Career Advice Expert Advice

From basic accounting to key decision-making

The accounting and finance industry has undergone a remarkable shift in Asia in the past year, as major global economies brace for modest recovery, while talents from emerging markets contend on the international stage. Accounting and finance professionals are seeing their roles evolve from purely keeping track of a corporation's financial health to strategic business advisory and planning.

Specifically, there has been a noticeable trend for multinationals or sizeable organisations to spin off some of the more routine accounting tasks - such as issuing vouchers, invoices and payments - and establish "shared accounting services centres" in lower-cost regions such as China, Malaysia, the Philippines and India.

In the meantime, the accounting and finance function continues to develop as it increasingly involves elements of business partnerships. Accounting and finance professionals are increasingly expected or encouraged to interact with CEOs, management teams, and other business departments to provide strategic-finance perspectives for commercial decision-making.

As a result, we have noticed an increasing demand for commercially astute finance professionals with strong abilities in translating finance figures, presenting at board or management meetings, and advising on corporate strategies. Accounting and finance professionals with superb presentation and communication skills are highly sought-after.

In the coming months, we foresee a potential hiring spree for accounting and finance professionals in the education, sourcing and retail sectors.

The education and e-learning industry is booming, thanks to rising expectations of education quality among the local and expat communities.

Meanwhile, as multinational retailers roll out expansion plans after setting up global sourcing hubs in Hong Kong, they are dividing sourcing operations for higher profitability margin. The expansion of these sourcing companies has subsequently boosted the need for dedicated finance teams to support sub-divided divisions.

In retailing, global retailers continue to choose Hong Kong as their first step to break into the Asia-Pacific sector, particularly the Chinese market. This has consequently spawned outstanding opportunities for accounting and finance professionals.

That said, the local job market remains highly competitive. To stand out and win this race, candidates are encouraged to polish both their "hard" and "soft" skills.

Hard skills are primarily your proficiencies in building financial models and utilising accounting systems, MS Excel, or any other financial-reporting tools. In addition, we find employers highly value talents who are able to explain numbers to non-finance professionals and advise on their strategic-business-planning process.

Aside from strong communication and presentation capabilities, candidates are increasingly expected to possess the ability to understand a company's business model and culture, and to think strategically on how to improve the business performance from the financial point of view.

After all, accounting and finance professionals are more than just the "cost-cutting" police. High-calibre candidates need to understand how financial reports can help drive the top and bottom lines and play a key role in organisational growth.

Given the numerically inclined nature of accounting and finance professionals, it is indeed challenging for employers to scout for talent who are detail-oriented, while at the same time expressive and commercially eloquent. To attract, develop and retain the top performers, I would recommend employers to provide more soft-skills training to accounting and finance employees, especially those who serve at middle to senior levels.

Also, employers are encouraged to integrate career progression into their talent-management strategies. As Robert Walters' latest "Focus Asia Whitepaper" illuminates, talents are more attracted to and motivated by employers who offer clear career-progression prospects.

In conclusion, if you are an accounting and finance professional looking to excel and prosper in your career, your communication skills, numeric intuition, and especially your business acumen will be key for your success, no matter if you are in tax, audit, finance control or financial planning.

Angel Lam is associate director for accounting and finance at Robert Walters Hong Kong. She has over 12 years of experience in the recruitment and executive search industry and currently specialises in placing senior finance executives into commercial organisations in Hong Kong.

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