As published in Consultancy.asia, Tuesday, 12 April 2023, Joon Teoh on Finance and Shared Services Consultancy AGOS Asia - Consultancy.asia
After 15 years helping one of the world’s largest tobacco companies realise the benefits of shared services, Joon Teoh launched finance consultancy AGOS – to help other companies do the same. She spoke to Consultancy.asia about how the firm is helping global corporations in getting the most from their newly conjoined functions.
Joon Teoh has spent more than a decade in professional services – including time with one of the world’s biggest firms – but it wasn’t until she left the sector that she first realised her knack for business strategy. After graduating from the London School of Economics with a degree in accounting and finance, she returned to Malaysia, to work with former Big Five constituent Arthur Andersen.
“I was so lucky to have had great mentors at Arthur Andersen and qualified as a Chartered Accountant with the ICAEW,” said Teoh.
But after two years at Arthur Andersen, “I became curious about the processes and strategies that underpinned all those financial statements I was required to audit. The numbers are fine, but they only tell a small part of a very interesting story. I wanted to know how the end to end processes and the resulting impact works.”
A spell in industry beckoned – and in 2000, Teoh opted to join British American Tobacco’s growing operations in Malaysia. It was in that period that she explored her potential as a business leader and strategist. After being recruited by Finance Director James Irvine, who Teoh says “threw many challenges my way over the years”, she quickly “toughened up and honed my problem-solving and critical-thinking skills”.
Over the coming years, she not only gained significant experience in internal auditing, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, supply chain finance, marketing finance and taxation – she also realised the benefits of shared services.
Shared services is a corporate practice that sees business functions (mostly support office functions to begin with ) centralised into a single unit. This typically has significant merit for large companies with substantial global footprints, a large number of subsidiaries, or both.
When Teoh joined British American Tabaco, the nation had just been selected as the firm’s global shared financial services hub, giving her a first-hand insight into how consolidating services into a single location can benefit major organisations.
After ascending to the role of Head of Global Service Management for Global Finance Shared Services, Teoh called time on her 15-year stay at the company – deciding the time was right to strike out alone. Having mastered the ins and outs of the space, Teoh was keen to help other companies realise the opportunities of shared services across Malaysia. AGOS – which stands for ‘A Grain Of Sand’ – was born.
“We focus on Finance Shared Services and Global Business Services,” she explained, “helping clients through the full lifecycle, from design and setup to implementation and ongoing optimisation.”
“Post pandemic, we have seen a surge in interest and demand from multinationals from the US and Europe in setting up global business centres and shared service centers in Malaysia and the Philippines. There is a better understanding and recognition of the benefits and enabling role such centers can play in pivoting an organisation towards digital adoption and an agile workforce.”
The firm also guides companies through the sometimes complex change management process. Bringing people & functions together from different subsidiaries comes with its challenges for any corporation, and as a result, shared services implementations come with their own internal practices and idiosyncrasies – which can be hard to overcome, culturally or functionally.
“We help leaders with bridging the gaps between units and making the overall process as smooth as possible,” said Teoh.
One of the key benefits of shared services lies in the potential to embrace technologies to digitise and streamline operations.
AGOS offers support with the implementation of technological solutions, from ERP systems and applications to software robots for repetitive tasks (known as robotic process automation) and the delivery of analytical dashboards.
“Thanks to advanced robotic process automation software we are able to build intelligent, pattern-sensing robots into any number of finance-related functions. So, instead of a human operator having to for example recognise and tabulate thousands of invoices a week, these virtual robots can be calibrated to run through just as many invoices in less than a day.”
Teoh said that robotic process automation can be applied on most transactional parts of the finance value chain, “things like purchase orders, invoice processing and supply chain payment functions.”
Competing in a crowded consultancy landscape, Teoh firmly believes that the future belongs to those who can scan the market efficiently, evaluate new technology solutions quickly and recommend its application to their respective clients. “This will clearly provide a competitive edge to the organisation and a powerful value proposition for its talent.”
And this is the sweet spot where AGOS sits in, she said. “We guide and support finance teams through the implementation of their finance shared services strategy and enabling technology.”