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Deloitte report reveals that despite recognising the importance, CFOs in the region are not yet transforming their finance function to take on more frontline roles

Saipan, 9 December 2021 –A new study by Deloitte Southeast Asia (“Deloitte”) suggests that while an overwhelming majority of Chief Finance Officers (“CFOs”) in Southeast Asia recognise the need to transform key areas of their finance functions to navigate the complexities of the new normal – specifically in data management and analytics, risk monitoring and compliance, and business finance – many have yet to begin their transformation journey.

The study was conducted between the second and third quarters of 2021 with 105 Southeast Asia-based CFOs and finance leaders across a wide range of industries and finance team sizes to understand their key concerns and priorities. The findings of the study have been summarised in the report, “Southeast Asia CFO Agenda 2021: Reimagining the future of finance”.

Transforming finance in strategic areas

The findings show that a large majority of CFOs recognised the need to transform in key areas as the role of finance pivots towards the delivery of financial insights. However, more than a quarter have not yet begun transformation in these areas despite acknowledging their importance – business finance (38%), risk monitoring and compliance (46%) and data analytics and management (44%).

“For most Southeast Asia CFOs, their focus was initially to ensure operational and business continuity. This year, CFOs are now focusing on long-term priorities to become more agile to support the evolving business needs,” says Mr Timothy HO (何国华), Deloitte Southeast Asia CFO Program Leader. “In particular, as the pandemic continues to demand fundamental shifts to their businesses, it is imperative for CFOs and their finance function to pivot from operational finance to financial insights, and turn their attention to developing new finance roles and the accompanying skillsets required for the future. Specifically, they will need to take on more frontline roles and become the ultimate owner of data within the organisation.”

Enabling the finance workforce

One thing is clear from the survey respondents – remote working is here to stay, with almost three-quarters (73%) indicating that their organisations will continue remote working, and potentially use remote work as a means to supplement talent to the finance team.

“A key driver for remote working is a skills shortage. Even as CFOs in the region adapt to a remote workforce, drawing from other geographies to plug the skills gap, they will still need to consider how their finance teams can develop or acquire more diverse skillsets – and fundamentally reimagine the future role of finance in their organisation,” says Ho.

Delivering next-generation finance

Deloitte, through analysis of the survey findings, postulates that there are three priorities on the CFOs’ to-do list in order for their teams to deliver next-generation finance that is defined by remote work and their increasingly frontline role.

1. Craft the finance transformation vision

CFOs who wish to accelerate their readiness to operate in the new normal will need to understand the mix of human and technology required to meet changing expectations, update roles and job descriptions, and importantly, ensure that their talent is ready.

This requires an ambitious but realistic finance transformation vision that articulates which technology investments to prioritise, defines the talent that will thrive, and decides how best to upskill them.

2. Define future roles

Future finance roles will likely fall into three main categories – Storytellers, Interpreters and Machine Managers – and these roles are likely to differ not only in terms of the skills required, but also in terms of human-machine mix. Even if these roles depend heavily on machines, they are unlikely to be fully automated. This means that finance talent will be required to operate in new and different ways – with creativity, intuition and judgment remaining high on the human value chain.

3. Decide whether to build, borrow, or buy

Often, a CFO’s first instinct is to upskill their team through training and development in order to acquire new capabilities and build a future-ready workforce. While upskilling should be part of any future workforce plan, it may not always be sufficient to meet all future talent needs.

But this also does not mean that CFOs need to go on a hiring spree - there is a good chance that these capabilities already exist within the organisation, if not within the finance team. CFOs should therefore look within their organisations to see if they can borrow or share employees with transferable skillsets from other functions.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that doing one or two things exceptionally well and working in isolation are unlikely to cut it. In its future role, finance will be about managing across functions, building the right combination of talent and capabilities, as well as owning and operating a strong organisation-wide data foundation. Our advice to CFOs is for them to focus less on the pursuit of perfection, and more on continually improving the value that finance delivers to the organisation. As an example, as more businesses place emphasis on sustainability, and the requirements continue to evolve, how can CFOs play a more active role to drive the measurement, reporting and management of these initiatives? After all, the future is not set in stone, and it is up to the CFOs and their finance teams to take action, and reshape and reimagine in order to sail beyond the horizon,” Ho concludes.

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