Singapore CFOs see urgent and long-term need to develop strategic thinking skills

Singapore, 15 July 2016

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  • Other top developmental needs include communication and influencing, and risk management skills
  • CFOs expect strategic business planning, risk management, and growth strategy advisory to be top tasks in five years’ time

Strategic thinking is the single top skill that CFOs urgently need now and in five years’ time. This is according to a new report by EY and CPA Australia, Ready for the future economy? The CFO’s perspective, which surveyed 88 Singapore-based CFOs on their challenges, roles and skill sets.

In terms of the skills that CFOs would spend most of their time developing, strategic thinking (67%), communication and influencing (47%), and risk management (42%) emerged as the top three priorities.

The dynamic changes in the business environment, catalyzed by disruptive technologies, means that much more is demanded of CFOs today – way beyond their traditional finance skills.

Vincent Toong, Assurance Partner, Ernst & Young LLP says: “CFOs are expected to advise the business in capturing the growth opportunities and mitigating the risks to drive financial performance, as well as communicate effectively to manage stakeholder, public and regulatory scrutiny.

They are at once an adviser, scorekeeper, gatekeeper, manager, team leader and strategist. These call for CFOs to have a combination of skills to stay ahead, including strategic thinking, communication and influencing, risk management, analysis and advisory, and people management skills.”

More time invested in strategic over traditional financial tasks in future

The survey showed that strategy roles such as strategic business planning (63%), risk management (60%), advising management/board on business fundamentals/growth strategy (56%), investment strategy and management (44%) would gain prominence as tasks for CFOs five years from now. This reflects the growing need for CFOs to be a strategic partner to other C-suite executives to grow the business and navigate the risks and complexities.

In contrast, management functions comprising more traditional financial steward roles like working capital and cash flow management (39%) and financial reporting (25%) – while still important – are expected to occupy less of the CFO’s time five years from now. An exception is regulatory compliance, where more CFOs see themselves investing time in future.

“Given the heightened accountability and severe penalties and reputational risk involved for offenders, regulatory compliance is an area where the CFOs cannot afford to reduce their involvement or delegate to the next layer,” adds Toong.

Already, the changing regulatory environment is cited as one of the top five challenges that CFOs face today. The other top challenges are risk management, talent retention and management, cost and profitability management, and evolving technology.

Actions to build skills of the future

With the accelerating pace of change in the business environment, the report offers a toolkit to help CFOs address the skill gaps now in order to be future-ready (see annex A). The report also suggests that CFOs need to commit to life-long learning to succeed in their evolving role.

Please refer to Annex A: Toolkit to help CFOs address skill gaps

Annex A: Toolkit to help CFOs address skill gaps

1. Strategic thinking skills
CFOs should:

  • Keep abreast of the latest business developments, thinking and practices.
  • Embrace and leverage information technology and deploy data analytics to spot trends and changes in the business environment.
  • Partner with other C-suite executives to develop operation plans and strategies.
  • Plan scenarios and evaluate different options for application.

2. Communication and influencing skills
CFOs should:

  • Learn to handle and leverage to new forms of media (e.g., social media).
  • Review internal information capture, retrieval and reporting processes to support timely, accurate and transparent responses.
  • Communicate changes in strategy and direction to internal stakeholders in a timely and detailed manner.

3. Risk management skills
CFOs should:

  • Keep abreast of the latest risk management developments, practices and ERM models.
  • Develop full understanding of changes in business profile and models.
  • Revalidate existing risks, identify new risks, and measure changes in risk profile and impact of the risks in the risk register.
  • Review the ERM framework so that appropriate processes and procedures are in place to reduce the risks.

4. Analysis and advisory skills
CFOs should:

  • Build knowledge of data analytics and analytical tools and their use.
  • Apply analytics on the organization’s financial and operational data to reduce the cost per transaction, monitor gross margins across product or service lines, and identify anomalies or unusual transactions.
  • Leverage analysis and provide feedback to operations and other departments for improvements to policies and processes.

5. People management skills
CFOs should:

  • Support continuing education of finance staff including developing and enhancing technical competency and analysis skills.
  • Help the finance team build the necessary platform to partner other functions to improve operational performance.


Melvin Yong, Singapore Country Head at CPA Australia says: “Continuing education and the relentless acquisition of knowledge are of paramount importance for CFOs and those aspiring to assume that role. More often than not, the challenge facing CFOs is not what they know and could react to but, rather, what they don’t know and have difficulty planning for amid the disruptive changes in the financial, technological and regulatory environment.”

For the full report, please visit


Notes to Editors

About the report

Data for this report was gathered from an online survey of Singapore-based CFOs from April to May 2016. The survey received 88 complete and usable responses. There was an even representation of CFOs from larger organizations (with revenue and net assets above S$1b) to smaller organizations (with revenue and net assets below S$50m). The organizations operate in various sectors, with a higher concentration in real estate, retail and wholesale, and technology. In terms of age, more than 80% of the CFOs are 41 years or older and more than half of the CFOs have been in their current CFO role for less than 10 years.

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. For more information about our organization, please visit

This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young LLP, a member of the global EY organization.

About CPA Australia

Founded in 1886, CPA Australia is one of the world’s largest professional accounting bodies representing more than 155,000 members working in 118 countries. CPA Australia advances its members’ interests through education and knowledge exchange, the development of professional networks, advocacy in relation to policy, standards and regulation and the promotion of value of CPA Australia members to employers, government, regulators and the public. The world-renowned CPA designation is synonymous with professional credibility and international portability. CPA Australia has been operating in Singapore for 62 years, having arrived in this market in 1954 under the auspices of the Colombo Plan.