Developing excellent people management skills and having a proactive nature are critical for anyone aspiring to become a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in Asia, according to new research launched by recruiting experts Hays.

The research, outlined in a new report, the ‘DNA of a CFO’, shows that while most CFOs build their careers exclusively within finance they value non-finance related skills and attributes as key for career development. The report was launched in Kuala Lumpur this month. The report, based on an extensive survey of 411 senior finance professionals and in-depth interviews with five leading CFOs in Asia, provides finance professionals with insight into what they need to focus on if they want to rise to a position of leadership.

“CFOs are typically the right hand of the CEO and – as our research shows – must have superior leadership skills, excellent interpersonal skills and a thorough understanding of how every part of the business impacts costs and earnings,” says Aaron Chen, Senior Manager – Accountancy & Finance, Hays Malaysia. “We found CFOs typically pursue the top job by building their career exclusively within finance – only five per cent of our respondents had worked in another speciality for part of their career,” says Aaron. “However, most of our respondents advise aspiring CFOs to pay close attention to developing interpersonal skills and not just their financial technical knowledge,” he says.

The top three skills CFOs advise the next generation of finance leaders to develop are commercial awareness (nominated by 53 per cent of respondents), people skills (48 per cent) and to gain experience in operations and not just numbers (45 per cent).

“Obviously finance and analytical thinking are crucial skills for any CFO but in addition to these skills, 52 per cent of our respondents said people management skills were crucial to their success.” “The top skills nominated by respondents in Asia were strategic planning (54 per cent), people management (52 per cent) commercial acumen (38 per cent) and communication (34 per cent),” says Aaron.

Respondents nominated the top five personal attributes needed to become a CFO as having a proactive nature (61 per cent), hardworking (46 per cent), analytical (42 per cent), being goal-focused (39 per cent) and collaborative (37 per cent).

“Looking at the results from all respondents, we found the biggest challenge facing CFOs today is changing industry and economic conditions. A quarter of respondents also identified the digitisation of the economy as a major challenge and 14 per cent were concerned about responding to advances in technology,” says Aaron. “Hays is fortunate to have had the invaluable input of five outstanding CFOs as well as 411 other financial leaders across Asia to help bring to life just what makes a CFO stand apart from other executives in the organisation.” “This is our second DNA of a CFO report – back by popular demand. This shows that many of the finance executives we deal with at Hays have lofty ambitions and are keen to learn from those that have gone before them,” says Aaron.

The DNA of a CFO is the fourth in the Hays DNA series in Asia and follows the DNA of CFO 2015, DNA of a CIO and DNA of a HRD.

Source: Hays