CEOs in Asia Want More Strategic Thinking From CFOs

The region's finance chiefs are still too often bogged down in details, research finds.
Matthew HellerJanuary 9, 2015
CEOs in Asia Want More Strategic Thinking From CFOs

Asia-Pacific CFOs should play a more strategic role in the C-suite, their bosses say, rather than lose themselves in the financial nuts and bolts of their jobs, according to a new survey.

asiaAmong the 178 CEOs, business owners and company chairmen in 13 countries and territories in the region that were surveyed by Forbes Insights and KPMG, about 6 in 10 saw contributing to performance and growth as the greatest opportunity for a CFO to impact organizational value. And 49% believed big-picture thinking and a strategic approach were the most important attributes for a CFO.

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But according to the survey, there is a gap between what CEOs expect of their CFOs and the reality on the ground, as many finance chiefs “remain lost in the numbers, mired in regulatory minutiae, distracted by the daily demands of different compliance, tax and financial reporting regimes.”

“Most CFOs would love to do more on the strategic side,” Egidio Zarrella of KPMG in China told Forbes. “But they’re buried under regulation. They can’t get past the operational and tactical aspects of their jobs.” But, he added, “If you’re a C-class executive, you’ve got to put some time aside for strategic thinking or how are you ever going to be a business partner?”

In fact, 32% of CEOs said their CFOs don’t understand or assist them with the challenges that they face with running their organizations.

Almost three quarters of CEOs from high-performing companies — those with EBITDA growth of more than 10% in recent years — said the CFO will increase in importance more than any other C-suite role, according to the survey.

“CFOs need to be more well-rounded, multidisciplined leaders with a strong line of thinking around business growth and shareholder returns,” said Tiak Koon Loh, CEO of Pactera, a technology consulting and outsourcing business. “The best CFOs, in my opinion, are not necessarily chartered accountants but MBAs.”

In another finding from the poll, 80% of CEOs from high-performing companies said their CFOs could and should do a better job of managing their teams.