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Why now is the time for finance and accounting professionals to enter shared services
Back in the day, most finance and accounting candidates whom I spoke to generally had a bad impression or poor understanding of what a shared services centre (SSC) was. Many thought that SSC work was highly transactional, routine and mundane. Worse, many more candidates from the corporate side had not even heard of SSCs.
Today, things have changed in the finance and accounting landscape due to the current economic climate and advances in technology. More organisations are now adopting the SSC model to reduce costs and improve efficiency by centralising employee services in one single location.
For finance and accounting professionals, there’s no better time to pursue a career within SSC industry. Here’s why:
SSCs go beyond pure transactions
In the past, most serious finance professionals would not consider pursuing a career in SSC because of its data entry-like scope which would likely not do wonders for career progression.
The good news is that currently, due to globalisation, advanced technology, and connectivity, SSC delivery models have integrated and matured into Global Business Services (GBS), which focuses on productivity gains, process excellence and automation instead of cost-cutting.
In other words, SSCs are becoming more strategic. Although it’s not happening with all SSCs — there are still a handful of transaction-focused organisations — most are now well on their way to providing “value-added” services.
In fact, some SSCs, known as knowledge centres, are essentially accounting centres that provide end-to-end accounting services to businesses. These centres typically focus on statutory reporting, auditor liaising, management reporting and analysis — similar to the scope of a corporate chartered accountant.
It’s the next big wave in finance and accounting
Many global businesses are currently supported by SSCs when it comes to finance and accounting. And this number is set to increase. More MNCs are showing keen interest in setting up SSCs in Malaysia and the Malaysian government is also actively encouraging international organisations to invest in the country.
According to a 2014 MSC Malaysia report conducted by the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDec), the GBS sector attracted RM1.08 billion (US$300 million) of new investments into the country and revenue was RM13.9 billion (US$3.9 billion). The positive numbers clearly show the high rate of growth — and hence, demand for talent — in Malaysia’s shared services space.
According to MSC Malaysia, the AT Kearney’s Global Services Location Index has ranked Malaysia as the world’s third most attractive GBS Location 11 years in a row. Some 70,000 new jobs are expected to be available by the year 2020 in the country.
These facts and numbers also point to one other possibility — that finance divisions in many companies are likely to be decentralised and shifted to a SSC. In fact, clients who once requested for talent for their finance teams are now asking for suitable candidates to fill their newly set-up SSCs. Hence, it is perhaps wise to build a career in SSC now, ahead of your peers. By the time Malaysia’s SSC sector matures, you would be in a favourable position to rise up the ranks or be approached by other SSCs who are looking for experienced professionals.
You can list value-added skill sets in your resume
Working in a SSC/GBS often means dealing with a lot of different stakeholders as well was working in a borderless and diverse environment. This gives you a chance to develop your communication and people management skills.
Furthermore, working in an SSC environment also means that you will be building your influencing or selling skills. Part of your work often involves implementing changes or enhancing processes, meaning that you would need to learn how to influence your clients for their buy-in.
And you would also learn how to be adaptable, due to the ever-evolving nature of SSCs in terms of form, location, strategy and scope. Being agile and adaptable to change are very valuable traits for employers in any industry.
Finally, working in an SSC is a great way of building leadership skills. Due to its sheer volume of work and the multiple regions it serves, an SSC typically has large team sizes. It is not unusual for an SSC head to lead a big team of 20 to 30 people, unlike in a traditional finance setting, where large teams are not common.
You’ll gain experience in setting up a business
Most SSCs are separate legal entities from the corporate organisations they serve as the former is an internal service provider. This means that an SSC entity will have a different managing director (more commonly known as head of shared services/director of global business services/general manager of GBS). It might even have its own HR team, facilities, vision, culture, P&L, and targets.
With an increasing number of SSCs being set up in Malaysia across the Klang Valley and even in Penang, Johor and Melaka, candidates who want exposure in setting up a business — in addition to providing finance and accounting services — now have more opportunities to do so. Such opportunities are not as common in large organisations.
Being heavily involved in an SSC’s start-up — a chance that is rarely available to most corporate accountants in the commercial sector — will likely build your entrepreneurial skills. Even better, some of these new start-ups are entities for reputable multinational companies, bringing more credibility to your skill set.
SSCs gives you different types of career options
Perhaps the best part about SSCs is the culture that encourages internal transfers.
For example, if you’re an accountant looking to venture into other areas for a more well-rounded portfolio, you would have options in an SSC to pursue roles in project management, continuous improvement, finance transformation, change management or service management.
I have interviewed a lot of candidates (managers and above) in project management/continuous improvement roles. The common point these candidates shared is that they all started with operational finance background. However, during their time in operational finance, they were encouraged to take on process improvement responsibilities.
Seeing the value in the latter area of work, they decided to branch out into it and that decision has served them well. As there is a lack of talent for people with project management/continuous improvement skill sets, these particular candidates typically command higher salaries than their peers who specialise only in operational finance.
Global career-building opportunities
As most SSCs have regional or global roots, employees will likely be able to take on work that go beyond a local scope. Furthermore, it is very common for SSCs to transfer people across the regions they serve.
Often, there is also ample room for career progression. Because SSC employees typically have to work with senior level stakeholders across the region, they enjoy higher visibility in the business. If they are high performers, it is very likely that they will be chosen for progression promotion or international transfers. Some of our outstanding SSC candidates were even transferred to another country as CFOs or local financial controllers.
For finance and accounting candidates who are interested in joining the shared services sector, it can be tricky to know which SSC to join as they would first need to know if the organisation is transactional or value-added. This is why Michael Page has a dedicated team of specialist consultants who focus exclusively on finance and accounting roles in this sector.
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