2021 Accounting & Finance Market Insights
INTRODUCTION The business landscape in APAC has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital transformation in many companies. As the digital-first economy takes centre stage, companies need to adapt to the changing needs of both employees and consumers. The talent market is in a constant state of change right now, but one thing is certain: accounting and finance talent remains in high demand. The first half of the year was busier than ever in the accounting & finance recruitment sector as many of the organisations that put hiring on hold last year regained momentum. As businesses continue to grow, we see a sustained demand for finance professionals who can become true business partners and advise on strategic decisions. Candidates were cautious about making career moves amidst the pandemic as they were uncertain about the economic landscape. Recently, we have seen a greater willingness from candidates to look at new opportunities. However, we have also observed that candidates have more considerations as they assess a career move. In this report, we explore hiring and industry trends across the accounting & finance industry in APAC, as well as candidates’ response to the current market landscape. CHINA Gross domestic product (GDP) in China hit record levels during the first quarter of 2021 at 18.3% on a year-on-year basis, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. In Q2, the growth was not as high at 7.9%. Despite this drop, China’s recovery has been strong and steady. It was the first major economy to come out of lockdown in 2020. The global landscape, however, is fraught with uncertainties as COVID-19 is running rampant in other parts of the world. Like the rest of the world, businesses in China are currently navigating a talent market that has changed irrevocably. Many organisations are facing multiple challenges in the increasingly competitive job market, including a lack of focus on candidate experience, skills shortages, poor retention rates and low compliance with hiring standards. HOT SKILLS IN CHINA Operational Finance with IPO Experience Candidates with operational finance backgrounds and successful IPO experience are in demand. Employers are seeking finance candidates with a strong business acumen that can manage capital markets and oversee internal finance. Investment Banking Exposure Bankers with solid IPO exposure in the Hong Kong market are highly sought after. Some listed companies, especially those with VIE (variable interest entity) structures, are considering moving to the Hong Kong capital market. Demand for candidates with this experience is high as a result. Finance Business Partnering Finance professionals with commercial acumen are highly sought for as companies expect solid data analysis to support business decision making, especially for those companies that are further investing in China. Digital Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) Candidates with digital FP&A experience are proving popular as companies seek to invest in in-house digital hubs to drive business growth. Technology know-how has become a requirement for many businesses looking for finance professionals due to the ever-increasing reliance on technology. Finance Transformation More companies are leveraging Shared Services Centers (SSC) or Global Business Services (GBS) transformation to drive further efficiency and cost-saving. Talents with solid SSC or GBS experience, especially those who have regional exposure, are in high demand. Audit/Internal Controls/Compliance Finance professionals well versed in auditing, internal controls and compliance-related roles are sought after, particularly by listed companies or organisations that plan to go for an IPO in the future. HONG KONG As we move towards the end of the year, the general sentiment among businesses in Hong Kong is that of positivity. Employers know that securing top talent is more challenging than it has ever been. Despite the chronic skills shortages and changing needs of candidates, employers in this region have remained stringent in their hiring processes. Demand for accounting & finance professionals has risen steadily since Q4 2020. Companies are looking to hire finance professionals with strategic mindsets. With many businesses working on their sales and growth targets for 2022, the demand for qualified talent is not slowing down. HOT SKILLS IN HONG KONG Business Partnering Organisations are looking for finance candidates with the ability to work in a business partner role, especially in FP&A. International Experience The pandemic caused severe disruption to supply chains, while business travel came to a standstill. As borders reopen and supply chains return to normal, finance talents with experience in global markets are highly sought after. Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) Experience M&A activities tapered down during the initial phases of the pandemic due to uncertainty in the economic landscape. This year, we have seen an increase in the number of M&A taking place, and a rise in demand for candidates with experience in driving M&A. Change Management Skills Increasing numbers of companies are going through business transformation. Finance professionals experienced in change management are highly sought after to help manage new processes with minimum disruption to overall business operations as a result. Business Analytics Candidates with strong analytical skills play a significant role in strategic decision-making. As businesses push forward with their growth plans, finance professionals with expertise in business analytics are in demand. High Emotional Quotient (EQ) The world of work has changed due to COVID-19 and employee well-being has become a focal point for many companies. Therefore, finance professionals with a high EQ are in demand as employers want finance professionals who can lead their teams through periods of uncertainty and show empathy. JAPAN Hiring demand slowed in Q3 compared to the first six months of the year. Japan is now at a critical juncture with the pandemic and completion of the Olympic Games. We expect organisations to expand their hiring efforts and the demand for new finance professionals will steadily increase over the next year. Like many countries across APAC, candidates in Japan were cautious toward changing jobs during the height of the pandemic. However, this uncertainty is quickly fading. Candidates are now more interested in making a move and companies are showing renewed confidence and appetite around hiring. With demand for talented finance professionals far outstripping supply, the most sought-after candidates are receiving multiple job offers. To counter this, companies that have robust, yet flexible interview processes are gaining a competitive advantage to hire ahead of the competition. HOT SKILLS IN JAPAN Business Partnering Finance professionals with the right combination of analytical and communication skills are highly sought after. Those in highest demand are finance business partners who fully understand the business and can provide the necessary data-backed narrative from which solid strategic decisions can be made. Stakeholder Management Many firms continue to seek candidates who can build solid relationships within the business and put in place the processes needed to ensure necessary strategic alignments across all functions. Leadership Expectations of the finance function continue to shift. And many firms in Japan are looking for agile and creative leaders to drive change and transformation around efficiency in an ever-changing and ambiguous environment. High Emotional Quotient (EQ) Within this extremely candidate-driven market, more emphasis is being placed upon the retention and development of employees. Senior finance professionals must foster positive working environments and be able to lead, develop and retain high performing teams. SINGAPORE Singapore has reached a high rate of vaccination and we are seeing the economy show signs of recovery. Q2 this year, Singapore saw 14.7% year-on-year economic growth – a significant increase from the 1.5% in Q1. The Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI) has upgraded the GDP growth forecast for 2021 from between 4 and 6% to between 6 and 7%. These adjustments account for the better-than-expected performance of the Singapore economy in the first half of the year along with the latest external and domestic economic developments. However, the pandemic remains a significant near-term risk and adds uncertainty over the medium-term outlook for growth. The general outlook for hiring remains cautious. APAC remains an important region for global businesses. Singapore is viewed as an ideal location for regional offices due to the large pool of qualified talent with good regional exposure. We have seen an increase in the number of companies that are undergoing restructuring in the region as well as enterprise-wide transformation initiatives. We continue to see redundancies in companies, yet on the same note, these organisations are still hiring although in more specialised niche functions. HOT SKILLS IN SINGAPORE Business Analytics To better forecast business changes and assist in strategic decisions, finance talent with data analytics and big data management experience are valued. Hiring activity is likely to rise for FP&A, commercial finance and finance business partnering professionals who have exposure to data analytics tools like SQL, R, Tableau, Python, SAS and QlikView. Strategic Insights & Finance Business Partnering Firms are seeking finance professionals to provide insights in driving business performance, with high demand for commercially astute finance professionals who possess the gravitas to engage with key stakeholders. Finance Transformation & Robotic Process Automation (RPA) More organisations have been embarking on finance transformation initiatives to drive process and system improvements. Candidates who can lead finance transformation projects relating to process improvements are highly valued. Accounting professionals experienced in implementing RPA within large organisations are also in high demand. Even mid-sized businesses are looking to adopt such technologies to stay competitive and efficient. Supply Chain Finance The ongoing pandemic has exposed just how much supply chains can make or break a company’s success. Finance leaders with deep experience in partnering with supply chain leaders can bring value, including financial impact analysis, the evaluation of capital investments, effective inventory planning, identifying and managing risks and optimising performance. In-house Corporate Finance & Strategy The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities for businesses with good financial positions to look into M&A. Hiring for in-house M&A positions is rising, as well as in-house corporate strategy roles to support both inorganic and organic growth. Risk Management Increasing economic volatility and complexity have elevated the importance of risk management as a critical function. Companies are upping their efforts to establish a more systematic approach to analysing business risks and opportunities and identifying strategies for managing risk. Increased Emphasis on Soft Skills We are seeing more emphasis on soft skills as part of the hiring criteria. This includes stakeholder engagement skills, critical thinking, learning agility and the ability to drive change. When recruiting new employees in 2021, many clients have cited communication as the most sought-after soft skill. RECENT HIRING TRENDS IN APAC The recruitment market is still very dynamic in China, and finance talents is in high demand to support business expansion plans. Many employers are looking for finance professionals to become true business partners and provide strategic guidance. In Hong Kong and Singapore, accounting & finance professionals are increasingly open to moving roles. With the economies showing signs of recovery, finance candidates are in high demand and are more open to seeking new opportunities. When considering a career move, finance candidates are looking closely at business performance to ensure they make the right decision. They are also seeking opportunities to develop and progress in their careers. When asked why they are considering leaving their current organisation, almost two thirds (59%) of respondents cited a lack of career growth and developmental opportunities, according to our 2020 Working in APAC report. The number of finance professionals looking to switch industries, not just companies, has gone up. FinTech and technology start ups are fast becoming attractive options for candidates; however, they will still have concerns. Company stability and funding remain key considerations for candidates. Accounting & finance candidates now seek more flexibility and improved work/life balance when considering a move. The pandemic has led many people to reflect deeper on what they want from a job. Coupled with the surge in remote working during enforced lockdowns, this means many are prioritising positions in companies that allow for a better balance. KEY INDUSTRIES HIRING NOW The industries with the most hiring activity for finance roles right now include the following: Healthcare and Life Sciences Consumer Goods and Food Manufacturing Technology, Digital and eCommerce Athleisure and Sporting Goods RETENTION OF TALENT As the job market continues to pick up, there is an increased need for companies to ensure they have robust talent retention strategies in place. In this highly competitive market, it is more important than ever to regularly review your Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Organisations with a compelling EVP have an advantage over the competition as they will find it much easier to successfully attract highly qualified candidates and retain their best employees. Employers that take steps to foster environments where employees feel safe, valued and empowered will be better able to retain their talent. WHAT DO CANDIDATES LOOK FOR IN A COMPANY? As the job market continues to see greater recovery, candidates are considering several key factors when assessing a career move: RECENT PLACEMENTS ROLE ORGANISATION LOCATION COO Global Leading Service Provider China Pre-IPO CFO China Leading Biotech Company China Pre-IPO CFO China Leading Consumer Company China CFO Global Healthcare Company China Pre-IPO Finance VP Leading High-Tech Company China Corporate Development Director Global Leading Chemical Company China Risk Management Associate Director Global Food & Beverage Company China Senior Accounting Project Manager Global FMCG Company China Senior Strategy Manager US Leading Manufacturing Company China Commercial Finance Manager Global Leading FMCG Company China VP, Finance, APAC UK Footwear Brand Hong Kong Head of Treasury US FinTech Company Hong Kong Financial Controller US FinTech Company Hong Kong Senior Financer Manager Asian Travel Company Hong Kong Finance Manager Asian Travel Company Hong Kong FP&A Manager Asian Professional Services Company Hong Kong Regional Finance Director Global Multinational Company Singapore Regional Finance Director Global Pharmaceutical Multinational Singapore APAC Finance Director European Logistics Multinational Singapore Finance Director US Multinational Company Singapore VP, Finance Business Partner Leading eCommerce Company Singapore Financial Controller Singaporean Healthcare Company Singapore Regional Senior Manager, FP&A US Multinational Company Singapore Senior Manager, Compliance, Governance & Risk Singaporean Healthcare Company Singapore Operation Risk Manager Technology Start-up Singapore Treasury Manager European Multinational Company Singapore Business Process Advisory Manager Global Multinational Company Singapore KEY CONTACTS For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Accounting & Finance team: Singapore Office - please contact Yvonne Goh Hong Kong Office - please contact Paul Shelton China Offices - please contact Sophia Sun Japan Office - please contact Hiro Azuma Click here to download the full report.