreast of what is happening in their industries. “Over the past decade, we have seen the growing complexity in regulatory compliance amid the market outcry for better corporate transparency and the emergence of new regulations,” he says.
Lau’s observations coincide with the findings of the Deloitte China CFO Survey 2013, in which 65 per cent of CFOs said they were expected to focus on the execution of strategy development. They also said they needed to understand the matrix of other corporate functions, including IT, HR and procurement.
To help CFOs at different stages of their careers to become more successful, Deloitte’s CFO Programme brings together a multidisciplinary team of Deloitte leaders and subject-matter specialists. “The key focus is on helping individuals, instead of the entire organisation we normally work with,” Lau says.
Before programme participants become fully fledged CFOs, they join a three-day course at Deloitte’s Next Generation CFO Academy. The academy provides a development and networking event for finance executives and current subsidiary-level CFOs who are about to move up to corporate-level CFO positions.
“Participants generally possess a decent level of accounting and financial technical knowledge, while they may need to brush up their leadership, communication and influencing skills in preparation to move up to corporate-level CFO,” Lau says.