Finance Salaries 2013: How Not to Lose Your Team

Last year, corporate accountants in Hong Kong received a 5% salary increment on average, according to the 2012 Salary Guide: Finance & Accounting by Robert Half, a specialist recruitment firm.
Robert Half has just released its 2013 Salary Guide, and it seems the significant escalation in finance and accounting salaries will continue this year. According to Robert Half, Hong Kong accountants working in large companies will likely get an 8% raise on average in 2013.  
Their counterparts in Singapore will be getting even more – a 9% increase, up from 7% in 2012. Other finance professionals are looking at potentially even more substantial increments, according to Robert Half:
  • 20% pay rise for large-company treasurers and tax directors in Hong Kong
  • 13% increase for large-company treasury managers in Shanghai
  • 8% increase for financial planning and analysis directors in Singapore
CFOs in Asia, in other words, will need to be ready match or exceed significantly rising market salaries for many in the finance team, from accountants to managers to directors. Otherwise, they may find themselves needing to recruit talented replacements who are difficult to find in many markets.
Singapore Sling
In Singapore, says Robert Half Director Stella Tang, “employees are highly mobile because they are highly skilled. As Singapore’s position as a global business and financial hub grows, there are more opportunities for talented finance and accounting employees to move across industries and functions.”
They also move across employers. A Robert Half global survey of 2,100 CFOs and finance directors in 15 countries finds that 66% of finance and accounting employees in Singapore stay with a firm for only three years or shorter. Globally, 67% of finance professionals remain with one employer for five years or less.
Thirteen percent of finance professionals in Singapore indicate they move on because they were offered higher remuneration by another company, among other reasons. CFOs should therefore track what the current or prospective market rate is to make sure they can match or top those offers and keep their best people (see table below).
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Finance and Accounting Salaries, Singapore 
“The hiring market in Singapore is expected to be robust for the first half of the year,” notes Robert Half in its 2013 Salary Guide, which is based on information collected from its accounting and finance recruiting managers, actual placements, insights from senior managers, independent research, and analysis of current and future trends.
The most sought after finance professionals in Singapore are the following:
  • Those with expertise in FP&A – financial planning and analysis – and tax (both up 6% to 8% in expected salary increment this year) and transactional processes (8% pay increment for payroll managers and 6%-7% increase for A/P and A/R controllers/managers)
  • Those with qualifications such as CPA, ACCA and other recognised accounting degrees
  • Those with experience with Oracle, Hyperion or similar systems
  • Those with regional exposure, proficiency in ERP systems, strong communications and leadership skills, and relevant cultural and language (Mandarin) skills
“On the experience score, the highest demand is for mid- to senior-level professionals with five to 10 years relevant experience,” reports Robert Half. Employers that are particularly looking for experienced finance staff are those in energy, information and communications technology, fast moving consumer goods, real estate and pharmaceuticals.  
Revival in Hong Kong
Last year, finance team salaries in Hong Kong increased less steeply than in Singapore (see Keeping Talent: Are You Paying Your Staff Enough?), at 5% for most positions. In 2013, the situation is reversed, with some salaries in Hong Kong projected to surge in double digits (see table below).
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Finance and Accounting Salaries, Hong Kong 
“Companies are optimistic about their growth prospects,” says Pallavi Anand, Robert Half Director in Hong Kong. “While it is difficult to predict what the future holds for the global economy, there are clearly opportunities for talented finance, accounting and banking professionals in Hong Kong.”
The most sought after finance professionals in Hong Kong are the following:
  • Those with expertise in tax and treasury (tax director and treasurer salaries up 20%), financial planning and analysis (FP&A manager up 10%-11%) and financial management (finance manager up 10%-11%; credit manager up 9%-12%)
  • Those with experience in risk management and compliance, particularly in China-based organisations and small and medium sized enterprises
  • Those with a track record of supporting different internal functions to streamline processes
  • Tax, treasury and credit professionals who can add value and improve overall cost efficiency
  • Those proficient in Microsoft Excel, SAP, Oracle and ERP systems
  • Those with strong analytical, interpersonal and communications abilities, and adept at managing and adapting to change
“The industries currently hiring most actively include healthcare, pharmaceuticals, retail, IT services, marketing and media,” observes Robert Half.
It also notes the trend in Hong Kong of companies relocating less strategic finance and accounting functions to less expensive offshore locations, which may explain why A/P and A/C managers in Hong Kong, for example, are projected to have no increment this year.    
Surging Shanghai 
“While China’s impressive growth rate slowed in the later part of 2012, it looks set to pick up considerably in 2013,” Robert Half observes. “This will have a positive impact on the hiring landscape in Shanghai.”
This also means that CFOs who have built up a cadre of experienced finance team members will be challenged to hang on to them. They should be prepared to match or exceed the projected salaries that finance professionals are expected to command this year (see table below):
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Finance and Accounting Salaries, Shanghai 
The most sought after finance professionals in Shanghai are the following:
  • Those in treasury (treasury manager/senior manager salaries up 10%-13%), internal control (internal control manager up 10%), internal audit (internal audit manager up 10%) and finance (accounting manager up 9%-11%; senior accountant up 8%-9%)
  • Those with professional qualifications including CICPA and AICPA
  • Those not only with technical skills in PRC GAAP, IFRS or US GAAP, but also with good business acumen and strong soft skills
  • Those with industry experience in retail, fast moving consumer goods, luxury, services and high-tech industries
For CFOs anxious to keep their talent, one observation may be useful. “Increasingly, employees in Shanghai today are also motivated by flexible work arrangements, work-life balance, and career progression,” says Robert Half. These incentives can make the difference when finance team members get antsy over higher salaries elsewhere.
Conservative Japan
Unlike their job-hopping counterparts in Singapore, finance professionals in Japan tend to stay on with the same employer for years. “The challenge is to convince a talented professional to change to a new company or to take on a new role, as some employees tend to be more conservative when making choices about their careers,” says Robert Half.
Indeed, there seems little incentive for companies to get into a bidding war for talent among themselves. The Robert Half salary report projects salaries to remain at the same levels this year as in 2012 – or in 2011, for that matter (see table below).
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Finance and Accounting Salaries, Japan 
Retention and recruitment are relatively easier in Japan than elsewhere in Asia. Companies in Japan have “a strong pool of experienced finance and accounting professionals to tap,” notes Robert Half.
The most sought after finance professionals in Japan are the following:
  • Those in control, compliance and audit functions as companies renew their focus on internal controls because of recent high-profile corporate scandals
  • Those with knowledge of advanced Microsoft Excel, SAP, Oracle and ERP systems
  • Those with strong leadership and bilingual communications skills
  • Those with US CPA qualification, which is becoming sought after in Japan
More with Less
What if, despite the CFO’s best efforts, the finance ranks are decimated anyway? Going on a recruitment drive is an obvious course. But Robert Half also suggests giving those who stay on the right tools and motivation to enhance team productivity, which will enable finance to do more with less. The suggestions include:
  • Change processes. Engage finance team members and business units in discussions about finance and accounting processes that can be centralised and those that can be left to the business units to do. This will lighten the load on finance and allow the finance team to focus more on more strategic initiatives.
  • Enhance technology. If implemented correctly, financial systems and ERP solutions allow companies to “capture operating efficiencies while aligning data with organisational strategy,” observes Robert Half. “Improvements in technology also allow companies to enhance their financial management controls and satisfy increasingly stringent regulatory compliance obligations.”
  • Intensify training. “Ensuring your team stays up to date with the latest regulatory and technology changes will not only keep their skills sharp, but also help improve productivity,” says Robert Half. Research by other organisations such as CEB has also found that employees tend to stay longer in a company that focuses on training and professional development, including improvement of interpersonal and presentation skills.
  • Re-organise teams. Structures that put each team member’s strengths at the centre should lead to better job satisfaction. “Whereas tackling regulatory requirements may be better suited to a strong technical accountant, business partnering and strategy may be more fitting for the commercially minded,” notes Robert Half. Tailoring teams around what the members’ are most interested to do is a better retention strategy than requiring individuals to change to fit into preconceived structures.  
About the Author

Cesar Bacani is Editor-in-Chief of CFO Innovation.


Photo credit: Shutterstock


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