Staffing in 2014: Lock Up Your Top Finance Talents!

The dawn of a new year signals new beginnings and, for some people, a possible fresh start in a new working environment. Will projected salary increases be enough to convince finance professionals to switch firms in 2014?
To the relief of many CFOs (but perhaps disappointment among some members of their team and other finance chiefs looking for a change), the answer is probably a no. Slight salary rises are unlikely to encourage candidates to switch jobs, says Angel Lam, associate director for accounting and finance at recruitment firm Robert Walters Hong Kong.
As it happens, most employment surveys for 2014 indicate only slight pay rises. According to ECA’s 2013/2014 Salary Trends Survey report, for example, the average increase in compensation for those in banking and financial services in Hong Kong is 5%, just slightly ahead of the average pay rise of 4% for all employees – and a modest 1.5% over the forecast inflation rate for the territory.
The prospect is not any better in Singapore. The same ECA survey projects that salary increases after inflation in the Lion City will amount to an average of 1.8% in 2014, across all industries. “There should be a slight rise, just in line with market conditions and inflation, across all job levels,” says Cheryl Ann Szetoh, manager for accounting and finance at Robert Walters Singapore.
That may discourage switching. “Jobseekers would tend to be quite cautious when contemplating a career move,” says Lam. “They want to make sure they are moving into a stable position and for the right reasons, such as career advancement, job scope and also, compensation.” In general, accounting and finance staff across all seniority levels are likely to change jobs only if offered a 15% increment or more.
Who’s in demand
But don’t be complacent, if you’re a CFO looking to keep your best people – or despair, if you’re a finance professional looking for greener pastures.
Lam expects demand for top talent will continue into 2014 and employers will fork out top dollar for the right person. “It’s challenging for employers to fight for a single headcount, so when they do get approval, many will be willing to pay a premium to get the best person onboard,” she says.
Who might this best person be? Not someone who’s a whiz in transaction processes. Cost cutting efforts from organizations have resulted in the establishment of shared services centers in countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines, which perform routine functions such as invoicing, vouchering and payments.
But while demand in Hong Kong and Singapore for routine functions will remain low due to the establishment of such centers, business partnering finance functions will continue to be in high demand.
“Finance functions that remain in Hong Kong will be tasked with a different mission,” says Lam. “Employers are not hiring people to complete financial statements. They need those who can interpret finance numbers, generate business ideas from those numbers and communicate to senior management and stakeholders on ways to drive business strategy.”
It’s the same story in Singapore, says Szetoh. As in Hong Kong, there is likely to be less demand for routine functions and greater demand for advisory, compliance and tax functions. Business partnering functions, particularly those that require close working relationships with general managers and managing directors, will be highly sought after.
“Companies are looking for individuals who can contribute top line perspectives to the business, such as provide advice on pricing, investment analysis and cost efficiency studies,” she says.
Road warriors – and locals
Internal auditors willing to travel out of the country will also remain sought after in Singapore, to take on assignments in various countries in the Asia Pacific. “People who can be on the road 70% of the time are not easy to find, as many who do such jobs tend to want to wind down after a few years,” says Szetoh.
The candidates who will fill such jobs will likely be in their late 20s to early 30s, possessing some working experience but with little in the way of personal commitments. Proficiency in Mandarin will be in demand for such roles as well, as companies seek candidates to deal with branch offices in China and Taiwan.
Marc Burrage, Regional Director at executive recruitment firm Hays, is also detecting a change in the nationality of staff for senior finance roles across the region. More locals are being hired in place of expatriates.
“We’ve traditionally seen many expats sought for more senior roles, but organizations now seem to prefer to hire more local talent when they can, and are investing in training the next generation,” he says. This trend is expected to continue in Singapore particularly, where the government is raising the minimum qualifying salaries for work passes that can be given to foreign workers.
High regulatory demands from banks will also fuel demand for risk and compliance functions across Asia, says Burrage. These same requirements from banks will also translate into stable demand for accounting, internal audit and capital and regulatory reporting functions across the region.
According to Burrage, financial controllers, strategy planning managers and directors will be in high demand across the region, particularly in Hong Kong, Singapore and China. “In no area do we see salaries going backward,” states Burrage.
One market that will see accelerating salaries in 2014 is China, although salaries in the People’s Republic will still not be on par with financial powerhouses Hong Kong and Singapore. The ECA survey puts the average salary increase in China at 8%. Taking forecast inflation of 3% into account, the real rise is 5%.
Wanted: Soft skills
To recap, the finance positions that will be in top demand in 2014 are the following:
  • CFOs with strong business partnering orientation
  • financial controllers
  • internal auditors
  • strategy planning managers and directors
  • data analytics specialists
  • tax and transfer pricing specialists
  • regulatory compliance
  • business strategy
  • financial planning and analysis
But while commercial and business acumen is highly valued, the talent hunt extends beyond mere technical capabilities. “Employers expect not only the hard skills such as closing the books and compiling financial statements; emphasis is also placed on soft skills, such as how you communicate with other divisions,” states Lam.
Never underestimate the value of soft skills, agrees Burrage. “Employers are increasingly looking for potential CFOs with leadership, management, and interpersonal skills – skills that can also determine the employee’s ability to fit into an existing team.”
Aspiring CFOs should focus on building communication skills, he adds. “This becomes even more important if they want to broaden their horizons regarding strategic input and possible progression to CEO, if they are interested in pursuing that path.”
About the Author

Melissa Chua is a Contributing Editor at CFO Innovation based in Singapore. 


Photo credit: Shutterstock


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