Finance talent ideal to connect the dots in a digital world
CEO of AGOS Asia likes to use when making her case that finance people in organizations, are best equipped to lead their digital initiatives. AGOS Asia helps businesses achieve excellent practices for finance, human resources (HR) shared services, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam. The goal is for companies to become as efficient as they possibly can with the digital tools and processes available.
Joon feels that it is the finance function that is best suited to understand the entire process flow of operations and connect the dots for their companies. “As finance people I feel that is our key fundamental skill, because only finance can see the end to end flow of an entire organization.”
And with many repetitious and mundane finance functions being automated with RPA being applied as well, she feels it is inevitable that the finance function will have to move into providing more analysis business value instead of staying comfortable in the transaction part of their jobs. She warns that finance executives who function in silos will be at risk of being replaced by automation and RPA.
“It is not enough to just know your accounting standards, process knowledge is becoming more important,” she believes.
Finance directors, equipped with this process and finance understanding, can thus see if all the parts of an organization are working well and quickly zero in on any inefficiencies to provide the check and balances.
Having developed such a duality of skills herself over a steller corporate career that saw her quickly rise to leadership positions in the finance functions of Global Business Services operations and also be known as an innovator, Joon believes that such a crucial “line of sight” skill can be instilled early on in the career of finance executives in any organization.
One does not have to be working in global organizations or large local companies to be able to build up the skill for finance talent to be able to see the impact of any wrong move to the organization’s financial health.
Hence the establishment of AGOS which stands for, A Grain of Sand with the symbolism to Joon being that of how an oyster shell produces a shiny pearl from grains of sand.
She believes than even a finance person working in an unglamorous manufacturing SME can learn to acquire the skills of gradually identifying this Line of Sight she talks of. They can start with basic functions like the P&L and then gradually go deeper. She is confident they can learn RPA and recommend simple analytics dashboards to their bosses. “This is the awareness I want to bring to finance executives in Malaysia,” she says, with her vision being, “I want to help upskill Malaysian talent to elevate them to global levels.”
One way she aims to do this is through a yearly conference and smaller events that bring together finance executives from the MNC/GBS world in Malaysia, who are all steeped in a culture of constantly innovating and leveraging technology and processes with finance executives from other companies. This latter group she classifies as those who are MIA or Malaysian Institute of Accountants members where the emphasis is on compliance and whose events are vendor led.
The two worlds do not cross as there is no platform for them to co-mingle and share experiences, that is until Joon launched her yearly non vendor led AGOS Finance Summit which brings business leaders together to share their experiences, with Ruben Gnanalingam of Westports and Idham Nawawi of Celcom among the C-suite speakers in the 2019 edition.
Meanwhile, a key trend happening today that Joon believes plays into helping finance talent become more relevant to their organizations is, digitization. This trend helps in accelerating the journey towards companies extracting higher efficiencies from operations and it should start with finance where too many functions are still around printing excel documents. Functions like claims, purchasing and requisitions are all begging to be digitized to improve efficiency and speed.
Infact she believes that finance should not leave to IT, the decision on what technology systems to employ in their organization. And not to start with the solution right away but to identify what the business objectives are and then design processes to meet the objectives. ‘Only then do you choose the systems that will help you deliver the process,” she says.
Yet she acknowledges that not enough talent in finance plays this role and that’s a problem. “You will never find the optimal solution for the organization if you leave it to the tech people as this is a cross disciplinary skill set that finance is best equipped for,” she believes. No doubt many tech executives may take offence to Joon’s assertion but she stands by it.