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FP&A: Developing Bold, Externally Focused, Curious and Business-Minded Finance Professionals

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FPAC
  • Published: 3/15/2021

Last year, AFP announced the formation of its APAC FP&A Advisory Council (FPAAC). The networking and advisory group meets three to four times a year to discuss best practices, common challenges and innovative initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. We’ll be profiling individual members of the council every month. This month we spoke with Weng Hong Yong, FPAC, executive director, City Mental Health Alliance.

AFP: Let’s start with some background on your career. How did you get into FP&A?

Yong: I graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a degree in accounting, and, instead of going into auditing, I decided to go to work for a commercial company: Singapore Technology Group. For the next eight years, I worked in financial and management accounting roles, during which time I also worked for Nestle and Asia Pacific Breweries (S) Pte Ltd. (APBL), and then Heineken after it acquired APBL.

The experience I gained in corporate finance was extremely enriching. I had the opportunity to play an active and lead role in the company’s regional expansion through organic growth and M&A. Besides heading teams in pre-deal due diligence and post-deal integration, I was involved in fundraising and investor relationships. As part of the succession planning to become finance director of APBL, I also had the opportunity to represent the company on boards of listed companies and joint ventures.

After stepping out of Heineken in early 2020, I joined the Singapore Center for Social Enterprise (raiSE) as a fellow, where I help social enterprises shape their business strategy, improve business performance and explore business expansion opportunities. I also recently joined City Mental Health Alliance as their executive director for the Singapore chapter. This is a startup with a vision to create mentally healthy workplaces and inspire health creation in businesses.

AFP: What are your goals for being on AFP's Asia Pacific Advisory Council? Keyur Shah

Yong: I see AFP as having a unique opportunity to bring value to the finance community beyond the traditional sense of rule-based financial accounting. Having knowledge of accounting and system controls is important, but it should not stop there. Businesses exist for a purpose, and the role of the finance function should be that of an enabler for the business rather than just focusing on compliance. My goal for being on the Council is to work alongside AFP to reshape the thinking of finance professionals as business partners and co-pilots to the CEO. 

See how becoming certified in FP&A can advance your career and validate your unique skillset. Download the FPAC brochure here.

AFP: How has your FP&A background made you a better all-around businessperson?

Yong: Having played the FP&A role in a regional leadership capacity, transforming the traditional management accounting function to active business partnering, I’ve come to recognize the importance of a few key tactics all FP&A professionals should engage in:

  • Get out from behind the desk to engage your business in understanding the market, the customers and the competitors — be externally focused.
  • Be curious and do not accept things at face value.
  • Be a catalyst for change: agile and adaptable.
  • Speak out, respectfully.

Mixing the above with strong data analysis enables good quality insights that make sense to the business. There’s more to it than the technical skills of accounting and data crunching. FP&A plays a unique role in converting accounting or technical financial language into a meaningful business story that make sense to any businessperson. Now that I have stepped out of finance into a lead role in a start-up, I find that my past experiences are of great help in engaging meaningful business conversations in a totally new field. 

AFP: I made a note of several comments you made at the last Advisory Council meeting about the challenge in Asia of speaking out. Can you touch on that?

Yong: Some Asians tend to be hesitant about sharing their views, especially with Europeans or Americans, in meetings. It is important for FP&A professionals to have the courage to speak out. Different functions in an organization play different roles. By not speaking out, we deprive the team of a view that could be crucial to engaging in a new strategy or making a crucial decision. Even if the observation or the recommendation is contrary to mass opinion, it should be shared so that a holistic view or a more robust decision can be formed. 

As leaders, we are also responsible for creating a safe environment to develop bold, externally focused, curious, and business-minded finance professionals beyond the hard skills of data analytics and rule-based compliance.

AFP: How can finance be a coach to the business?

Yong: By asking questions and listening. In my role as fellow for raiSE, I coach entrepreneurs on how to have financial sensitivity and sensibility when managing their businesses. My experience in FP&A more than equipped me to have those conversations and to contribute to shaping their businesses. 

I get them to look externally at the competitive landscape rather than obsessing over their love for their product. Asking insightful and tough questions helps trigger the thinking process of these owners. Going through the SWOT analysis makes them aware that there are options available to them to pivot or fortify their positions. It also makes them aware of the threats surrounding them. 

Of course, the other important elements of using available data for insights, having the courage to speak out and engage in such discussions can be tough as there is a certain level of pride in these entrepreneurs regarding their products and services.

AFP: Any parting words for young aspiring FP&A professionals?

Yong: Be externally focused, stay curious and be a catalyst to the business.

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