CFO Perspective

IWD Series 2023: Women at The Forefront of Finance


10 March 2023

Youjin Lee, Cluster CFO, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Schneider Electric

In recent years, we have witnessed a significant shift in the financial industry with women increasingly taking on leadership roles and making significant contributions to the field. Despite the long-standing gender gap in finance, women have been steadily breaking through barriers and proving their mettle in what was once considered a male-dominated industry.

From asset management to investment banking and private equity, women are making their presence felt at every level of finance. In fact, studies show that companies with more women in leadership positions tend to have better financial performance and are more innovative.

As more women break through the barriers in finance, we can expect to see a shift in the industry’s culture and a move towards greater gender equality. This is not just a matter of fairness; it is essential for businesses to thrive and innovate in today’s increasingly competitive and diverse world.

To get a more in-depth and personal view of what women go through whilst pursuing a leadership career in finance, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Ms. Youjin Lee, Cluster CFO, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Schneider Electric. Here’s what she had to share. 

Pursuing A Career In Finance

Ms. Lee majored in economics at university and after graduating, she pursued a career at a multinational bank and financial services corporation. Her remit back then involved working extensively on mergers and acquisitions where she was required to review countless financial reports. 

While there were skills transferrable from university as well as lessons that she picked up on the job, Ms. Lee saw the need to upskill and pursue formal training in accounting to be even more adept at her job. It was then that Ms. Lee decided to study accounting, while working full-time, and seek accreditation as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). 

“It was also around then when I joined Schneider Electric’s Korea office as a project financial controller, eventually reaching the position that I am in today,” says Ms. Youjin Lee.

Upskilling and professional education provides the labour force with the tools needed to remain competitive in the ever-evolving job market. It also presents professionals with the opportunity to gain the relevant certifications needed to perform certain job functions.

The Biggest Barriers Faced, As A Woman In Finance

Schneider Electric’s efforts towards achieving gender equality through policy development, representation and reporting have been recognised at a global level through industry benchmarks like the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index (GEI). In 2023, the company was listed for the sixth consecutive year in the Bloomberg GEI, and also achieved the highest-ever score of 81%, which puts them well-above the global average of 73%. 

“I am thankful that even during times where I struggled with self-doubt due to the nature of a project, or the responsibilities undertaken, I am heartened that I have a supportive team that strives alongside me,” says Ms. Youjin Lee, Cluster CFO, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Schneider Electric.

That has allowed everyone to collectively overcome challenging projects, and feel empowered to be strategic and leverage the unique strengths of the team to take the steps needed to meet the shared business objective. 

One Key Leadership Lesson Learned In Her Journey As A CFO

“Throughout my career so far, I have been privileged to have met and been mentored by many other successful individuals. I am therefore convinced that my successes to date are not simply due to individual effort but from the joint support of the many that I have worked with, and have taken me under their wing.”

With the privilege that Ms. Lee has from her current role, she constantly looks forward to paying it forward by looking for opportunities to collaborate with her colleagues, to take on the role of mentor, and to shape the teams that she works with to pursue active collaboration for joint successes. 

Possible Reasons For Not Having Many Women CFOs In The World

“We recognise that progress in driving access to such roles can be challenging and experiences do vary across the globe, depending on cultural and social norms that are being subscribed,” says Ms. Youjin Lee.

In recent years, however, there has been growing recognition of the importance of women’s contribution, especially in senior leadership positions and STEM roles – roles which have been up until now dominated by men. 

As more people embrace changing social attitudes towards gender roles and equality, it is encouraging to see that institutions are doing their part to break the bias and narrow the inequality gap between genders. Female representation in such roles of power and influence can catalyse robust governance, responsible stewardship, and the fostering of new skills and perspectives. This makes it an efficacious driver of growth and business success, which would be key in bearish post-COVID markets. 

Juggling Work Commitments As A CFO With Family Commitments

“Regardless of gender, I believe that balancing work and familial expectations will always be a juggling act.” 

What Ms. Lee has found helpful, is to always communicate with family and colleagues about her priorities and key milestones at work, or at home that are coming her way. This has helped manage expectations on both sides, making it easier for Ms. Lee to focus her resources accordingly.  

With that said, she is proud to be able to work for an organisation that prioritises life outside work, and especially for key moments in life, such as when welcoming a new baby. As of the start of this year, Schneider Electric’s employees in Singapore who are new fathers can already take paid secondary parental leave of 4 weeks, instead of 2 weeks. New mothers can also now take paid primary parental leave of 20 weeks, instead of 16 weeks.

Family-friendly policies are essential to creating a diverse, supportive work environment that would allow employees the peace of mind and the confidence to contribute their best selves when they are at work.

Advice For Women Who Are Aiming For Leadership Positions

“It is very important to always work towards a goal at work. This means envisioning a role you would like to have and reverse engineering the steps needed to attain such a role,” says Ms. Youjin Lee.

Having a clear goal gives you a sense of direction and helps zero in on tasks and milestones that are most important. This can increase productivity and efficiency and reduce distractions along the way. At the same time, by hitting these milestones, it will be a boost to one’s morale, allowing one to continue persevering on and unlocking greater fulfilment and satisfaction at work.

Concurrently, never feel embarrassed to proactively share your aspirations with your colleagues and supervisors. More often than not, Ms. Lee has found that they will be more than happy to guide, and even help open doors for you that will be beneficial to your career.

IWD Series 2023: The Importance Of Gender Equality And Diversity In Organizations


7 March 2023

Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM)

Gender equality and diversity are critical components of any organization that aims to create an inclusive and equitable workplace. It is essential to recognize and appreciate the diversity of the workforce and provide equal opportunities for all employees regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic.

When organizations promote diversity and gender equality, they foster a culture of acceptance, respect, and inclusion that leads to increased employee morale, productivity, and innovation. Gender diversity also brings a variety of perspectives to decision-making, leading to better business outcomes. Therefore, it is crucial for organizations to prioritize gender equality and diversity in the workplace to create a more prosperous and equitable future for all employees.

To gain a deeper perspective of this in celebration of International Women’s’ Day, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

Women Being A Value-Add In The Finance Scene – “Having A Diverse Range Of Opinions And Perspectives Is Key To Building A Full Picture”

A key function of Finance is to tell the organization’s story in numbers. To paint that picture, Finance needs to engage different business units to understand their challenges and interpret their financial performance to senior management. This requires a softer collaborative approach which women tend to generally be stronger in.

“Women are also more expressive, which is advantageous in financial presentations, as we need to tell a story using numbers,” says Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

Women ask more “what-if” questions as they are more conscious of risks. This is an important perspective in the current VUCA world, especially for Finance. CFOs are expected to guide businesses to navigate uncertainty. Gone are the days where companies could present one annual plan based on fixed stable business assumptions. More than ever, Finance has to develop several planning scenarios with their business partners.

For instance, if oil prices and utilities’ tariffs continue to increase, what corrective actions could be taken? Similarly, if there was a decrease, would the organization try to lock-in rates? How would the annual financial plan be affected? The planning process becomes more robust with more “what-if” questions and companies will be better prepared to handle uncertainties. This is an important benefit of having a woman’s perspective in Finance.

Changes To Gender Diversity & Inclusivity In The Finance Industry

Ms. Yeo definitely sees gender inclusivity improving over the years. Starting at the top, more companies have policies to include women representation on their boards. Before closing a meeting, it is now a common practice for the meeting lead to ask each participant if he/she has any final questions before the meeting is closed. This improves engagement and inclusivity as women tend to wait for their turn to speak in a meeting.

“A good Finance person must “walk the ground” to understand business operations and build relationships,” says Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

When Ms. Yeo held a regional work portfolio with company headquarters outside of Singapore, regular travel was necessary. When her kids were young and needed attention, each work trip was challenging but she is grateful that the companies and managers she worked for were supportive and allowed flexibility in meeting timings and travel locations. With the recent acceptance of virtual meetings, there is less time taken away from home for working mothers. Interestingly, the new norms created by the pandemic have increased more opportunities for women who want to take on international or regional roles.

With more companies adopting ESG frameworks around the world, Ms Yeo looks forward to more women inclusivity practices in Finance. For instance, more can be done to include women in the talent pipeline for senior Finance positions. Career planning also needs to be done carefully as there are many disciplines within Finance. Therefore, companies should have multi-year learning and development plans for women. Women need this visibility to manage the multiple roles they play in different stages of their life i.e., wife, mother, daughter, etc.

The Benefits Of Having Various Perspectives & Diversity In A Finance Team

A banker friend of Ms. Yeo once cheekily commented: “A Profit & Loss (P&L) statement is an opinion. The truth is in the bank account!” To some extent, that is true as the P&L statement should fairly represent the state of affairs of the company. A finance team needs to have diverse perspectives in order to stress test that the presented financials are fair.

“Finance is not only about numbers and spreadsheets. Finance is also a strategic partner in guiding the organization to achieve their financial goals,” says Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

As women are more empathetic, they are better at relating to other people. As such, women in Finance can be strong advocates for customers and this is useful in product development and improving customer service.

From a governance point of view, Finance plays a significant role in presenting relevant information to the Board for decision-making. Very often, Finance is also expected to make recommendations on strategic and operational matters so that the company can meet their financial KPIs.  Good recommendations can only be made when different perspectives are considered. Finance is a multidimensional and multifaceted discipline. Diversity of views and perspectives is a key ingredient for a finance team’s success. 

Career-Gender Stereotypes In Hindering Women From Pursuing A Finance Career

Ms. Yeo believes it is the scope and expectations of Finance which hinders women from entering a career in Finance. Deadlines in Finance are non-negotiable – monthly closing, tax returns, annual audits, board meetings etc. As many of these are regulatory or statutory compliance deadlines, there is no flexibility. The time pressure puts many people off a career in Finance.

With the world getting increasingly borderless with advanced technology, the speed of work has significantly increased. Quicker responses are expected to emails and people are working 24/7 to keep up. The pandemic has also accelerated the speed of change and many companies had to transform to keep up. Finance must keep up and will be the receiving end of these changes. Afterall, every transaction in a company has a financial footprint. Over the last few years, we have definitely seen more finance people going through burn-out because of these reasons.

For women, the challenges inherent in a finance career can be barriers if companies do not help to manage them properly. 

Policies Organizations Should Have In Place To Promote Gender Equality, Inclusivity And Diversity

Senior Management must set the tone at the top with clear displays of gender inclusivity in executive teams. They can show how business performance and employee engagement improves when workplaces are open and supportive of diversity. Organizations should also put in place a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Policy to set the guiding principles and expectations of roles for leaders, managers and staff, align work practices and raise awareness of DEI considerations (e.g., flexible work arrangements, training on sexual harassment). Feedback from staff can also be sought at town halls on how to further improve diversity. 

Secondly, organizations can also consider setting inclusiveness goals and hold managers accountable for delivery. For instance, in a learning and development program, the finance division can have a target to sponsor at least one woman to complete a certified public accountant qualification. Or the finance division must include at least one woman in a management rotation program. 

Finally, the organization should develop a hiring strategy to consider women candidates for business units where there is less gender diversity. Naturally, the successful candidate should be hired based on merit. However, the hiring manager would have the benefit of reviewing a diversity of candidates during the selection process.  

“At SIM, we have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policy which underscores our commitment to providing a workplace that embraces DEI,” emphasized Yeo Piah Lang, CFO, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM).

Across the organization, at senior management level, females make up almost 50% and at managerial levels, this figure stands at almost 58%. 77% of SIM’s workforce are in their 20s to 40s, and 20% are from minority races. Within SIM’s Finance team specifically, females are represented across all seniority levels, more than 50% of the team are in their 20s to 40s, and 10% are from a minority race. This brings in a multitude of varied perspectives to everyday conversations and challenges, and a degree of agility and adaptability which is very much needed for the future of work.

IWD Series 2023: Changing Role of CFOs – Why Women Might Be Best Suited For The “New-Age” CFO Role


6 March 2023

Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore

With the rise of technology, globalization, and environmental and social concerns, the responsibilities of the CFO have expanded beyond traditional financial management. As a result, there is a growing need for CFOs who possess a diverse range of skills, including strategic thinking, leadership, and a strong understanding of non-financial factors that impact business success. In this context, women may be particularly well-suited to excel in the “new-age” CFO role. 

Research has shown that women tend to have a more holistic approach to decision-making, are more likely to consider the long-term implications of their actions, and are better at collaborating and building relationships. Furthermore, women are often more attuned to environmental and social issues, which are increasingly important considerations for businesses. By leveraging their unique strengths and perspectives, women CFOs have the potential to drive positive change in their organizations, while also achieving financial success. However, despite these advantages, women remain underrepresented in CFO roles, highlighting the need for greater gender diversity in the financial industry.

To gain a more in depth and personal perspective on the topic, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore

Changes To The Role Of A CFO & Their Expectations

In the past, a CFO’s key duties were to produce financial results correctly, to keep tabs on how much  expenses had been incurred and if the company was profitable for the month, quarter, or year. We  did not have time to do much more, because of the immense amount of manual work to be done. 

However, the power of technology has allowed the CFO role to evolve from operations-centric to business-centric. The digital transformation of the financial function also brought significant  changes, especially with the automation of financial workflows. For the first time, the financial team  was freed from the tedious and time-consuming manual processes, allowing team members to take  on more business-related tasks, like analyzing financial data for better macro and granular insights.  

Data is incredibly important to the CFO for many tasks, whether making informed decisions or  engaging with the company’s stakeholders to make the business more financially resilient and  sustainable. 

“That’s why I believe the modern-day CFO must adopt a consultative approach. If there is just one  resolution for a CFO to make in 2023, I think it should be to reduce friction between finance and  business units,” says Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

The CFO must first understand the business owners’ pain points before deciding how  best to support their projects, backed by intelligence from data insights. That would create an  opportune time to get stakeholders’ buy-in for best practices that could improve the company’s  capital position and profitability. 

Automation In Allowing CFOs More Room For Value-Added Decisions & Increased Productivity

Claudia Soh joined Etiqa Insurance Singapore as the company’s CFO in April 2022 with exciting challenges. The first was to strategise a financial roadmap to help the company scale in a new growth phase, and the  second was to prepare our financial processes for an overhaul of accounting standards. Things have  been unbelievably hectic from get-go, compounding the financial maelstrom of 2022, which disrupted banking and financial services globally through the rest of the year. 

“Despite all that was going on, I must admit that I enjoyed every minute of it,” says Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

Etiqa, being a relatively young company, is endowed with a digitally forward IT setup that is not bound by legacy systems  and processes. Because of that, the company has the digital maturity to implement technology where  improvements are needed, whether it is to automate internal processes for better performance, or  to enable value adds for enhancing the client experience. 

The finance team at Etiqa is pro-automation and robotics. They even built their own automation for performing  bank reconciliations. Of course, making process improvements is a continuous endeavour for the  finance function, as it is brimming with repeated, manual workflows and tasks that must be digitally  transformed systematically. Those automated workflows are enhanced, simplified and streamlined,  to consistently generate accurate, efficient and compliant outputs. Additionally, such automation  can be replicated across different process with minimum tweaks, to eventually cover accounts  receivable, payable, reconciliation, payroll and so on, with minimal learning curve and staff  resistance.

The other major advantage of automation is in improving data capture and quality. Done correctly,  data can be harnessed from their operations and in their interactions with clients, to provide clarity  into what is happening, with context for how and why such a thing is happening. The more contextualised information they have, the better Etiqa can predict and remediate problems before they occur.  

Customer data is becoming more valuable with the personalisation trend. If companies have better insights into a client’s likes and dislikes, habits and preferences, they can find ways to humanise the insurance experience a little more to exceed their expectations. 

“An example is the value-added experience of our travel insurance. On the day of a client’s trip, we  will send over an SMS at pre-departure to wish the person a safe journey, together with the number  to an emergency hotline that connects the caller to a free travel assistance service. The client also  has the option to key in the flight numbers for the trip, which triggers another SMS upon arrival. This  will contain the belt number to help the client locate and retrieve the check-in luggage upon arrival at the airport,” recalled Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

Characteristics That Make Women Well-Suited For The “New-Age” CFO

“As a woman, we have had years of multitasking expertise, from running the household to managing  finances to caregiving. These skills are transferable to the workplace, and it lends itself well to being  a CFO who is able to multi-task, while leading with empathy,” says Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

Claudia believes that regardless of gender, it is important for the CFO to acknowledge the collective ownership of the company with other management team members. Despite the limited resources situation  faced by all companies, the CFO must think beyond prioritising such resources for maximum returns  to the company.  

Returns may not necessarily translate to profits – it can also be an uplifting of the brand or for CSR  purposes. By taking collective responsibility, you will naturally balance your limited resource pool to  attain your desired outcomes. This allows the CFO to serve as a check and balance for the CEO. You  must know when to say “no” to your CEO and provide him with the necessary information to make  decisions.  

That’s how the CFO role has evolved.  

In terms of leadership style, Claudia learnt a lot from being a parent to two teenagers, and she tends to  share the rationale of her decisions, be it at work or at home. Of course, it might be easier to simply  say “yes” or “no” to a proposal, but she believes it is more useful in the long run if she shares how she made the assessment and why she came to that conclusion.  

“I am a believer in open communications with my team. I embrace diversity because there is strength  behind the differences. We should nurture this source of strength to be creative and nimble in  solving problems,” empasized Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

As a modern CFO, being adaptable to change in this shifting economic landscape is essential. As a leader, embracing technology in a meaningful way, being consultative to business owners, and nurturing diversity in the team, are Claudia’s instinctive strengths that complement her desire to be adaptive.

Thoughts On Women CFOs Being A Rarity In The Industry – Should  More Women Be In Leadership Positions?

“Statistically speaking about 30 percent of CFOs are women. While this is not the majority, I see this  number growing,” says Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

Like other leaders, Claudia is passionate about gender diversity, fairness and equal opportunities, but  never to the extreme. Winning the leadership position should be based on meritocracy, and not on whether a gender quota has been met. A hard line stand on either extreme of this gender equality debate is counterproductive. 

Fortunately, the Etiqa management team is quite well balanced in terms of the gender ratio. This evolved organically over the years, and not through any deliberate means such as KPIs. As long as there are women and men with the right capabilities vying for the same position, I think most companies in Singapore should adopt a gender-neutral lens to evaluate the candidates for  suitability.  

“For me at least, that is how I expect gender equality to work,” says Claudia Soh, CFO of Etiqa Insurance Singapore.

How AI & Automation Plays An Integral Role In The Automotive Industry: Carro’s CFO


21 February 2023

Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro

By enhancing consumer involvement and providing round-the-clock customer care, artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming customer service. Along with improving customer service, it also increases brand recognition and client loyalty. Today’s consumers connect with companies across devices, necessitating specialized touchpoints to improve the customer’s decision-making process. Fortunately, the automotive industry is finally implementing these services.

To find out how AI and automation has played a big role in meeting consumer demands in the automotive industry, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro to get his insights and perspective. 

AI & Automation Being A Part Of Carro’s Business Foundation

Carro started with digitalising the automotive ecosystem. With increasingly more data to crunch, it then became easier to AI-enable their business through machine learning. Data-driven decision making has always been a critical part of Carro’s DNA. 

“We recognise the importance of automation to scale. However, it’s even more important to understand what we are trying to achieve via automation,” says Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro.

Automation is a process to take out inefficiencies and fix processes. If businesses automate inefficiencies without fixing or optimizing processes, then they will also be multiplying the inefficiencies. Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro also advises that if automating is more expensive than manual and yet does not deliver the productivity gains, then there is no business case for automation in that particular process. So, it is incredibly important to “simplify, optimize and then automate” – in that order.

Technologies In Enhancing Business Productivity & Increasing Profit Margin

Carro does not look to challenge the traditional automotive retail business. Their mission is to improve an age-old business model and build trust in the automotive ecosystem, digitally. They leverage big data, AI and machine learning to deliver best customer experience whilst building an effective, operationally sustainable business model.

“We take ‘gut feel’ out of the equation and introduce years of combined human experience into proprietary algorithms, systems and models.”

Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro

Carro automates some of the decision-making to reduce chances of human mistakes and fraud, which is prevalent in the used car industry. Carro applies these big data and AI-enabled processes across the buying and selling of vehicles, credit decisioning, amongst others. As a result, whilst other online automotive retailers and marketplaces are struggling to be profitable, Carro has been EBITDA positive and see a clear path to becoming even more profitable.

Some Of The Key Financial Market Trends Of 2023 In The Automotive Industry

“We expect the used car market to continue its stable growth underpinned by growing used car vehicle population and structural improvements in the used car-to-new car ratio,” says Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro.

The used car market in Singapore was estimated to be worth USD 40.03 billion in 2021 and is anticipated to grow to USD 51.43 billion by 2027, registering a CAGR of over 4% during the projected period (2022 – 2027).

The COVID-19 pandemic had a conflicting effect on the market; in 2020, lockdowns and limitations caused the market’s demand to cease. The pandemic did, however, have a favorable impact on consumer behavior, favoring automobile ownership over public transportation and potentially increasing the market for secondhand cars. By the first half of 2021, used car sales began to increase as the bulk of those were people who could not afford a new vehicle. Due to that, many consumers began leaning toward the next best option available, which is buying pre-owned cars.

In the medium term, elements including rising purchasing power and the ease of obtaining financing are anticipated to favorably impact market expansion. Further, increasing digitization, internet use, and the number of online participants are projected to play major roles in increasing used car sales because they have made the process of buying and selling used cars generally simple and quick.

“The new car market is also likely to grow as the supply chain is being restored and the macro-economic situation improves post easing of COVID-19 restrictions. However, continued interest rate rises may throw a spanner in the works,” says Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro.

Recent occurrences like the nationwide increase in used car prices as a result of increased COE rates and the breaching of the USD 100,000 COE threshold for large cars are indications of a weaker market. These situations are requiring dealers to maintain pricing on automobiles they have purchased at high market prices; if they persist, these variables are thought to provide possible difficulties.

Also, the expansion of value-added service offerings and the diversity of financial companies that offer loans for used automobiles will support the expansion of the region’s used car industry. But the higher interest rates might discourage some prospective buyers, slowing the market’s expansion.

Keep Track Of Areas That Can Be Improved Further With AI & Automation

The team, at Carro, has done an incredible job of building high-impact dashboards to monitor various business performance, profitability and productivity metrics. These dashboards have proven to be immensely insightful to the live performance of the business. 

“Gone are the days where we wait 10-20 days after a month end to know how the business is tracking – we now get it live,” says Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro.

The real-time analytics offered by the high-impact dashboards saved Carro from having to spend a lot of time looking up information. With the click of a mouse, real-time analytics are now accessible, and these dashboards communicate data in an aesthetically beautiful and understandable environment, making it simpler for the team to evaluate the data, identify the good and the bad, and take appropriate action.

The Effects Of Skill Gaps On Further Business Expansion In APAC

Where others have overhired and/or spent incredible sums to hire talent, Carro believes that it is very important to be disciplined and prudent around hiring. Getting the right people, rather than chasing over-rated perceived skill sets is more important. 

“What makes a great hire is often not what one writes on paper, but the passion, hunger and growth mindset to deliver their best, in the most practical manner. So, yes there’s a gap for high quality candidates, but they are not defined by whether they are digitally savvy or not,” says Ernest Chew, Chief Financial Officer of Carro.

These are some of the ways AI and automation has benefitted the automotive industry. However, it is important that many keep in mind that despite its wonderful benefits, without a proper strategic plan and the necessary manpower, making that move (automating business processes) might cause more harm than good. On top of that, the market for used cars might see a steady increase and this would push more companies to want to automate their processes to meet consumer demands. With all these in mind, it is that companies have projected goals in mind that they would like to achieve so that they can better keep track of their automation progress. 

Role of CFO evolving in the Post-Pandemic, Inflation-Impacted Business Climate: Tata’s CFO


Fatihah Ramzi, DigitalCFO Asia | 3 October 2022

Kabir Ahmed Shakir, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Communications

In the post-pandemic environment, the chief financial officer’s position is evolving. Without a doubt, COVID-19 has altered how the finance office operates. The pandemic unveiled a new normal in which business conditions change on a daily basis and the CFO’s office is moving toward a more immediate and proactive emphasis. The standard operating procedure, which included monthly, quarterly, and annual planning processes, has been completely altered.

CFOs must now be completely flexible and able to respond quickly to developments in the company. Ultimately, they must look forward, make predictions about what will happen, and guide their companies in the proper direction. The necessity for the CFO to have visibility of the day-to-day operations of the organization and to assume a strategic role in leading those operations will not go away. In fact, the CFO’s function may be expanding even further in the wake of the post-pandemic boom as businesses rely on their knowledge to maximize their recovery.

To find out more about a CFOs role in the post-pandemic and inflation-impacted business landscape, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Kabir Ahmed Shakir, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Communications.

Key Challenges For CFOs In The Post-pandemic Landscape

1. Preserving Human Capital 

The pandemic has altered workplace dynamics, with many employees now experiencing telecommuting and working from home for the first time. Changes in the wants and views of employees have coincided with changes in workplace culture. With this development, the organization’s capacity to increase employee retention is also reliant on its capacity to meet changing employee demands, whether through competitive pay or a commitment to a healthy work-life balance.

Be receptive to hearing about the requirements of every one of your employees and exploring how you two may collaborate to meet those needs. Flexibility is essential. Whether it’s implementing work-from-home options or reorganizing internal procedures, it’s critical to modify current working procedures to meet the shifting needs of your team and boost job satisfaction.

“The pandemic has shown us that any job (in the corporate world) can be done from anywhere in the world,” says Kabir Ahmed Shakir, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Communications.

2. Too Much Focus On Long Term Plans 

There has never been a better time for CFOs to position the finance function as a driving force for transformation and a source of competitive advantage. They also highlight a glaring perception gap that needs to be closed if CFOs are to dismantle silos and promote the mindset required to be successful in this role.

Despite CFOs’ beliefs that they are starting to generate financial value through unconventional duties, it is nevertheless evident that the majority of their time is still spent on conventional ideas. When the pandemic has demonstrated that long-term plans are ineffective in the face of challenges and disruptions, many CFOs decide to revert their concentration on them now that the pandemic is settling down.

According to Kabir Ahmed Shakir, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Communications, “CFOs need to be very choiceful on the metrics that matter.”

It is important that CFOs prioritise and focus on the goals and objectives that are important in sustaining the business and ensuring recovery. Out of the 20 metrics that they have on the list, about 2 or 3 are the most important ones and it is crucial that CFOs are able to pinpoint those priorities and start curating plans to achieve them. 

Staying Ahead Of Inflation

Inflation makes planning and investment decisions harder, and at a macro level, it may be associated with recessionary tendencies in an economy, leading to cutbacks in consumer spending. When this happens businesses need to be smarter in where they spend their money as such decisions could cause detrimental losses for the company especially during periods of high inflation. 

In light of an inflation-impacted business climate, Kabir Ahmed Shakir, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Communications, says that “We should continuously look at every cost. If the cost is not adding value to our customers then that cost is simply not a value-add and has to be eliminated.” 

A corporation will need to look for alternative strategies if its existing cost-cutting efforts are insufficiently successful. Despite the fact that businesses may not be able to compete on price, they can still attract customers by providing other added value that they are prepared to pay for. Offering a special experience that your rivals can’t match is one method to create value. Make sure the target market will find it appealing and that it will encourage them to choose your company over competitors.

Managing Growth Ambitions As A CFO

Viruses, emerging technologies, and upstart competitors are just a few examples of disruptions. Change is the unifying denominator among them, and this change can have an impact on a strategy’s foundation and viability. A company’s service objective may not change, but its particular plans for achieving that mission should be changed frequently to take into account new opportunities.

Against the backdrop of any significant disruption – product, supply, distribution, marketing, and infrastructure requirements could all change quickly, making this the optimum time to examine business models and prioritize any required reforms. These developments typically come as a surprise, necessitating quick decision-making with little information.

“CFOs need to start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. They need to start making decisions with less information and less time,” says Kabir Ahmed Shakir, Chief Financial Officer, Tata Communications.

The organizations that establish this normality at the top will endure in the current environment. If you can read uncertainty in a competitive environment better than your rivals, you will be able to advance your business initiatives. Executives frequently ask for the worst-case scenario in these uncertain times and want to quantify it. This demonstrates a level of preparedness especially when they are able to draw a line and see that the company can afford that worst-case situation. If CFOs want to have their business successfully weathering any disruptive period, simply being aware of their priorities and key strategies to navigate these trying times will get them there. 

More Than Just Numbers: The Post-Pandemic Era CFO


Fabian Tan | 15 August 2022

The changing role of CFOs in the post-pandemic landscape by Fabian Tan, Principal of Heidrick & Struggles’ Singapore Office.

2022 has not been a smooth ride. Even as many countries have started to live with COVID, the recent Russia-Ukraine war, oil and gas price surge and market volatility continues to make the waters turbulent – pushing the finance function to innovate further. 

In a 2020 Heidrick & Struggles survey  done in the United States of America, two-thirds of CFOs surveyed commented that new responsibilities such as real estate evaluation, managing new reporting requirements and cost optimization have been added into their teams’ work scope since the beginning of the pandemic. This elevated role requires CFOs to work with CEOs in a more strategic and transformational manner, by ironing out contingencies, providing accurate and timely information to internal and external stakeholders, and most importantly, assuming responsibility for business change—be it digital transformation, Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) or driving Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives. 

How else has the role of the CFO changed in these uncertain times?

1. Emerging As Empathetic Leaders And Communicators

The market now sees an increased anxiety among stakeholders like board members, investors, and employees who have concerns about the resilience and future growth of organizations. Consequently, finance leaders have had to emerge as empathetic leaders and communicators to tide over crises.  The job is no longer simply about “the numbers” – instead, CFOs now need to think about areas like people management and involvement in co-creating purpose for the business. This also involves working more closely than ever with the rest of the executive team and customers, which necessitates a higher degree of empathy and better communication skills in order to inspire and influence teams.

2. Increasing Expectation For Finance Leaders To Play A Bigger Role In Business

The pandemic has led to a big push in digital transformation, and finance departments now have access to more accurate and insightful information than ever before, which they can analyze and contextualize. With greater-than-ever access to data-driven insights, CFOs gain a strong understanding into where capital allocation is best used, which can then be aligned with strategic priorities for the business. With that knowledge, finance leaders must also be able to communicate this to other C-suite executives and stakeholders and convince them to buy in to new strategies and shift the status quo of business performance.

Companies like P&G and Jardines are providing their finance talent with opportunities outside of the functional space to gain a deeper appreciation on different pillars of the business and to build rapport with the other functions. This would make them more-rounded executives when they eventually come back to finance to take on leadership roles.

3. Strengthened Forecasting Abilities

Planning for unforeseen circumstances has become crucial for organizational resilience and resource allocation; but accurate forecasting is difficult in the current times. One interesting trend we are seeing is the incorporation of dynamic forecasting which is the use of real-time data updated on a rolling monthly basis. More software companies are offering this feature which provides more agility in budgeting and planning, shifting away from the traditional approach of completing this task on an annual basis and depending on manual spreadsheets. For this model to work, the company needs to have a robust demand and sales forecasting team to input accurate data into the financial models. An increasing number of FMCG companies are adopting this new way of forecasting, which has been incredibly helpful considering the recent supply chain disruptions.

4. Talent Hunting Beyond The Conventional Pool 

With the evolving finance needs, talent concerns remain top of mind of CFOs. To broaden the pool and increase the pipeline of finance executives coming through the ranks, finance functions are increasingly looking to hire graduates from computer science or related backgrounds to further augment their current capabilities. Some CFOs believe that finance and accounting can be taught on-the-job, but the ability to come up with AI-driven, digital solutions would be beneficial for efficiency, accuracy, and predictability.

How the role of CFO will continue to evolve?

The expectations of stewardship, custodianship, and governance will continue to be the bedrock of the role of CFOs. Finance leaders are expected to optimize processes to ensure stronger integrity in the numbers, particularly when cybersecurity threats and fraud risks continue to grow in the region and are still high in specific APAC markets. However, additional skillsets are needed from CFOs as we continue to navigate the changing market conditions. 

1. Mounting Importance Of Digital Capabilities

In terms of digital capabilities, Heidrick & Struggles analysis shows that finance leaders fall towards the low end in the characteristics that have been identified as being important to digital dexterity. Finance leaders may therefore look to become more curious and open-minded, experimental, and adopt new technologies to work more efficiently and drive better outcomes. CFOs will play a key role in pushing the digital agenda forward, developing the right formula to balance the upfront cost, ROI, and achieve buy-in from stakeholders.

2. Linking ESG With Finance And Business Strategy

There is an increasing number of CFOs taking more proactive roles in the ESG agenda within organizations, with some having ESG divisions directly under their remit. As it is difficult to quantify the true impact of these programs, linking ESG initiatives to the bottom line is complex, especially when topics spanning energy transition, decarbonization, green financing, climate disclosure and social impact are relatively new issues which CFOs have to grapple with. Understanding ESG trends and reporting requirements will help CFOs make better decisions on risk-management, employee engagement, resource allocation and investor relations, which will ultimately lead to business impact. 

3. Diverse And Agile Leaders

To operate in the VUCA environment, CFOs today need to be agile to tide over the tough times and be in the best position to thrive in future. Heidrick & Struggles has found that agility, which is highly crucial for CFOs today, requires four skills: adaptability, resilience, learning, and foresight.

Apart from agility, having access to varied skill sets, knowledge, and experience are other important aspects. While it may be more comfortable to hire executives from the same industry, this could perpetuate group-think and a conventional approach to problem-solving. With digitalization and the pandemic creating new levels of uncertainty and risks, a wealth of perspectives across gender, generation, experience, ethnicities, and more can strengthen the function’s resilience amid the fluctuating circumstances. Filling the CFO role with diverse talent will bring unique perspectives on risk management, accounting best practices, budgeting, tax etc., which in turn, builds a more robust and innovative finance organization.  

In the post-pandemic world, CFOs continue to be under pressure to juggle new hats in their increasingly multifaceted position. Above all, qualities that are pivotal to succeeding in the role include digital capabilities and dexterity, agility, and foresight. In succession planning for an organization’s next CFO, companies should also consider candidates from diverse industries and backgrounds. The CFO that best succeeds in the post-pandemic era might not be the conventional profiles, but rather ones who can bring new and innovative ways to transform the function.    

Retail Industry: Staying Ahead In The COVID-19 Pandemic


Fatihah Ramzi, DigitalCFO Asia | 12 August 2022

Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, BHG.

As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an uneven influence on the retail industry, with certain sectors enjoying their best year ever while others have had their worst. The pandemic has resulted in the largest increase in sales, earnings, and stock values for various retail businesses. The pandemic had an especially detrimental impact on companies that particularly specialized in clothing such as department stores, and luxury shops in enclosed malls. For people who have large debt, the effect on the discretionary sectors has multiplied. The shift of sales from brick and mortar stores to online has been significant for many retail businesses. 

To find out more about what CFOs in the retail industry went through, DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, BHG to garner further insights. 

Priorities Of A CFO In A Retail Industry

The priority is to transform the current business model to a new business model that is sustainable for the current environment and prepare for the future. This includes creating and implementing new strategies to fit the overarching transformation plan. Digital transformation is a part of the overall transformation strategy that the business will embrace. 

“Being cost conscious, ensuring we have the right skill set and being agile to adapt to the ongoing changes to the industry is equally important.”

Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, BHG

Given that the pandemic has shifted a large portion of merchant sales from physical stores to e-commerce/omnichannel, investing in infrastructure and technology to communicate with customers successfully has become essential. As new consumer behaviors have been established during the pandemic, it is expected that a large portion of this trajectory will be maintained even in the post-pandemic world.

Since the sites of some physical storefronts and distribution centers no longer matched how digital consumers interacted with the business, several retail stores were forced to invest in shutting, downsizing, and/or relocating their operations. Retailers had to spend money on new technologies as well to interact with customers profitably. As a CFO in the retail sector, these investment selections must be methodical and carefully prioritized.

Improvement Of Sales After Easing Of COVID-19 Restrictions

Traffic has improved since the relaxation of the Safety Management Measures, but it is still not at the 2019 levels as yet, mainly due to some companies still practising work from home policies and the lack of tourists. However, BHG is carrying on with the transformation plans and have seen a positive impact to the stores and their online channel due to the changes that they have been making. 

As mentioned above, consumer behaviour has changed due to the pandemic and will continue on even in the post-pandemic environment. Due to this, CFOs will need to re-strategize their sales tactics and put more emphasis on their online platforms which is the preferred mode of shopping for consumers right now. 

Making The Impossible, Possible; Operating During COVID-19

The pandemic was unexpected, and no one was really prepared for it. BHG had to take challenges in their stride. 

“We had our transformation plans prior to the pandemic and have carried on in implementing the plans, though with some delays due to the disruption caused by the pandemic,” says Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, BHG.

In some cases, BHG accelerated the transformation by starting their ecommerce channel, offering click and collect to bridge the gap between offline and online in 2020.

Late 2020 and in 2021, BHG went ahead with the revamp of the Beauty floor in their flagship store at Bugis Junction, introducing spa cabins, their own curated beauty products in a new concept called the Beauty Library, introduced Mobile POS for a seamless shopping experience, virtual makeup mirrors and partnered with the Marmalade Pantry to open a cafe in the store. This was all part of the overall transformation plans.

“We also introduced lifestyle concepts such as beauty workshops, yoga classes and more recently a live kitchen in partnership with the Sunrise Academy,” says Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, BHG.

BHG will continue to add more lifestyle concepts to the business. The company is continuing the changes in 2022, with a revamp of their Home and Living system change to a unified commerce solution, introducing more digital transformation into the business such as self-checkouts, endless aisle and working on introducing AR/VR experiential concepts in store.  

Importance Of Digital Finance Transformation In All Industries In 2022

“Digital transformation for finance is no longer a luxury or a nice addition to have. It should form part of the overall digital transformation strategy,” says Jheeva Subramanian, Chief Financial Officer, BHG.

Digital finance transformation has become an integral part of any transformation strategy. The aim is to simplify the processes and automate repetitive tasks, which will free up some of the finance staff’s time to be used for data analytics and business partnering roles. Being able to use the data to improve customers’ shopping experience via personalization and more informed decision making is an important part of the transformation.

What is Next For CFOs In The Post-Pandemic World?


Fatihah Ramzi, DigitalCFO Asia | 2 August 2022

CFO leaders from key industries shared on how they are rising to the challenges of a changing world especially as they shift to a post-pandemic landscape.

Organizations are refocusing their attention on digital transformation (DX) to be more robust against potential disruptions and seize the next stage of growth as uncertainty becomes the new normal. Businesses need to be highly adaptive in their planning and operations if they want to succeed, whether it is exercising an existing muscle or picking up new behaviors.

During the Workday Illuminate CFO Roundtable, CFO leaders from key industries shared on how they are rising to the challenges of a changing world especially as they shift to a post-pandemic landscape. The CFOs exchanged ideas along with insights throughout the moderated executive roundtable sessions and networked with fellow peers as they rethink, reset and move beyond with optimism into the future.

CFO – A New Narrative to Drive Finance Function — The Next Evolution of Finance as a Value Creator was moderated by Kon Yin Tong, former President of ISCA, and Managing Partner, Foo Kon Tan LLP and Tan Lee Thong, CFO Practice Lead, Asia, Workday. The attendees are to remain anonymous however, the discussion will assist other CFOs in focusing on trends and key areas that will help businesses to remain leading in the future. 

Changes Sparked By The Pandemic In The CFO Role And Expectations Of The Team

A CFO from the tourism industry shed light on their business’ struggles and highlighted that the company had to outsource services to save cost on processes. Other CFOs agreed and stated that they had to continue creating efficiency throughout the pandemic and they did so by reorganising their organisation with the help of Robotic Process Automation (RPA). 

Apart from continuing the creation of efficiency, many companies had to improve efficiency within the company as many were forced to centralise in Singapore therefore, they had to maintain their workforce with the use of automation. Regardless of the industry, almost all businesses noticed a great impact to their productivity.

Before the pandemic, there were still multinational companies who were paper heavy and extremely reliant on hard copies to pass around information. The pandemic brought to light a dire need for an online database that people could access seamlessly with the information they need already available. Such companies definitely faced a struggle in digitalising their company from being paper-heavy to being completely online but it had to be made if they wanted to continue their operations throughout the pandemic. 

It was also noted that regulated businesses had very strict regulations to comply with and that they had to work closely with authorities in adopting digital solutions for consumers due to the rise in cyber crimes. With the market being highly volatile during the pandemic and even now, CFOs observed a very competitive market for resources and that businesses had to re-identify their services. 

The Race To Sustainability And Their Role Towards The ESG Agenda

In the post-pandemic world, CFOs have realised that digitalisation has been done by companies and that the race is slowly coming to an end. They have noticed another rising trend and that is in achieving net-zero and becoming a more sustainable business. Soon, there will be a race towards sustainability but the issue about going that direction is that there is a lack of guidelines and standards put in place for businesses to successfully make their businesses sustainable. 

Many organizations find themselves at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to vying for the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) certification. One CFO denoted that governance is an extremely important part for regulated businesses but when it came to environmental and social, they had a tough time trying to keep track of their footprint which is an extremely important part of the ESG certification. Due to the lack of knowledge circulating ESG, there is a lot of confusion on how to go about achieving it. In future, they hope that there are guidelines and standards in place which could help them achieve this. 

Challenges In Attracting And Retaining Talents

Aside from the race to sustainability, CFOs indicated another great current challenge that has future repercussions which is “The Great Resignation”. They see a higher-than-usual number of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs in the post-pandemic world. This is due to job dissatisfaction and there are a multitude of reasons why employees feel this way. It might be due to employment insecurity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term job unhappiness, income stagnation amid rising living expenses, or a desire to work for organizations that have superior remote-working policies.

To target this workforce challenge, CFOs spoke about strategies which they have implemented to prevent this and they are, “Job Redesign” and “Job Repurposing”. Job Redesign is the approach to revisiting and restructuring jobs to meet the specific needs of a particular segment of the workforce. Job repurposing refers to redeploying staff into new areas to meet the critical business priorities. With these two strategies, they noticed higher job satisfaction among employees and could reduce hiring of new employees to fill roles in the company. 

Final thoughts On Finance Shifting From Being A “Bean-Counter” To Become A “Value Creator”

No matter how big or small, employee engagement and experience are at the heart of any organizational change. Empowering employees as they navigate change depends heavily on having access to the appropriate information at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. With that said, the CFO roundtable ended with the values they believe is key in a CFO role. Simply put, CFOs need to relate to business through numbers and must relay that with the art of storytelling. The CFO roundtable was definitely a very meaningful and insightful discussion for all industries and hopefully, these takeaways will help other businesses to align their areas of priority. 

COVID-19 Pandemic: Changes To A CFO’s Responsibilities & Expectations


Fatihah Ramzi, DigitalCFO Asia | 24 May 2022

Kelly Stanley

Chief Financial Officer – Asia, Middle East & Africa, Mercer

Businesses and individuals had to adjust to a new method of operation and work in the midst of official lockdowns and social distancing at the commencement of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Day-to-day operations were severely disrupted, but businesses had no choice but to move quickly and adapt. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every organization, affecting how they operate both internally and externally. The role of a CFO has certainly become more difficult in these times of uncertainty and volatility.

Dealing with crises on a daily basis has compelled business executives to rethink how they would lead their companies ahead, and CFOs and the finance function played a vital role throughout this time. Now that COVID-19 is treated as an endemic rather than a pandemic, restrictions are lifted and businesses are going back to operating like their pre-covid days. The changes in the post-covid era will affect the needs and focuses of a CFO.  So what do CFOs need to know about the near future and what can they do to better prepare the company to move back to its old routine? 

DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Kelly Stanley, Chief Financial Officer – Asia, Middle East & Africa, Mercer on her professional journey, how the pandemic has affected financial operations, the responsibilities of a CFO as well as the impacts of accelerated digitization on talent retention and acquisition. 

Kelly Stanley: Professional Background & Journey To Becoming CFO

Kelly Stanley began her working life in professional services and spent her initial years learning through different roles in management accounting, audit and consulting before moving to corporate in-house finance. Throughout her career, the one thing she has always pursued is opportunities to learn and grow. This could be taking on roles to develop new technical or personal skills, seizing opportunities to work with and learn from different leaders or developing a broader understanding of different businesses and cultures by working in different locations around the world. 

“Always embracing a growth mindset and new challenges has served me well.”

Kelly Stanley, Chief Financial Officer – Asia, Middle East & Africa, Mercer

She also mentioned that her outlook has really given her vast exposure and learning across various disciplines from traditional finance and operations to strategy and commercial excellence and allowed her to bring a unique perspective to her role as CFO of Mercer across Asia, the Middle East & Africa (AMEA) today. 

Working in a region as diverse and as fast-growing as AMEA is as exciting as it is challenging. The cultural complexity puts traits like collaboration and communication front and centre, while the divergent economic environments can prove challenging in steering the organisation through both risk and opportunity. Beyond managing the finance deliverables, one of the greatest highlights is the opportunity to build a strong finance team and nurture next-generation talent to support our growth ambition in the region.

Impacts of The Pandemic On Financial Operations

The pandemic has, without a doubt, had a positive influence on driving change. It has not only accelerated focus on automation and transformation but also highlighted the importance of having accurate and timely financial information that is relevant and critical to making agile management decisions on a day-to-day basis. 

Through the pandemic, CFOs learnt important lessons about speed and agility which has fast-tracked the automation and standardization of key manual processes as well as the adoption of real-time predictive data analytics for strategic insights and competitive advantage. But technology alone is not enough. One other critical change the pandemic has brought about is motivating finance teams and stakeholders at large to embrace digital transformation and related upskilling which has accelerated change adoption.

As people become more digitally savvy, they are also more open to a self-service model and reaping benefits of increased productivity, efficiency and transparency. The silver lining has really been the awareness that digital transformation is no longer just a nice-to-do. Those who continue to lag in this respect risk not just their organization’s future but also their own.

Impact of Digitization On Talent Retention & Acquisition

The pandemic underscored the need for companies to be able to deal with real-time dynamic market shifts and uncertainty and CFOs and their teams are increasingly relied upon for their insights to steer strategic decisions. 

“In my view, this couldn’t be a more exciting time for finance professionals – new and seasoned – with technology giving businesses levels of insights that would typically require much longer timelines or larger teams,” commented Kelly Stanley, Chief Financial Officer – Asia, Middle East & Africa, Mercer. 

As with all change, it’s crucial to ensure that organizations encourage all employees to come on the digital journey with them and have a voice in the outcomes. To drive the business forward, it’s important that businesses have talent with good corporate knowledge coupled with digital skills. For new entrants (younger generations), many of whom have grown up in a digital first world so the expectation is that companies have the right tools and technologies for them to be successful. 

Impacts Of The Pandemic on Responsibilities Of A CFO

The early days of the pandemic saw CFOs largely in crisis management mode with a shift to providing more pro-active and real-time insights as businesses grappled with the fast-evolving economic circumstances. As companies seek to maximise their rebound from the disruption of the pandemic, the CFO’s role has become more expansive and more strategic. 

From leading transformation efforts within finance and the entire organisation to driving enterprise growth, CFOs now value business strategy, operations management skills and data analytics as much as traditional finance skillsets. 

Kelly Stanley, Chief Financial Officer – Asia, Middle East & Africa, Mercer, shared her opinion on the matter stating that, “We need to go beyond numbers to understand the business, people, operations, process, competitors as well as external market trends”.

These new demands have required that CFOs think differently about the capabilities of their teams to meet these new challenges. Kelly Stanley recounted that in working with her  team during this time, she was really proud that they have focused on processes and tasks that add value. They had to simplify, be clear on what they need to stop or continue doing to keep everyone on track. Apart from staying positive and practicing empathy, close communication and collaboration has really helped her team to remain nimble and resilient while supporting the business in navigating the crisis. 

Evolution Of Today’s CFOs & Their Key Competencies

As mentioned earlier, while CFOs were more focused on meeting the shorter term needs of the business (monitoring performance, costs and productivity, etc) during the pandemic, organisations are also now leaning on their expertise and insights as they seek to capitalize on opportunities for long-term growth in a post-pandemic environment. The pandemic has accelerated CFOs focus on digital and business transformation, among others, and finance needs to be a trusted transformation partner to identify and assess the growth opportunity these trends hold for the business. 

This calls for a deep understanding of the economics of the company’s model, the trends that shape the industry as well as digital savviness to connect the right tools and technologies with people to drive business success. Soft skills such as collaboration, the ability to drive a culture of innovation and learning as well as keeping employees engaged and connected are equally important. 

The digital revolution, speed of change and level of uncertainty in business environments have upped the ante for CFOs. To be an effective business partner, CFOs will have to be fluent in the languages of people management, the business as well as technology. It’s no doubt challenging but also a great opportunity to step up and take a prominent leadership role. Kelly Stanley’s advice would be to stay curious, to continue to experiment and pursue opportunities to learn and grow. 

CFO Perspective: 3 Things You need to know in Finance Transformation for Consolidation


Qinthara Fasya, DigitalCFO Asia | 14 April 2022

When it comes to month-end reporting, CFOs & finance leaders often have to worry about all manners of reporting obligations. They have to clamber to collect all the data, ensure inputs are accurate, and handle the close and consolidation process by the deadline. Some problems CFOs face is not knowing where the data is, and dealing with overshared spreadsheets that have a high likelihood of inaccuracy.

DigitalCFO Asia had the opportunity to hear from 3 CFOs in organizations across various industries at different stages of finance transformation.  They shared some of the main challenges and difficulties they faced in month-end consolidation and how they tried to overcome them. As finance leaders are increasingly expected to act as strategic advisors for the business, here are 3 key learning points on financial consolidation based on the insights gathered.

1 – Understand the Source of the problem

According to Celestine See, Regional Pre Sales from Board International, Business mergers and acquisitions to unlock an organization’s business value is a common business activity. Yet, it brings along certain challenges in digital transformation. We often come across legacy systems and processes that lead to poor data quality with new entities onboard.

Manual data entry results in poor quality or erroneous data. One of our company’s most prevalent roadblocks is unreliable data. The utilization of several divergent sources can lead to inaccuracies. Information is frequently manually entered into various sources, a time-consuming procedure that leads to human error. Introducing methods that assure data accuracy from input through normalization is the best approach. Otherwise, you’ll run into problems across the board, including data entry mistakes and cross-checking transaction delays.

CFO in the Supply Chain Management Industry

Building blocks of a single source of truth

We often hear this buzzword in the industry – a single source of truth. In the industry, this entails ETL or, ELT processes to extract, convert, and load historical data from numerous sources into a single data warehouse. In this case, you may have some data sources in the cloud and/or on-premises, so having a solution to connect and read data from both on-premises and cloud-based data sources is critical.

Another benefit of direct data integration is eliminating manual preparation or upload of data. The goal is to get data right from the source system, usually within a few clicks of a button in modern solutions, ensuring accuracy.

For example, Board’s native solution allows connection to most data sources, be it relational databases (Usually utilized by ERPs) or Data lakes. Further, both on-premise and cloud-based data sources are supported.

2 – Stay relevant with cloud solutions

From our conversations with CFOs, there is a strong direction toward cloud-based technology, especially with work-from-home situations globally where data accessibility becomes a priority.

One of the main benefits of a cloud-based solution is information accessibility – multi-locations, highly scalable for today’s data-driven world, and more secure than on-premise deployment as you are tapping into the wealth of resources that organizations like Microsoft are dedicating to ensuring world-class security.

Failure to automate time-consuming activities is one of the most typical financial consolidation issues – especially when we worked from home 2 years ago. As you can see, manual data input consumes a lot of time and resources. It has the potential to cause more issues than it solves. Investing in automation to decrease mistakes and free up time and resources may help create a successful consolidation process.

CFO in the Logistics Industry

Beyond accessibility – Cloud solution with collaboration capabilities

In a work-from-home environment, a cloud-based solution that promotes collaboration is critical while maintaining a single source of truth platform. To gather financial data for statutory consolidation and perform intercompany reconciliation, you’ll need to collaborate with finance teams from various subsidiaries, associates, joint ventures, and joint operations in order to drive process control and transparency of data securely.

There is a need to gather and consolidate information across departments for financial planning and analytics to produce the required analysis. Board cloud solution allows you to access all the functionalities and features across computers, tablets, or mobiles, basically devices with web browsers. It promotes a single source of truth platform where you can keep track of communications, verify data sources, attach supporting documents, and invoke workflow capabilities such as approval, rejection, and validation of reports/data to drive seamless collaboration.

3 – Update your strategy – Move away from fragmented or point solutions

While some organisations have identified pain points/challenges, they often look at one part of the process/objective. Some firms, for example, examine specialized solutions for financial consolidation and planning, and various operational divisions will discover their solutions to meet their demands. Finally, management will look to procure data visualisation tools to address reporting challenges where they will use it to harmonise information from all these different sources.

When we just started, we made the mistake of implementing many systems without first ensuring that they were adequately integrated. As you can expect, this causes difficulty for those in charge of combining all of this data into a single system. It’s fairly unusual for a company’s many branches to utilize separate reporting tools, which is inefficient. It’s good to think about appropriate tools and systems designed expressly for your industry.

CFO in the Corporate Travel Industry

Look into an integrated platform for break-through ROI

Different historical data sources (e.g., ERP systems) impede the move towards a single source of truth as these data have to be further muscled for financial consolidation, planning, budgeting, and forecasting before being loaded into reports or dashboards for analysis.

Take a broader view of your transformation roadmap and consider an integrated solution, in addition to discovering solutions for your function (I.e. Financial consolidation, planning, analytics, workflow for collaboration, business intelligence, reporting).

There are also solutions that can be implemented across industries to help drive towards a single source of truth within organisations with multiple business verticals. This can helps organisations save tremendously on software licenses.

Solutions such as Board’s unified platform enable finance professionals to create plans, budgets, and forecasts with ease; report on performance and profitability; accomplish simulations and scenario analysis; keep internal control over closing and consolidation activities; and release and disclose statutory financial reports.


CFO defined: Philip Tan, CFO, IMC Industrial Group


Shalini Shukla, DigitalCFO Asia | 5 April 2022

Phillip Tan

CFO, IMC Industrial Group

In his capacity as a finance leader, Philip Tan, CFO of IMC Industrial Group has strived to achieve alignment of financial, business and operations planning for the past two decades. Closely partnering with the business, Philip has been working to increase understanding of the financial implications of operational decisions. CFO Digital spoke to him to uncover more gems of wisdom.

  1. Having been a CFO for diverse companies for more than 20 years, what is your top takeaway?

In my time as a finance leader, I have learnt, evolved, and developed across different industries and mentors. Most importantly, my career has centred around the following principles:

  • Be adaptive
  • Evolve with the times
  • Respond quickly

Be adaptive

Over the past two decades, working with a myriad of companies – from private and conglomerates to family business and private equity – has given me insights into diverse organisational structures. Different stakeholders have different requirements as well. I had to adapt to see issues from stakeholders’ perspectives so that I could deliver value to the business I was working with.

Evolve with the times

As finance transitioned from a traditional to a digital function, I also had to evolve as a finance leader. Where finance used to be about reporting numbers, it is more about what the numbers mean today. “What is the story behind the numbers?” Investigating that and ensuring the function is in sync with the overall direction of the business – that is the role of finance now.

Respond quickly

An ex-chairman once told me that my role is to hold back the CEO – I was to play the balancing act, ensuring the organisation can sustain and complement business needs. Indeed, over the past two decades, I’ve found myself responding much more quickly to corporate issues by becoming a true business partner, leveraging all departments to see issues from finance perspective.

While finance has always looked at returns – divesting and recycling investments/cash, amongst others, investments decisions made must be mindful of payback timeline. To be agile and not only respond to but pre-empt economic downturns, I have found myself increasingly taking note of risks involved in all transactions.

As an accountancy student, my lecturer told me: “The optimism of a businessman will be countered with the pessimism of an accountant. While that has been true over the course of my career, I have seen my role being better regarded and included throughout the business.

  • How has the finance function changed over the past two decades?

Most importantly, mindsets and expectations have changed. Where finance used to be traditional bin counters, the function is now trying to present numbers and anticipate next steps for the business. We are asking ourselves: “How are we able to forecast numbers such that we can influence future decisions?”

Several challenges are afoot though – availability of data, siloed processes and people matters, amongst others. Ultimately, I find that if people are willing to collaborate, we can get the job done even if there are a couple of roadblocks along the way.

Finance has been transitioning from a traditional to a more digital function. This will no doubt be daunting to many but such value-focused business partnering will revolutionise the entire financial, allowing the finance function to deliver stronger and deliberate insights, align diverse business objectives, and construct data-driven decisions.

  • What are the top 3 challenges finance leaders face when transitioning from traditional to digital finance function?

Poor interdepartmental communication

There is some tussle of information between finance and business operations teams. Perhaps there is an element of insecurity if one team knows more than the other. From a KPI perspective, finance having more information could lead to the team pushing levers when it comes to budgeting. I can say I know this team can achieve their KPIs with less resources, so I cut that during budget season.

While technology is an enabler of data, people must be aligned. We must ensure there is a corporate culture of sharing data and an understanding that data is not used to pit teams against one another but rather, to make business processes more efficient and to achieve business outcomes. To that end, the level of collaboration will impact level of automation to get concise fast data.

Inefficient risk management processes

Getting and analysing as much relevant data together as possible data is not just about performance. It is also about managing cash flow risk, covenants, forward numbers, and any event triggers. The digital finance team must be very mindful of not only financial risks, but also non-financial ones.

Today’s finance leaders must look at the big picture. They have to be open to assessing risk management solutions that span the entire organisation instead of just the finance function.

Unrealistic forecasts

While teams may want to hold back some information from finance, the function will not be able to see too much farther ahead, forecasting inaccurately as a result. This may result in budgets being unrealistic. For instance, numbers could be inflated or artificially suppressed, resulting in financial losses for the business.

Lack of data and insights leading to unrealistic forecasts means the company is set up for failure – it is very risky! We must be agile in planning and creating out-of-cycle forecasts, and ensuring our colleagues are able to measure the financial impact of their decisions.

  • You have such extensive financial strategic and operational experience from diverse industries. You must have managed to find some alignment of financial, business and operations planning. What are some things finance leaders need to keep in mind when adopting a cross-functional xP&A strategy?

Operational data form the lowest common denominator! They are not high-level drivers that are hypothetical.

While finance leaders cannot use historical data for start-ups, they cannot use gut feel to forecast numbers and align the different parts of the business. We must continuously revise our outlook and plan for any downside to the business. Two factors are critical:

  • Engagement and alignment – Let’s agree on outcome because there is an end goal that everyone wants to work towards.
  • Technology – More insights with less manpower is only possible through automation. This also helps to remove duplication and unite seemingly siloed information to form a single narrative.

In collaboration with Jedox, Phillip moderated DigitalCFO’s first physical event in 2022 back in March, where he where he led discussions on the Progress & Challenges on the Path to xP&A and how business partnering will drive value for organisations. Held at Andaz Singapore with Safe Distancing Measures in place, discussions between finance leaders showed that they are already planning on how to pivot into recovery and advancement.

Overall, Philip stressed that the finance function must be value-adding. Finance leaders must be able to see things from the perspective of users. Is analysis being generated for confirmation of current hypotheses or is it new information that is being sought to forecast future actions? He believes the finance leaders must focus resources on developing what the organisation will do next – outcomes, forecast, the ability to grow and integrate elsewhere. “That’s what I’m trying to do,” he said. “Implement a different system.”

Women In Finance: It’s time to close the gender gaps and stereotypes


Qinthara Fasya, DigitalCFO Asia | 8 March 2022

It’s 2022, do these gender stereotypes still exist?

This International Women’s Day, DigitalCFO Asia speaks with remarkable Women in Finance to find out their point of view on this topic

As the nature of labor changes across the world as a result of automation, Asian women confront unique hurdles as they attempt to improve their economic standing. There is a stable increase year on year when it comes to labor force participation rate of women in Singapore, where 64.2% of the workforce consists of women, which is more than half as compared to men.

Women in Asia’s employment have a lot of possibilities, but they also have a lot of obstacles. Let’s start at the beginning: Asian women contribute roughly 36% of the region’s GDP, which is in line with the worldwide average, although there is a broad variety. China has a greater percentage, over 41%, whereas India has a lesser percentage, less than 20%.

Upskilling to Remain Relevant in the Workforce

It’ll be a period of huge transitions. Women will have to retrain themselves in a new set of abilities that will be useful in the future. Women will need to spend far less time on typical administrative tasks in the healthcare industry, for example, because patients will register themselves on mobile devices as they enter hospitals, and artificial-intelligence-driven gadgets will do some diagnostic tasks.

However, the healthcare professional will have to spend a lot more time communicating with patients and stakeholders, which will need a lot of interpersonal skills and higher-order problem-solving abilities. These changes will be difficult, and they will have to be done in big numbers. In India and China, ten million to forty million people will have to make such adjustments simply to stay in their current jobs.

Joanne Edwards, Chief Risk and Data Officer at Wisr notes that “During the pandemic, something that came to light was the clear need for connection, culture and purpose in the workplace. However, integral to a happy, diverse workplace is removing bias and allowing everyone to succeed.”

“For women and other marginalised groups to thrive and contribute to excellent workplaces, there needs to be constant development in their diversity and inclusion policies (globally), clear pathways to help these groups succeed, and training to ensure leaders are conscious of the biases that may be overlooked. With most businesses implementing a remote workplace, employees have demonstrated the ability to be productive while working from home. This should be considered an ongoing option for women to provide flexibility for mothers and those on maternity leave.”

Key Stereotypes that should be diminished

CEOs should take steps to assist women in making the transition to the Asian labor market of the future. And the main reason is that their businesses stand to benefit the most. Dropout rates are actually fairly high nowadays. Women occupy roughly 40 to 45 percent of entry-level jobs in Asian corporations, but at the C-suite level—at senior-management levels—the ratio declines to about 25 percent in Singapore, but as low as 4 percent in Japan and India.

Joanne highlights that while we’ve seen growth in women entering these roles and engaging with this work, we still need to work on the stereotype that these roles are male-centric for a reason and create better pathways for women and non-binary people to enter the space.

More generally, a key stereotype that needs to be left in the past is that staff need to be ‘corporate animals’, dedicating themselves entirely to their roles. Instead of this, all staff should feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, sharing their interests, passions and learnings whilst being vulnerable and open to growth, feedback and failure.

– Joanne Edwards, Chief Risk and Data Officer at Wisr

Companies are losing a lot of talent as a result of this. And CEOs must take action to remedy this. We’ve discovered that a top-level CEO commitment to reducing gender disparity, or inequity for women, is critical in assisting businesses in making this transformation.

Ruchika Kohli, Regional Head of Consumer Business at Instarem, Americas & Europe, on the other hand, states that these women stereotypes were being elevated even more during the pandemic when most corporations had to operate from home.

There is a stereotype that women need to be able to balance – work and family, career and motherhood, but the truth is that every working adult within a household needs to and should be doing so. Through the pandemic many workplaces have shifted to flexible models that allow women and men the chance to do what they need to – balance.

– Ruchika Kohli, Regional Head of Consumer Business at Instarem, Americas & Europe

Some organizations are doing numerous new things that others may learn from and undertake as a result of their top-level dedication. In Australia, for example, some businesses are rethinking their entire business strategy to allow women to work from home and also go to a tiny regional business center or regional mall where an office is set up for them. This is especially beneficial to ladies who find it difficult to commute across great distances on a daily basis. They have the option of working from home or from a regional center. Companies in Australia are also experimenting with job sharing, in which women perform four-hour shifts in a row and contractors fill in the remainder of the time.

Women stepping up in these Male-Dominated roles

Today, many financial and fintech companies are working to help women succeed. This entails recognizing women and assisting them in their advancement based on their accomplishments and output rather than preconceived preconceptions. “This shouldn’t be a discussion point in 2022 and should be a given,” says Ruchika.

Year after year, the number of women entering STEM fields has risen steadily. However, according to data from the Australian Government, women made up just 36% of university STEM enrolments in 2019-2020, while the number of women working across all STEM-qualified industries was only 28%, and key management employees and senior female managers made up only 23%.

While we’ve seen an increase in women entering these jobs and engaging with the work, we still need to address the assumption that these roles are male-centric for a reason and offer more opportunities for women and non-binary persons to enter the field.

Agnes Lim, Chief Financial Officer at NTT Ltd notes that it is concerning when we stereotype leadership traits such as self-confidence, assertiveness, taking charge, solving problems, courage and risk-taking ability that are typically similar to masculine stereotypes.

In the current scenario, there are other factors like integrity, communication, self-awareness, empathy and learning agility are top determinants for all leadership roles. Hence, we must be more objective when assessing profiles for such roles and ensure they align with the required leadership capabilities and are in the best interest of the organization’s position to succeed.

– Agnes Lim, Chief Financial Officer at NTT Ltd

Tips for Success

Let’s hear from these exceptional ladies about how other women may break into the finance industry without being rejected or ignored.

When it comes to professional endeavours, I have often acknowledged the term ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. For me, this looked like seeing a gap that I could fill, implementing the structure to do so and taking the plunge.

Joanne Edwards, Chief Risk and Data Officer at Wisr

The only tip I would share is know you’re worth – grab for your seat at the table, make it clear why your voice matters and find advocates who help you do so. The finance, and especially the fintech, industry is an exciting, thriving and a welcoming space where women across roles have the ability to excel.

Ruchika Kohli, Regional Head of Consumer Business at Instarem, Americas & Europe

My advice to all women entering finance roles is to not be afraid to move out of your comfort zone when opportunities arise and trust your instincts. Play to your strengths, empower yourself by identifying your strengths and weaknesses and work on it. Spend time building up your network, including your supporters as well as those whom you can support, be visible and ask for feedback. Regarding rejections, believe in your knowledge and your ability and keep things in perspective – for every opening, there are typically more rejections than acceptance.

Agnes Lim, Chief Financial Officer at NTT Ltd

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