Having explored the drivers of change for Finance, and advice for hiring in Asia-Pacific within the discipline, our assembled experts finally turn their cutting-edge advice to job seekers over the coming one-to-three years. And indeed the regional landscape looks strong, especially for those with the drive to learn and the necessary blend of core Finance knowledge, together with a passion for generating data-driven insights.
Top advice for job seekers in Finance
1. Blend Finance base with strong supplementary skills
For those still at the training stage, while there may be less place now for traditional straight debits-and-credits accountants – blending traditional knowledge with insight-driven skills can be a good way to embrace the future of Finance. “You can have an accounting degree, but you’ve got to then supplement it with programming, data analytics, visualization or statistical programming,” advises Low of Experian. Don’t assume this mantra of a blended experience will stop in the workplace – indeed the ability to demonstrate diverse experience is now highly regarded compared to working in purely number-crunching positions. “People are much better off going into a role which is going to build a different experience versus trying to chase an extra few thousand dollars,” says AstraZeneca’s Fahey. He highly recommends developing digital and tech capabilities, and building both as key job strengths as part of your experience. “Then find ways to get business partnering experience and develop your softer skills,” he notes.
2. Finance is still an exciting place to be
Don’t believe any doom and gloom predictions about the discipline – it’s an exciting time for Finance, so long as you have the appetite to embrace learning and change. “I’m more bullish on Finance roles today compared to five years ago – when there was this fear of a brain drain even across Asia and Europe,” notes EY’s McKenzie. “I was concerned about the industry, and was questioning where the next CFO was going to come from,” he reveals. “I think that’s now turning, because of all the efficiencies we’ve achieved through automation, data, and the smart people who have been utilised offshore.” Traditional Finance roles will become “more specialised, more nimble and essentially, full of smarter people,” he suggests. “But it will also allow an opportunity to feed through talent from a larger market.”
3. Curiosity and a passion to move quickly
A flexible, agile brain will be a must for the successful Finance professionals of tomorrow – especially when paired with next-level inquisitiveness. “You really need that curiosity and an agile brain associated with the data,” says EY’s McKenzie. “So that you’re not just accepting what the reports say – but challenging the business. Or potentially picking out new trends that the business needs to understand now.” Moving at pace will be paramount: “Agility is important: the rate of change across all businesses, in all industries, has taken a step up and it keeps increasing,” notes Fahey.
4. Seek out mentors for gap-filling Finance boot camp
For those with an excellent technical and academic base, seeking out an insightful mentor can be a critical way to ensure Finance professionals acquire the more character- and behaviour-based skills. “Mentorship is very important,” says Hyslop of Global Petro Storage. “A mentor has already gone through the process of taking their academic and technical learning, and then applying it in a real-world situation,” he notes. “That’s where a lot of the soft skills come in: managing upwards, managing other people, expressing opinions in a group environment – all the things that actually matter to creating a career path with high potential,” he notes. While his company does not have a big team, when it comes to mentorship, “we spend an awful lot of time doing it”.
5. A rebel spirit is key to problem-solving and learning agility
In a data-driven environment, standout Finance team members will be those who attack a problem looking for a loophole, and not those who accept the first outcome. “It’s about those with enough work ethic and discipline to really get into a problem,” notes Low of Experian. “There’s often not enough challenging going on, which I think is universal,” he warns. “And this can have a spill on-effect, because commercial decisions are being made on the back of your work.” Indeed, while Finance professionals aren’t expected to become instant technology or digital experts, the learning agility to leverage new digital capabilities, including new software and RPA process work, will prove highly beneficial for emerging and existing talent. “The difference we’re seeing with new talent is that technology and digital have been around them their whole lives as they’ve grown up with it,” says AstraZeneca’s Fahey. “But it’s not just the young new talent who are excited about change – I’d say the vast majority of older Finance people want to keep learning too.”
6. Find your voice and bring your own opinions, to lock in advancement
When the academic tests and the initial stages of a career in Finance are out of the way, a new and more performance-based ‘proving ground’ emerges – which is in many ways just as key to advancement as the qualifications and technical skills. “The book learning aspects are important,” says Hyslop. “But especially through the first stage of your career, one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for an ability to form and express opinions, to communicate effectively in a group environment, and to be commercial.” While in the early stage of a career these non-qualification based aspects might appear less important, this is far from the case. “Those are the things that will determine the success of the later parts of your career,” he stresses.
Massive thanks to those who made Future of Finance happen: in particular those who’ve provided finance insights: Peter Fahey, Chief Financial Officer, AstraZeneca | Janine Donelly, Performance and Improvement Partner, EY Australia | Graeme McKenzie, Oceania Financial Services Managing Partner, EY | Eugene Low, Finance Director, Southeast Asia, Experian | Alan Hyslop, Corporate Finance Director, Global Petro Storage | Jeffrey Ng, Regional Director at Michael Page Singapore | Larysa Melnychuk, CEO and Founder, International FP&A Board. Plus our huge thanks to PageGroup’s Finance discipline leadership team throughout Asia-Pacific.