Singapore & Malaysia 2023 finance recruitment outlook: Experience counts in job market
Hiring prospects for Singapore and Malaysia are expected to be challenging as employers grapple with a skills shortage in the region. Meanwhile, accounting candidates with experience and skills are likely to benefit from an uptick in job openings.
‘Due to global uncertainties and slowing demand concerns, the outlook in accounting and finance hiring this year is expected to slow down,’ says Eugenia Ng, director of Michael Page Singapore.
‘The lay-offs at many high-profile technology firms in late 2022 (Meta, Twitter, Stripe, Shopee, HP, Amazon and Microsoft) have trickled down to other industries, pushing them to take a more conservative watch-and-see approach.’
Though she notes that healthcare, electronics, energy and fast-moving consumer goods /retail are still hiring, there’s a significant slowdown in the semiconductors and manufacturing sectors.
‘While newly created positions are fewer, most replacement roles will continue to take place. For hybrid roles requiring a solid accounting foundation and strong business partnering experience, employers are willing to offer more competitive salary increments to retain and engage talent.
‘Some have also revised the job scope with expanded geographical responsibilities to retain strong potentials. Singapore has also seen an influx of regional headquarters, single family offices and Chinese firms using Singapore as their international launchpad,’ she says.
Mental health initiatives
Mental health days and initiatives are seen as a focal point for employers in their staff retention policies. ‘As quiet quitting has become a cause for concern, employers need to genuinely listen to what their employees are seeking in their careers and help them craft a clear development plan towards their goals. If they don’t feel that anything has been done and they can’t achieve their goals, they will look elsewhere,’ says Elise Tok, senior consultant for commerce finance at Robert Walters Singapore.
Ng, anticipates increases in salaries across the board. ‘Junior level (below five years of work experience) generally receive 10-18% increments; mid-level (up to 15 years of work experience) 15-20%; and senior professionals (C-suite, leadership level) 10-15%.’
Analytics, digital transformation and automation/process improvement roles are also in high demand. ‘Due to the shortage of finance professionals with data analytics skills, we’ve seen a handful of companies collaborate with learning institutes to equip new employees with the necessary skillsets,’ says Elise Tok, senior consultant for commerce finance at Robert Walters Singapore.
‘Digital transformation brought massive change to the commerce finance space, with teams sizing down as automation took over transactional and mundane analytical tasks. Firms are now willing to pay a slight premium for professionals who showcase excellent business stakeholder management and predictive data analytics skillsets.’
Some such skills include the use of data analytics such as Power BI, Robotic Process Automation, cloud-based accounting software or other intelligent accounting automation experience, points out Ng. ‘That said, while these are good-to-have skills, only 30-40% of the companies we spoke to have invested in such tools with the aim of transitioning in the next few years.’
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While Malaysia won’t escape the impact from global economic headwinds, their elevated effects on higher-cost economies, such as the US, Europe and Hong Kong, may in fact benefit the Malaysian economy with increased job functions being offshored to locations like Malaysia, says Nic Chambers, managing director of Michael Page Malaysia.
Chambers notes an increased emphasis on recruiting high-quality financial planning and analysis talent to provide a deeper level of commercial projections to help direct business performance.
‘Business analysts are also being hired to provide greater integration of financial data and insights to again help shape business decisions, as well as to increase the calibre of controllership to navigate such headwinds with a greater focus on spend to maximise profit margins. Within larger organisations, management teams are ensuring nimble treasury control and maintaining a tight control on cashflow.’
Nic Chambers, managing director of Michael Page Malaysia, sees pay hikes reflect the level of experience and skills. ‘Junior accounting and finance professionals may see slower salary growth in 2023 due to their level of experience, and the learning and development investment that’s still needed,’ he says.
He adds that mid-level professionals may see moderate salary growth as their level of hands-on experience increases and they take on additional value adding responsibilities. Senior finance professionals able to demonstrate a high level of experience and expertise in driving improved business performance may also see higher salary growth in 2023.
Hiring is expected in traditional sectors – financial services, industrial and manufacturing, shared services and outsourced — as well as in newer ones, like clean energy and renewables.
‘Businesses that face an increasingly complex and volatile economic environment may also look to hire finance and accounting professionals with strong expertise in compliance and risk management,’ says Chambers. ‘High interest rates and inflation increases the risk of suppliers/customers defaulting on payments, meaning companies may need to be more selective in who they partner with.’
Furthermore, corporate finance professionals with capital raising and M&A experience will remain in high demand as businesses outside of South-East Asia look to secure a foothold within the region.
A certain type of CFO will also be highly sought after this year, says Chambers. ‘CFOs with prior digital transformation experience, in addition to a strong track record of driving operational efficiency while not losing focus on retaining a high level of customer satisfaction, will be essential.
‘With ESG and sustainability gathering significant momentum, CFOs who are able to balance business performance with their environmental and social obligations will also find themselves in high demand.’
On the other hand, and similar to Singapore, the technology sector does not look set for a strong year of recruitment, as firms correct a wave of over-hiring of high-salaried professionals during the pandemic, with e-commerce companies and other digital platforms significantly impacted.
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