Once every three months, Unit4 Asia Pacific CFO Eric Cheung (pictured) hosts a briefing with fellow CFOs as part of his business partnering role. The company provides enterprise applications, including ERP solutions, to services organizations worldwide.
Drawing from those interactions, he recently wrote an article on what he sees as the 15 structural shifts that will change the future of the Office of the CFO, including the eternally transitioning CFO, the call for finance to provide strategic and visionary counsel, the transition to customer and client success as key metric, and the rise of soft factors in measuring ROI.
So is Unit4 already experiencing to those shifts? The answer is yes, at least on some of those dimensions. If you read his résumé, you can say that Cheung is in periodic transition himself, for example. He started out as senior accountant with KPMG Hong Kong in 1996 before moving on to two-three year stints with Oracle, BMC Software, Hewlett Packard, SAP and Microsoft.
“What is truly business partnering is to be able to say, this is the report, this is the budget, this is the actual and ask, why are we having such variance? What’s the action item? You need [a finance business partner] to discuss with the head of that operation”
“I give myself three years to make a mark,” he says. The first months are given over to understanding the company. Then he moves on to transforming the finance function to focus the team on business partnering, strategy, risk management and other value-added tasks.
In the final year, he focuses on succession planning “so I can move on to a different role or company in terms of advancing my career.”
Not all CFOs are in constant transition, of course – the phenomenon seems to be more pronounced in the technology sector, where changes in strategy and business models can happen almost overnight, and among the younger finance professionals. But citing a Deloitte study, Cheung says more than 40% of senior executives leave their role within 18 months.
As it happens, that’s just about how long he has been with Unit4 Asia Pacific after 17 months with Microsoft and nearly four years with SAP. Cheung says he intends to stay on because the work of finance transformation at Unit4 in Asia is still in progress.
When he signed up in 2014, almost everyone in the finance team had left. Given a blank slate, Cheung decided to recreate the transactional layer in Kuala Lumpur, where salaries are about 40% cheaper than in Singapore. This allowed him to increase headcount but still with the same budget.
“Of course you need to assess the skill sets,” he concedes. So far, recruiting and managing 11 headcount in Malaysia – twice the size in Singapore – have been “a positive experience.” But he reports that other CFOs have told him their experience in KL has been mixed.
With the transactions side established, Cheung is now concentrating on business partnering and other value-added services. Two finance business partners have joined the retained finance function in Singapore, where they support the heads of other functions including sales and customer service.
“What is truly business partnering is to be able to say, this is the report, this is the budget, this is the actual and ask, why are we having such variance?” he says. “What’s the action item? You need [a finance business partner] to discuss with the head of that operation.”
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