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Insights from the top: Traits managers look for in finance and accounting professionals.

Finance & Accounting roles involve adaptability now more than ever. Gone are the days where hiring managers only look for technical skills and experience in the industry. Kam Wai Peng, CFO of AirAsia, takes us through the changes within the finance space with respect to digital transformation and what direction the industry is taking. She also shares advice for budding finance professionals on how to succeed in their field. 

You’ve been in this industry for a long time now. As we move into the digital age, what changes have you observed in the industry in the last two years?

More companies are starting to embrace technology and move towards paperless, cashless transactions. Stakeholders expect to be provided with requested information at a faster pace. With these examples of digital transformation, cyber security becomes important and necessary to protect data.

As a leader, what direction do you see the industry taking in the future? What areas, techniques or systems do you foresee the industry expanding to?

In my opinion, more shared services will be set up taking over mundane tasks like accounting, payroll, maintenance operations, etc. There will probably be more demand for cloud-based services. In addition, more establishments will also be moving towards cashless transactions.

However, with these changes, there is also a danger where operators do not have enough knowledge on how these services work. This could be attributed to the rate at which technology progresses. The downside? Companies or teams that can’t cope will fall behind. 

Digital transformation within the industry includes the implementation of automation. Some teams are apprehensive to change as it brings uncertainty. What can companies do to ensure smooth operations should this scenario occur?

Companies have to start preparing their employees on how to embrace the change. They need to move away from activities to value-added services or service-oriented activities. People in the business need to understand that this change is not only unique to their organisation but is present in all organisations. 

In today’s world, finance professionals are expected to be well-rounded and have a strong understanding around the business’ activities. What are your thoughts on this?

I absolutely agree with this. For example, standards requirements and regulatory compliance, are easily available on the internet. Professionals in our department need to be aware of the business activities to help them make better decisions. If they do not learn about the business, they will be unable to contribute value and help take the business forward.

With tough competition in applying to jobs in finance, how can candidates stand out against their peers?  

To me attitude is the most important attribute, besides being good at their area of expertise. Having a positive attitude translates to a willingness to learn, capacity to grow and ability to take criticism. Someone with this trait takes pride in their work and communicates well with others in the company or team. All in all, beneficial to the growth of an organisation. 

Finally, what advice do you have to a junior in finance about the journey of a financial professional?

Be open-minded to criticism and embrace change. Do not be afraid to make mistakes but learn from it. Ask questions, offer help even in areas that do not concern you. Learn the business to stand out. Knowledge of a business coupled with your finance knowledge is very powerful.