How to become a Chief Financial Officer in Singapore

By Robert Half on 21 November 2023
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

Would you like to follow the CFO career path all the way to the C-suite in Singapore?

Perhaps you’re looking for the latest industry trends and resources to help move your career in the direction you want to go, or you've held several finance jobs and want to do some career assessment.

You may wonder whether your professional experience meets the standard career path for leading the financial operations of a Singaporean or global company.

Our Managing Director of Robert Half Singapore, Andrea Wong, is a specialised recruiter in hiring senior finance professionals including CFOs, financial controllers and finance directors. In her 12 years of experience in recruitment, Andrea identifies six key considerations she makes when assessing someone for a CFO role:

  • Forward-looking – based on historical data, what can they predict?
  • Cashflow – can they predict the cash inflow and outflow to use cash at the optimal level?
  • Investor relationship – from a corporate finance perspective, are they asking for the line of credit from bank, injecting capital from investor/shareholders?
  • Confidence - are they ready to be the spokesperson of a company in front of internal staff or external or media?
  • Stakeholder management – are they ready to present in front of CEO, Chairman and other board of director and be able to explain in Layman's terms numbers and forecasts?
  • Market intelligence - do they possess the market intelligence and the external network to stay on top of the game in the industry?

To begin your journey and tick all the boxes of a recruiter, here are seven steps on how to become a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and how to guide your career path to acquire the skills you’ll need.

1. Gain broad financial experience

Before you even consider the questions of how to become a CFO, you'll need a firm grasp of the fundamentals of budgeting, analysis, compliance, risk management and other accounting principals.

As a CFO, your job will be to ensure that the CEO and board's decisions are financially sound, both in regard to resources available and regulatory compliance. Having solid financial experience makes you more apt to make these judgments.

Sometimes, especially at small companies, the same person serves as chief executive officer and chief financial officer, making this financial expertise even more crucial.

Related: 6 interesting reasons to pursue a finance career in Singapore

2. Expand your business and operational experience

Gaining a deep understanding of the business is critical when learning how to become a CFO. You'll regularly meet with the board and collaborate with managers as a CFO.

For this reason, you need a broader understanding of the business and operational sides of a company.

No matter how talented you are in business development or technology — or whatever other areas of the business you’ve worked in — you’re not likely to realise your goal of becoming a CFO if you don’t master the fundamental skills that the job requires.

CFOs are expected to have broad knowledge in a wide range of technical areas, from budgeting and analysis to compliance and risk management.

3. Develop your communication and diplomacy skills

Not only as CFO will you be responsible to the board regarding the financial status of a company, but you'll also speak with investors. You'll serve as a conduit between what they want to see from the company and the board.

These communications will be frequent, as investors are key stakeholders of the business. Focusing on your communications skills will be crucial to serve this responsibility.

Nontechnical abilities, like active listening and diplomacy, are also essential for CFOs to be effective leaders. Other traits, like integrity and empathy, are also highly valued by employers. So, look for professional development opportunities that will allow you to refine these vital skills and attributes.

Related: Why is commercial acumen so important for a finance career?

4. Broaden your understanding of technology

With more number-crunching in the cloud, Software as a Service and other innovations permeating the finance industry, part of the process of how to become a CFO is understanding the benefits and risks associated with technology.

Technology, from cloud computing to big data analysis to robotic process automation, is becoming increasingly important to the everyday operations of accounting and finance functions.

CFOs need to understand the benefits and risks of implementing financial systems and other technologies. CFOs are also often seated at the strategic decision-making table when the business itself is considering new IT investments.

Growing your technology expertise doesn’t mean becoming an IT expert. But if you do become a CFO, you’ll likely need to collaborate frequently with one such expert — namely, the chief information officer (CIO).

So, pay close attention to what is happening technologically in your organisation and industry, and why, and become “digitally fluent” at least from a business and finance perspective.

5. Earn a CPA or MBA

Although CFOs come from various backgrounds, certain certifications and advanced degrees tend to make transitioning into the position easier. CPA qualifications are often the most suited for the role given their wide-reaching skills they represent, including forensic accounting and compliance knowledge.

A masters in business administration is often useful in conjunction with the CPA. Earning an MBA is helpful for increasing your business and operational understanding.

It can also be valuable for professionals aiming to become a CFO to earn certain certifications and advanced degrees. Many businesses prefer to hire candidates who have a MBA and/or an in-demand designation, or Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

6. Consider consulting roles

For many experienced financial professionals, consulting is an important step toward earning the kind of experience and expertise that can help position them for a senior leadership role in the field.

As consultants, they can work on diverse assignments, learn best practices, gain exposure to different industries, and maintain a flexible schedule — and accelerate their career progression.

Businesses today rely on senior-level consultants to provide specialised expertise to key projects or business initiatives that can last weeks, months or even longer.

Related: How much does a CFO earn in Singapore? Find out this year's salary in the Robert Half Salary Guide.

7. Understanding the new labour model

CFOs at many leading firms are now embracing a new labor model for finance that is designed to meet the needs of businesses in the digital age.

They are relying more on a flexible labor force that includes full-time employees who are focused on critical initiatives; interim and project-based professionals who help to support them, usually for a finite period; and other specialised resources that can provide additional capabilities and perform high-value work on an as-needed basis.

The upshot for you as a potential CFO of the future is to understand this growing trend, and to know when, why and how you might apply this staffing strategy in your organisation one day.

Learn how to become a CFO and accelerate your career potential

Ultimately, consider that 57 percent of CFOs are satisfied in their role and don't plan to change careers.

Between new roles and continuing education, it may take years to get there, but many who have taken the CFO career path feel it's worth the journey in the end.

You might even want to explore setting up a mentoring relationship with a financial leader you know and admire. That way, you’ll get more direct guidance and feedback that can help you be more strategic in the steps you take to become a CFO.

Applying for Chief Financial Officer roles in Singapore? As a leader in finance recruitment, Robert Half can help you find the right role for you in Singapore.

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