CFOs in Southeast Asia working towards transformation agenda

CFOs in Southeast Asia working towards transformation agenda

Facing a myriad of challenges and opportunities, CFOs in Southeast Asia are working towards a major transformation agenda, with digital at the core, according to a new survey from EY.

The study by EY explores ways in which CFOs in the region can unlock strategic business value and zooms in on what is needed to realize their transformation plans.

Despite all the disruption on their frontier, only a small number of CFOs (17%) said that they are pursuing a bold finance transformation agenda. Nearly two thirds (63%) indicated that they are making significant changes in a few specific finance areas, such as accounting, working capital, treasury, or finance operations.

Source: Unlocking value: navigating the paradoxes of the CFO role in Southeast Asia, Ernst & Young LLP, 2023.

Finance executives clearly realize the need to digitally transform their finance functions, which can support their organizations in becoming more agile and achieve long-term growth. Technology transformation was noted a priority by 47% of the CFOs, with advanced data analytics receiving 32% of the mentions.

“With the fast-evolving digital solutions holding promise to help enhance productivity and efficiency and spotlight on climate change, it is understandable that CFOs are prioritizing technology transformation and advanced analytics in their finance transformation,” said Ronald Wong, a leader at EY.

“However, it is also important that CFOs recognize that the lack of a people strategy can be the biggest hurdle to digital transformation. The best systems will not deliver their intended value if finance teams do not rally behind them.”

Wong added the research shows that more integral and connected investments in transformation pay-off. “CFOs that are making bold moves to transform the finance function for the future are more likely to have an above-average or leading finance function than those pursuing incremental change,” he said.

CFOs’ effectiveness in influencing decisions

Source: Unlocking value: navigating the paradoxes of the CFO role in Southeast Asia, Ernst & Young LLP, 2023.

From CFO to CEO

One notable finding of EY’s report is that a growing number of CFOs have an aspiration to (ultimately) become a CEO. Half of the respondents told EY that have they have a CEO aspiration, as opposed to 42% that expressed a desire to remain in the CFO role (a figure slightly below the global average of 47%).

Yet to successfully make the transition to the top seat, CFOs need to develop numerous skills and prove their worth as not just a financial executive – but also an executive competent in growth and innovation.

The report suggests that CFOs have in part already been gaining relevant skills in recent years. A more complex landscape has meant that CFOs need a raft of skills beyond financial expertise to succeed, including strategic and inspirational leadership skills – meaning that the role is shifting towards a more natural stepping stone into the CEO position.

Companies now seek CFOs with proficiency not only in finance but also in areas such as business development, investment, analytics, operations, and transactions.

CFOs preparing for the CEO role find that the most significant challenge is finding time to enhance their knowledge and skills through exposure to external expertise and access to thought leadership.

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