Want to get ahead in your career? Work in Asia.

A stint in Singapore could stand a finance professional in good stead.

Many senior finance roles require offshore experience.

Opportunities for senior finance leaders are dwindling in Australia according to Peter Antonius, Managing Director of Resources Global Professionals, who sees a shift in senior roles from Australia to Asia.

These trends will have implications for young professionals aspiring to senior finance roles.

“Over the past decade or so, there has been a shift in the mentality of corporates as to where they think is the best place to position their key [people] ,” Antonius recently told CPA Australia Business Policy Adviser Gavan Ord.

“What we are finding is that senior finance roles [CFOs, finance directors] to a large extent are moving offshore,” Antonius says.

Back in the early 1980s, says Antonius, Australia was a great place to have your regional headquarters if you were a multinational. Politically, geographically and culturally it made sense. Now, Australia is seen as a high-cost place to do business.

"Times have changed, particularly as China, India and the rest of Asia have grown in their market dominance [and] in their business maturity,” says Antonius. ”They present a much more viable proposition when it comes to cost.”

While offshoring used to mean setting up shared service functions or outsourcing roles such as accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll to third parties, it now means that more analytical and senior roles are also moving offshore.

"Working in Australia again will be a result of a lifestyle decision, not a career decision." – Richard Spalding CPA

“The trend is very clear that where there is an ability to create synergy and create advantage, whether that is from a process or cost perspective, organisations will take that," says Antonius.

"So where shared service functions and outsourcing [were initially] very much the domain of more technical roles, now it is touching into areas of management reporting and financial reporting.”

Taking your career with you

Richard Spalding CPA has made a career out of being portable. Over the last 10 years, he has worked in senior finance roles in the UK, Singapore and the US. He is now based in Hong Kong as the Managing Director of Nomura Financial Services Group.

Spalding saw Asia as the region to be in, given the state of the European and US economies, and has noticed a surprising number of Australians placed in senior roles in Asia, the UK and the US.

“Australian professionals are a very marketable commodity – we work hard, are well educated, and are generally adaptable and mobile," Spalding says. "So we tend to be successful in a global environment that is constantly trying to attract and retain a productive global workforce.

"That success means Australian professionals continue working overseas during the prime years of their career and attain senior positions.

“The question I ask myself is, ‘Why go back to Australia for a smaller role with half the pay and twice the tax?’ The only answer is for family reasons, so ultimately working in Australia again will be a result of a lifestyle decision, not a career decision.”

Finance professionals who are willing to move overseas will need to acquire skills that will equip them for an increasingly global market. The recent release of the Australian Government’s Asian Century White Paper has rekindled the debate about whether Asian language classes should be made compulsory in primary or secondary schools.

Antonius agrees that having a second language, particularly an Asian one, would be a clear advantage to those looking to move to the region for work. He also suggests that the ability to be portable in your job will be a necessity in years to come.

“One thing that we are going to see globally, but even more so here in Australia over the next 10 years, is the need for people to be a lot more portable with their careers,” Antonius says.

For those who wish to stay in Australia and New Zealand, Antonius recommends a shift in focus.

“What we are seeing is that many senior leaders need to have commercial awareness and be commercially astute. The need to have a solid grounding in something like accounting is still very much a requirement today, probably more so than ever.”

The roles that will be left behind are business-facing type roles, roles that Antonius calls "finance business partners" – those who work in the business alongside sales, marketing or operations functions.

“The role of the pure technical accountant may diminish [more in Australia] over time, as these roles can be done… remotely," says Antonius.

5 ways to up your marketability

So what’s an aspiring finance professional to do?

Be portable: If you have aspirations to become a leader, be open to taking on that role outside Australia.

Be commercially aware: Antonius advises that the need to be commercially aware and driven and be able to engage with other areas of a business is going to be a strong focus for accountants.

Learn the language: Being able to speak a second language, particularly an Asian language, will put you in a stronger position.

Know the market: Have an in-depth understanding of the business, cultural, political, ethical and regulatory environments specific and unique to each Asian country of operation.

Network: Invest in, and maintain, business networks and long-term relationships.

Do your skills measure up? Assess yourself with CPA Australia's Career Guidance System.

October 2021
October 2021

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