Career in the Financial Sector in Malaysia

Hays Malaysia Salary Report

An Exciting Career in Finance in Malaysia

Despite the specific knowledge and skills required for a career in the financial industry, experts say the field is not only for those from finance and accounting backgrounds. The opportunities for those from various backgrounds are derived through professional qualifications that they may acquire after completing the first degree in any field.

In order to find out if you are suitable for a career in the Financial Services, you should research and find out what it is like to work in this field and what is required. The article from Hays Recruitment Malaysia provides students with some insights of the finance industry so that you can make the right choice.

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The DNA of a CFO – Career advice from Asia’s top finance leaders

‘Strategic planning’ and ‘people management’ skills are the most important skills finance professionals need to master if they want to secure and then succeed in the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO), according to research by recruiting experts Hays.

The research, based on an extensive survey of 411 senior finance professionals across Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore and in-depth interviews with five top CFOs has been released in the report, DNA of a CFO – the makings of a Chief Financial Officer in Asia.

“Interestingly, while our research found most CFOs built their careers in finance after gaining a finance-related degree, they credit non-financial skills and attributes as crucial elements of their career success,” says Aaron Chen, Senior Manager – Accountancy & Finance, Hays Malaysia.

“The majority of our respondents in Asia (54 per cent) nominated ‘strategic planning’ skills as the most important skills for career success as a CFO followed by ‘people management’ (nominated by 52 per cent of respondents), commercial acumen (38 per cent) and communication (34 per cent),” says Aaron.

“When it comes to personal attributes, CFOs in Asia rate being ‘proactive’ above any other personal attribute as instrumental to their career success including ambition,” he says.

“Hays is fortunate to have had the input of so many financial leaders across Asia on the role of education and qualifications, professional and personal attributes, international experience, networking and social media on their career success as well as and how they integrate life and work. The report provides invaluable advice for those aspiring to become a CFO.”

“This is our second DNA of a CFO report – back by popular demand. This shows that many of the finance executives we deal with at Hays have lofty ambitions and are keen to learn from those that have gone before them,” says Aaron.

Personal and professionals tools of success

Respondents in Asia nominated the top five personal attributes a CFO must possess as having a ‘proactive nature’ (61 per cent), ‘hard working’ (46 per cent), ‘analytical’ (42 per cent), ‘goal-focused’ (39 per cent), ‘collaborative’ (37 per cent), ‘adaptive’ (35 per cent) and ‘confident’ (34 per cent).

Most respondents in Asia prefer meeting professional contacts at dedicated networking events (53 per cent) to other methods but some don’t network with other CFOs (15 per cent) opting instead for business or technical events or even internal events within their organisation.

76 per cent of respondents in Asia have an account with the professional business social media platform, LinkedIn.

CFOs in Asia prefer to keep up with events impacting business via free news sites (48 per cent), website subscriptions (45 per cent), through professional associations (43 per cent) and printed newspapers (32 per cent).

Education and additional learning

Looking at formal qualifications, 77 per cent of our survey group hold a bachelor degree in business, commerce, finance or economics. A total of 36 per cent are Certified Practising Accountants (CPA qualified), 15 per cent ACCA qualified and six per cent CA/ICAA qualified with small numbers holding other qualifications from professional bodies. Half of the survey group have also obtained an MBA, 31 per cent a masters degree and seven per cent a postgraduate diploma.

Work experience needed to land the top role

Most CFOs surveyed in Asia (30 per cent) had clocked up six to 10 years of work experience before being appointed CFO. 29 per cent had 11 to 15 years PQE before becoming CFO but 20 per cent had less than six years’ experience. Another 16 per cent had 16 to 20 years PQE before ascending to the top finance job and five per cent more than 20.

International experience and career success

A total of 42 per cent of the finance leaders surveyed for our report had worked outside of Asia during their career.

Most respondents in Asia (69 per cent) who had worked outside Asia had done so for more than two years. A total of 44 per cent of all respondents in Asia with international experience had worked in North America, while 35 per cent had worked in Europe, 23 per cent in the UK, 20 per cent in ANZ, seven per cent in the Middle East and four per cent in South America.

A hefty 78 per cent described their international experience as of ‘considerable’ benefit to their career and 22 per cent said the experience had ‘some’ benefit to their career.

Five leading CFOs in Asia share their tips on how to reach the leading job in finance

Evaluating a new job role on the opportunity it offers to take on challenges and build skills and knowledge is more important for those aspiring to become a Chief Financial Officer than focusing on job title, location or even salary package, according to senior finance leaders interviewed by recruiting experts Hays.

Aspirants should also actively invest in developing excellent people management, strategic planning skills, commercial awareness and communications skills as well as a proactive attitude to complement strong financial skills if they hope to succeed as the financial leader of an organisation.

These are some of the important insights shared during a series of in-depth face-to-face interviews with CFOs along with the findings of an extensive survey of 400+ senior finance executives and published by Hays in the report, DNA of a CFO – the makings of a Chief Financial Officer in Asia.

The five CFOs profiled were:

  • Herbert Werner, CFO, Trucks Asia, Japan,
  • Rakesh Sinha, Group CFO and Executive Director of PureCircle in Malaysia
  • John Jin, CFO of PayPal in Greater China
  • Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan, Global Head of Corporate Finance, Olam International
  • Hah Leong Kean, CFO for Cigna Hong Kong
Build people-related skills on a strong technical foundation

John Jin says reaching CFO level requires diligent career goal setting. He recommends choosing job roles and work assignments that help hone a strong technical base that includes accounting, reporting, controllship, corporate governance and other fundamental skills.

As candidates move along their career journey they should actively develop influencing skills and the ability to drive strategic partnerships in order to achieve the organisation’s goals. He urges aspirants to develop a genuine interest in the people they work with. This will help them find the best way to engage with people and get the most out of their working relationships.

Be able to work beyond the numbers with every discipline

While most respondents built their career exclusively in finance or had spent the majority of their career in finance, they emphasised the need to develop a suite of skills that support collaboration and communication with all areas of the business.

Herbert Werner estimates he spends half his time talking to non-finance leaders in all areas of the business.

“The CFO is usually the number two in the company, and is therefore involved in all different functions. This is not only because of the numbers, but because the CFO has business acumen and knows what is good for the company as a whole,” says Herbert.

Stay connected and invest in learning to keep up with the latest tools and trends

Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan (known as Venkat) is an active member of professional associations where he networks and continues his professional education.

“I am constantly learning from everyone, be it from my business partner or the tea lady at work. There’s always something to learn.”

Hah Leong Kean says keeping across the latest trends can be achieved through a “learning mindset” and networking.

“The tools we use today were not even taught during my schooldays, and likewise, the tools we are going to use in the future would not be taught in school today,” he says.

International experience

Herbert Werner worked in Germany, the US and South Africa before being appointed to his current role at Trucks Asia, Japan. He said working in different markets challenged his assumptions about other countries/regions and also enabled him to identify the strengths of each business culture so he could apply these in his work.

Rakesh Sinha has worked in six countries over a 25-year career and has no doubt his international experience continues to be of benefit.

“Immersion in overseas markets had helped my ability to manage people in teams that are cross-cultural. It’s provided me with a broader perspective and taught me to adapt to new cultures, situations and markets,” says Rakesh.

Looking into the future

Over the next five years, more than half of respondents expect CFOs will need to grow their commercial awareness. Changing financial regulations will also be a major challenge for CFOs creating a greater need for them to focus on compliance and regulation and play a greater advisory role in the organisation.

Hah Leong Kean says CFOs must find ways to become more nimble in the way they learn to stay ahead of the curve and understand new technologies but also the latest business cultures such as the start up culture.

Final words of advice

Herbert Werner’s number one piece of advice for aspiring financial leaders is to develop strong communication skills.

“Communication is imperative to get information from people and to influence people,” he said.

He says aspiring CFOs should also be conscious of exercising good judgement in other people, as 75 per cent of the role is to lead and bring people together. And he also advises people to work at different companies in different roles to gain a better understanding of different job functions and how each contributes to the success of the organisation.

“Hays is fortunate to have had the invaluable input of five outstanding CFOs as well as 411 other financial leaders across Asia to help bring to life just what makes a CFO stand apart from other executives in the organisation,” says Tom Osborne, Managing Director of Hays Malaysia.

“This is our second DNA of a CFO report. This report is packed with useful tips on how to develop the personal and professional strengths needed to reach CFO-level and thrive in the role once it is reached,” says Tom.

“Our thanks to the many professionals who helped us create our second targeted career guide for those aspiring to become a CFO.”


What is the Education Pathway to a Banking & Finance Degree After High School?

Choosing the right course to study in Malaysia after secondary school is one of the most important decisions you can make in your life.  Students after SPM or IGCSE/O-Levels with at least 5 credits including Maths subjects may enter a Foundation in Business or Foundation in Arts at a top private university in Malaysia for 1 year before continuing on to the 3-year banking or finance degree programme.

Alternatively, students with at least 3 credits in SPM or IGCSE/O-Levels including Maths may go for the Diploma in Accounting or Diploma in Finance and then enter into Year 2 of the accounting, banking or finance degree programme. You will take about 2 years to complete the degree.

Pre-University students with the relevant results in STPMA-LevelsSAMCPUAUSMAT, etc. can enter directly into Year 1 of the Banking & Finance degree providing they meet the minimum entry requirements.

Established since 2009, EduSpiral Consultant Services is a top recruitment agent for top private universities in Malaysia and private colleges in Singapore providing information and counselling on courses and helping students to choose the right universityEduSpiral Consultant Services sets ourselves apart from other agents by providing counseling based on facts and evidence so that our students are able to make the right choices after SPM, IGCSE/O-Levels, UEC, STPM, A-Levels or Pre-University. We research on articles and information to help them make the right choices about choosing their career and course in Banking & Finance.

If you are still not sure what to study, please contact us and we will send you a free EduSpiral Career Assessment Form.

4 thoughts on “Career in the Financial Sector in Malaysia

  1. Hi eduspiral, I would like to know whether careers like physiotherapist, physchologist or speech pathologist have high demand in Malaysia ..

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