With the uncertainty in the global market, rising interest rates and a decline in both domestic consumption and investments, the Singapore economy is bracing itself for a slower growth in 2017. Organisations continued to be under increasing pressure to streamline operations, and disruptive technologies are changing the way the industry functions – requiring them to be more agile and adaptable, and become more efficient with less resources.
Despite these challenges, we have observed some positive trends in the accounting and finance sector:
1. Shared services scene in Singapore
Large MNC conglomerates have been moving out their Accounting Shared Services overseas to lower cost countries such as India, Manila and Malaysia. Setting up an operational finance team in China solely for the purpose of cost savings has become less appealing due to the rising labour costs.
The local accounting workforce – whom have seen the rise and decline of shared services in Singapore – are consciously shifting out of operational accounting functions such as AP/AR, GL, Fixed Asset, Inventory and Costing. Singapore, Hong Kong and most recently China, are now the preferred countries for reporting & analysis functional support, which brings us to the next point.
2. The evolving role of accounting professionals
Accounting has been rapidly changing from that of a bean-counter to the more technically competent and complex finance partner whose responsibility now is to make sense of the business environment.
More MNC organisations are starting to take on accounting professionals to perform non-operational functions (for e.g. FP&A, Tax, Pricing) at much earlier stages of their career compared to 5 years ago. Nonetheless, resume applications for these roles still remain highly competitive – with an increasing demand for candidates with strong interpersonal skills and out-of-the-box thinking.
A good indicator of this rising trend is what happens behind closed doors during the job interviews: hiring managers are increasingly spending more time evaluating candidates on their soft skills and less on technical proficiency. Candidates are also being screened rigorously for their people skills to determine the cultural fit of the new hire, which they believe is critical in contributing to overall productivity.
3. Global trends and their impact
The global economy has also been dampened by the “oil crisis” since 2015 and leading up to the collapse of the shipping giant Hanjin. Furthermore, uncertainty in the political environment from the aftermath of Brexit and the US elections also made it more challenging to anticipate trading relations between countries.
We observed significant spike in demand for M&A specialists from cash-rich organisations to evaluate deals and joint ventures for the purpose of either growth or survival. In 2017, experts in post-acquisition process integration activities will be highly sought-after as firms slow down purchases and push in a bid to see returns.
4. New players
The influx of start up companies has also brought about a significant change in hiring and talent trends in recent years. These companies reputedly started the buzzword “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – brought on by the “Uberization” or disruption of traditional business models. In the finance and fintech sectors, the start-up scene has blossomed into a plethora of alternative business models including “Last mile delivery logistics”, “E-Wallets”, “P2P Lending” and “crowd-funding/crowd-sourcing”
The Singapore government in its pursuit of becoming a Smart Nation, has done a fantastic job in attracting the major startup and tech companies to establish their regional offices here. Locally, we already see prominent brands such as Grab, Uber, Lazada/Alibaba, Groupon, Netflix, Google, Facebook and Amazon operating at full capacity, along with a multitude of IT venture capital firms looking for deals here.
Key players such as Alibaba, Uber, Grab and Netflix, with their massive war-chests, have spared no expense in getting the most qualified finance talent. Competition for these high calibre finance candidates has intensified as a result, and we are seeing more and more jobs being filled by accounting and finance professionals who are not only technically sound, but who are also IT savvy and creative thinkers.
5. More work to be done
The world’s ability to acquire data has exploded exponentially in the last 5 to 6 years. Businesses around the world are still playing catch-up to identify and analyse which data points are relevant and important to gain competitive edge.
For firms that do not have the luxury of setting up functional departments to handle data analysis, we observed that more accounting professionals, specifically in the FP&A department, have also taken on data analytics as a part of their role. The natural questioning ability of accounting professionals (possibly acquired during their audit stints), coupled with their proficiency of Excel modelling, has enabled them to transit into this new function quite easily. The increased focus on data analysis has also allowed organisations to finally bridge the relationship gap between business data and revenue trends.
By Daniel Goh, Manager, Accounting & Finance, Randstad Singapore.