Building the Right Opportunities – Interview with Steve Settle from CFO Centre Asia

It’s no secret that running a business comes with its fair share of risks. With the right tools and, most importantly — the right talent, these risks can be mitigated to bring the business to its true potential. Here with Steve Settle, Managing Director of CFO Centre Asia, he shares some of the key issues faced by growing businesses and entrepreneurs in this technology-enabled digital world, and shares how having an experienced CFO can steer businesses to adopt strategic solutions catered to their needs. Read up to learn more about how his CFOs pave the way for growing companies and why SPECTRUM is the perfect place for them.

Hi Steve! Thank you for joining us in this interview. Can you tell us more about yourself?

I’m British originally, an engineering graduate who then became a Chartered Accountant. I moved to Australia in my mid-twenties with Price Waterhouse and spent 15 years there, ultimately working for a company called Thomson Financial (now Thomson Reuters) as regional CFO, running the Asia Pacific market from Sydney – not ideal.

The company reorganised and the European and Asian CEO’s switched positions. The CEO from Europe was given the choice to move the headquarters from Sydney to either Hong Kong, Japan or Singapore. He decided on Singapore as his wife had been to school at UWC and had fond memories of the country. So we moved the regional HQ from Sydney to Singapore – where I have been now for 21 years.

How did CFO Centre start?

In 2013, I was introduced to Colin Mills – the founder of CFO Centre and this year marks our 21st birthday. Colin was previously a corporate CFO who one day, found himself in Europe on business with his young kids at home. He woke up in a hotel, couldn’t instantly recall which city he was in, and thought, “That’s it. I’ve had enough of this”.

He started doing some work for a small company run by a contact of his wife. He noticed that the company’s growth aspirations were hindered by the lack of input from an experienced financial professional. They had a bookkeeper/accountant to cover the necessary reporting and compliance work, but nobody who could provide strategic input, ask the difficult questions or streamline the financial operations.  The cost of hiring someone like that was prohibitive and there would not have been enough work to keep them occupied full time.

Hence, Colin started a part-time CFO business which has grown to over 750 CFOs across almost every continent, and over 90 offices around the world – quite a substantial global business.

When I met Colin in 2013, he said that they were looking to kick off in Asia, and he was looking for someone who knew what a CFO does, had been in Singapore for a while, and who believed in the business model. My reply was, “it’s a fantastic business model but way too early for Asia!”. Back in 2013, parents were counselling their children not to work for start-ups, but to work for companies with an established brand. It was nothing like how it is now where we have SPECTRUM, and all the many different coworking spaces and accelerator programmes.

What’s the difference between a CFO and a Senior Accountant?

A Senior Accountant’s role is more technical in nature and specifically focussed on the finance function. A CFO however, requires broader experience and has a much wider focus across all of the business. They need to be able to mentor and develop their team, relate and add value to other disciplines outside of finance, communicate clearly (internally and externally), manage risk but be forward thinking and be a business partner to the CEO/entrepreneur.

Although an accountant and a CFO both deal with numbers, the CFO needs to know how to use the numbers to drive the correct business decisions, and effectively allocate business resources. Hence, a CFO is more of a businessperson than someone who’s just good with numbers.

When would a company use someone from the CFO Centre rather than hiring their own CFO?

Our sweet spot is companies that are in their growth stage. They may have evolved to have multiple products, have a presence in multiple countries, but have lost track of their financials – their systems, process and reporting are no longer fit for purpose and do not adequately support the business. I would say that the companies that would be in our sweet spot would generate revenue between five to 25 million – although we have helped businesses that turnover anything from one hundred thousand to a billion dollars.

Although such companies can come from any industry, they tend to come from growth industry sectors.

How do you think technology will shape the future of the financial services industry moving forward?

I think technology is and will continue to impact many industries, not just financial services and the pace of change will only speed up. COVID accelerated the need to do more online, remote working is no longer an exception, efficiencies and cost savings have resulted from increased digitisation across many business disciplines, use of artificial intelligence and robots are on the rise and blockchain and it many applications is driving increased decentralised and digital accountability. Who knows where Web3.0 will lead and the capabilities that will result from quantum computing will add a further dimension. All very exciting!

How has your experience in SPECTRUM been so far?

The place is fantastic! Not only is the space beautifully designed and really functional, the whole concept of getting people together who can collaborate on different things, and having the opportunities to create introductions to others is something you don’t find in other spaces. So I love working here and everyone in SPECTRUM’s been great!

Thank you for joining us in this interview!

You can connect with Steve via LinkedIn to know more about the CFO Centre and the work he does.