Communication skills key for ambitious CFOs, says search firm

Ambitious CFOs must now possess a far greater range of skills than before, including being effective with investors and the media.
Nick Evans, managing partner at Odgers Berndtson
Nick Evans, managing partner at Odgers Berndtson

The stereotype of the CFO spending his days hidden from the limelight, as the CEO represents the company to the media and investors, has been consigned to the history books. These days, to work in a high-profile firm a treasurer needs to cut a far more comprehensive CV.

“Communication is probably the vital skill now,” said Nick Evans, managing partner at executive search firm, Odgers Berndtson, in Hong Kong, of the skills required by CFOs in modern companies. “CFOs do not operate in darkened rooms anymore crunching the numbers; they are at the forefront of an organisation’s external and internal communication. The best CFOs are comfortable in front of the camera and are able to talk to analysts, investors and the media, explaining what’s going on. To reach the top of large organisations, the CFO needs to have not only the requisite technical and leadership skills but also the charisma, or X factor.” 

A number of trends have helped change the role and responsibilities of CFOs, financial controllers and treasurers over recent years. The global financial crisis has led to far greater focus on risk management and cash visibility. Firms now want to know where there cash is and what their exposures are immediately.

Adding to the demand are Chinese firms which are also starting to look internationally for senior hires as their cross-border businesses and aspirations grow. “It’s therefore the maturity of the market; as organisations grow, the CFO role becomes increasingly more important and requires specialist skills. As Asian firms expand rapidly, they require CFOs who can manage that growth effectively.”

This is all good news for those CFOs on the job market with the right qualifications. If pay inflation for a CFO who moves jobs in Europe or the US might be 10% to 20%, a CFO in Asia-Pacific who is negotiating for a new job should expect a pay rise of between 25% to 30% as a rough starting point. This pay inflation is driven by a dearth of talent. “There is less fear of moving jobs here because the economy is incredibly strong, and if something goes wrong or a more attractive job comes along after a year, people can move again. That’s not seen as a bad thing; it’s seen as taking an opportunity,” said Evans. “In the West, if you took a job and then moved in a year, then that might be slightly frowned upon. But here mid-management can move quickly and boost up salaries quite fast.”

That said, Asia’s emergence as a driving force in the global economy means that financial professionals from Europe and America looking to leave the West and head for the bright lights of Asia can no longer expect a premium for moving to the region. Rather, most expats coming to Asia-Pacific should, and indeed do, see moving east as a great career opportunity.

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