IWD Series 2023

DCFO IWD Series: Equality vs Equity – Why The Difference Matters?


23 March 2023

Fairness really only functions when everyone is equal at the outset.

The International Women’s Day campaign theme for 2023, “Embrace Equity,” aims to start a global conversation on why “equal opportunities are no longer adequate” and can actually be exclusive rather than inclusive. Giving every person or group the same resources or opportunities is referred to as equality. Recognizing that every person has unique circumstances, equity distributes the precise resources and opportunities required to get an equal result.

Giving everyone what they need to succeed is a definition of equity. To put it another way, not everyone receives the same thing. Giving everything to everyone in the hopes that it will make everyone equal makes the assumption that everyone started out in the same position, which can be wildly wrong because no two people are alike.

As it’s frequently believed that “being fair” entails that everyone receives the same treatment, the concept of “fairness” might be challenging. Although we were frequently told this as children, “fairness” really only functions when everyone is equal at the outset.

Kris Giswold, Senior Vice President Finance, AMEA, Mondelez and Shenola Gonzales, CEO, Alevate Solutions and Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) provided their perspective and insights on equity and equality in the workplace. 

The Importance Of Understanding The Difference Between Equity And Equality In The Workplace

We can’t talk about achieving equitable outcomes without first acknowledging that each person  has different circumstances with different starting points and needs. As such, we wouldn’t  necessarily achieve an equal outcome by providing everyone with the same resources and  opportunities. Equity is a better and more inclusive approach because it is about serving these different needs and removing systemic or structural barriers to create an inclusive environment  where people can thrive. 

Equity is especially crucial for global companies with diverse workforces like Mondelēz, where individuals from different backgrounds need to collaborate with one another. Mondelēz recognizes the diversity of our talent pool and this is why we have added equity to our D&I  strategy to become DE&I (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). By maximizing the power of our  employees, it will enable us to serve our consumers better and deliver even stronger  performance. 

– Kris Giswold, Senior Vice President Finance, AMEA, Mondelez

The terms equity and equality are often used interchangeably, causing confusion about their distinct meanings. Although both are significant, it is crucial to understand what equity truly means. Equality ensures that everyone has the same access to resources. However, equity goes beyond this one-dimensional approach and recognizes that not everyone starts from the same point, as some have advantages over others due to factors such as economic status, education, or relationships.

To illustrate this, equality centres on offering the same starting point to everyone, while equity focuses on achieving an outcome by addressing individual needs and setting a specific goal. Understanding this key difference between equity and equality is essential because it can have a significant impact on the workplace.

In a workplace that values equality, everyone is treated the same, and opportunities are provided equally to all employees. However, this approach does not consider that employees may have different needs and backgrounds that require unique support to help them succeed.

On the other hand, a workplace that values equity recognises that employees have different needs and experiences, and it aims to provide resources and support that are tailored to each employee’s unique circumstances. This approach can help level the playing field and create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

By implementing equity-based policies and practices, companies can foster a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion, ultimately leading to increased employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. Additionally, it can attract and retain a more diverse workforce,  increasing both its intangible (brand value) and tangible value (profitability). Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work in organisations that were both equitable and inequitable.

I was very fortunate to begin my career in a very equitable workplace, Ernst & Young (UK) – and this is going back almost 20 years! They were way ahead of their time. Looking back and comparing it to my subsequent roles, I believe it was the DNA of the firm, which was highly driven by the Code of Ethics as emphasised by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW). This drove the behaviour of the firm and in turn fostered a very equitable workplace. 

– Shenola Gonzales, CEO, Alevate Solutions and Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

The Harm Gender Stereotypes Have Caused To Women’s Opportunities & Capabilities In The Workplace

Gender stereotypes are harmful in two ways: It impacts the way women see themselves and  how decision-makers view them. 

Various research has shown that internalized gender stereotypes can cause women to question  their own abilities which results in hesitation or reluctance when speaking up in meetings or  going for new opportunities like promotions. As such, it holds women back from achieving their  full potential in the workplace. 

On the flip side, when decision-makers in the workplace hold biased views due to gender  stereotypes, it may affect the way female employees’ performances are evaluated or credited,  and this in turn affects their career progression or opportunities provided to them, such as  leadership roles. 

– Kris Giswold, Senior Vice President Finance, AMEA, Mondelez

While the number of women in senior finance leadership roles is increasing, the number remains small. The finance industry, like other industries, unfairly judges and limits women due to gender stereotypes. 

Women are hesitant to show empathy or female gender traits when in a senior role, for fear of being viewed negatively. As such (and I speak from first-hand experience) women often conform to male leadership styles which has resulted in the birth of negative nicknames such as ‘Ice Queen’, ‘Bossy’ or ‘Dragon lady’ when describing a woman leader. The equivalent male leader is often positively termed ‘Cool headed’, ‘Assertive’  or ‘ Tough minded’.  

This narrative needs to change as it undermines the value of unique female traits and abilities, resulting in less diversity and fewer opportunities to address gender stereotypes. If this trend continues, it can become a vicious cycle as the finance industry, which is already male-dominated, may attract even fewer women. This, in turn, can harm the industry’s competitiveness and effectiveness as a whole.

Throughout my career, I have experimented with different approaches to leadership, but the one that brought the most fulfilment and success was when I embraced my authentic self. I didn’t feel the need to conform to stereotypes or hide my responsibilities outside of work. Additionally, I found that joining relevant networks (such as the ICAEW Women in Finance Community) and exchanging experiences with other professionals proved immensely helpful in my personal and professional growth. 

My advice to any woman seeking a senior leadership position is to connect with people who share your aspirations, believe in yourself, and stay true to your authentic self. In addition, having access to real-life experiences and information, rather than just relying on statistics, will equip you with the necessary knowledge to prepare for the role and thrive in it.

– Shenola Gonzales, CEO, Alevate Solutions and Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Some Policies To Have In The Organization To Provide A More Supportive And Conducive Environment For Women

Encouraging people to reflect on their personal biases and thought processes through training on areas such as unconscious bias and inter-cultural communication will help employees  become more aware of their blind spots and understand how cultural differences can impact  the way people work and how people interact at work. At Mondelēz, we have introduced an  Unconscious Bias program to cater to market-specific situations, such as generational diversity  in China. 

We have also implemented practices focused on fairness in hiring and pay equity, including  requiring diverse slates for open roles and providing inclusivity training for all people managers,  which has enabled us to increase the representation of women in our leadership roles. I am  proud to share that today, 34% of our leadership team globally are women. Additionally, we rolled out mentorship programs, including targeted platforms in Southeast Asia focused on advancing and accelerating development of our women leaders. 

– Kris Giswold, Senior Vice President Finance, AMEA, Mondelez

I strongly believe that company policies play a significant role in shaping the company culture.  There are many policies in companies that I have been part of that stand out to me as conducive to women.  

  1. Equal Pay: Companies should ensure that women are paid the same amount as their male counterparts for the same job and level of experience.
  2. Flexible Work Arrangements: Companies can provide flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, to help women balance work and family responsibilities.
  3. Parental Leave: Companies can offer parental leave for both mothers and fathers to help women balance work and family responsibilities.
  4. Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs: Companies can establish mentorship and sponsorship programs to help women advance in their careers and develop their skills.
  5. Diversity and Inclusion Training: Companies can provide diversity and inclusion training to help employees understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and create a more inclusive environment.
  6. Anti-Discrimination Policies: Companies should have anti-discrimination policies in place to ensure that women are not discriminated against based on their gender or any other protected characteristic.
  7. Employee Resource Groups: Companies can establish employee resource groups (ERGs) for women to provide support, networking opportunities, and professional development opportunities.
  8. Back to work Programs: Companies can offer back to work programmes for women who have taken a break from their careers to care for family members or for any other reason, to help them re-enter the workforce and advance their careers.

These policies can help create a more supportive and conducive environment for women in the workplace, leading to greater gender equity and diversity, as well as improved organizational performance.

– Shenola Gonzales, CEO, Alevate Solutions and Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Why Should More Women Take Up Leadership Roles?

We believe that we can better understand our consumers and our customers when our  workforce reflects the communities we serve. Women bring unique and fresh perspectives to  the table which will help inspire creativity and drive innovation for companies. Research has  shown that the most diverse companies have better business performances than their less  diverse peers.  

Other research has also shown that having women in leadership roles may also help to attract  a more diverse workforce, catalyze positive changes in workplace policies that benefit all, and  help reduce the pay gap between men and women.

– Kris Giswold, Senior Vice President Finance, AMEA, Mondelez

During the course of my career, I have held various senior leadership roles in the corporate world and in the entrepreneurial space.  In every role I have learnt some invaluable lessons – both positive and negative. 

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that women offer a unique perspective that brings diversity to leadership, and their innovative thinking is impressive. Moreover, businesses led by women tend to perform better financially, as they integrate multiple strategies to achieve not only the bottom line but also softer goals.

Women bring with them a unique and varied style to leadership.  A woman leader can help to drive positive social change, including promoting greater gender equality in the workplace, addressing issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination, and advocating for policies and practices that benefit all employees, not just a select few.

Having more women in leadership roles serves as a positive example and inspiration for future generations of women, breaking down gender stereotypes and encouraging girls and young women to pursue leadership roles themselves. 

Some of the women leaders that have inspired me include Indra Nooyi, Sheryl Sandberg and Jacinda Ardern.  One never forgets an inspiring woman leader and their story of how they broke the glass ceiling, faced their challenges and paved the way forward for other women.

To all the women out there stepping up to that leadership role and experiencing self-doubt – always remember the famous quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”


– Shenola Gonzales, CEO, Alevate Solutions and Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

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.