Accounting: S'pore firms 'lag behind global peers'

COMPANIES in Singapore achieved productivity gains in the past year in terms of accountancy and finance but still lag behind their global peers, a new report has concluded.

A poll was conducted by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) and business software developer SAP to assess the productivity of accounting and finance functions based on three categories: business efficiency, labour efficiency and working capital efficiency.

Under business efficiency, firms in Singapore took 24 days to close their annual books, longer than the 18.5 days taken by companies elsewhere. Still, this was faster than last year, when they took 27.9 days.

Mr Koert Breebaart, industry and value adviser at SAP South-east Asia, blamed this on Singapore companies' lower adoption of technology than firms elsewhere. Just 30 per cent of companies here automated the generation of standardised reports, which the survey said could help them close their quarterly books faster.

The results also showed gaps between industries: Manufacturing firms closed their annual books at just over three weeks, or 22 days. Wholesale and retail firms took more than four weeks, or 29.6 days.

Mr Breebaart cited the "inherent complexity difference" between industries, as wholesale and retail companies tended to have "supply chains that go around the world", while manufacturers might only have "one or two factories in one region".

He said different sectors did not always put the same emphasis on technology.

Singapore's performance in the labour efficiency category remained on par with firms elsewhere. Companies here made $11.4 million in revenue for each full-time finance staff member or the equivalent, just under the global average of $11.5 million. And they spent 0.94 per cent of their revenue on their finance teams, a whisker above the global average of 0.93 per cent.

The working capital efficiency category measured five indicators. Firms here did especially badly in the cash conversion cycle indicator, taking 78 days to convert production input into cash flow, far longer than the global average of 54.2 days. But they were in the top quarter in terms of how long it took a firm to sell inventory stock.

ISCA chief executive Lee Fook Chiew said a more productive finance team did not just save costs but meant that "you can get information faster to the people who make the decisions" and "respond faster to competition and the client's needs".

Mr See Keh Hin, financial services controller (Asia-Pacific) at energy services manufacturing firm John Crane his company had considered outsourcing part of its finance function to allow it to "use finance for a risk management role rather than for processing documents".