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Stop Fighting Battles: How to Win the Finance Talent War

The accounting sector has a problem with numbers.


Specifically, it’s becoming harder and harder for firms to attract top talent. Why? There just aren’t enough talented bodies to go around. In what’s come to be known as the ‘war for talent’, top firms are finding it increasingly difficult to secure and retain highly qualified finance and accounting professionals.

Attracting top talent from a limited pool, while important and necessary, is only a short-term solution. As the pool of qualified candidates shrinks, this strategy soon becomes unsustainable. Only by addressing the underlying causes that are contributing to the finance talent gap can firms truly future-proof their business in the current climate.

What On Earth is a Talent War?

There is an education gap in finance and accountancy. Finance education predominantly prepares future professionals for entry level accounting and finance positions. This means that new entrants to the field are competent and highly skilled when it comes to performing audits and filing tax returns, but lack the required skills to move beyond their entry level employment and into management accounting roles.

The skills required to move into senior management roles include budgeting, forecasting and financial strategic planning. This is a significantly different skillset from that required to perform lower level accounting positions. In order for new entrants to acquire these skills, they would be required to attend training, take courses and to gain further qualifications that relate to the required skillset. However, this may be easier said than done.

Many young professionals may feel unable to take time off or pay out of pocket for professional development. Further qualifications are time consuming and naturally require candidates to sacrifice time and effort. In a hyper-competitive market, and with the economy and cost of living working against younger professionals, taking time out for education – even if it is likely to pay off in the long term – just doesn’t seem plausible.

When younger professionals are unable to acquire the skills required to move into senior management roles, and older professionals begin to retire, what naturally results is a gap in talent. With fewer qualified candidates, firms struggle to recruit and, as a consequence, those who are qualified can increasingly demand higher salaries and benefits. Eventually, even this is not enough, and it becomes harder and harder for businesses to recruit top talent. Pretty soon, it becomes known as a talent war.

How to Attract Top Financial Talent

So, we have a talent war. What’s to be done? One obvious solution is to make sure that what your firm is offering is better than your competitors. If you want the best, you have to offer them something that they can’t find elsewhere.

Here are five ways you can ensure that your business isn’t left behind in the war for financial talent:

  • Automate: With the rise of advanced software solutions, cloud accounting and AI, there’s no reason for your highly qualified accounting employees to be performing dull or repetitive tasks. If you ensure that you have the technology in place to avoid monotony, then you can offer candidates an interesting and rewarding work day, every day, rather than arduous drudgery.
  • Be Flexible: We’ve talked before about how flexibility is the number one factor that millennial employees prioritize when making career decisions. If you don’t offer flexibility, you can be sure your competitors will. Working from home and flexible hours are becoming the new norm and if you don’t keep up, you’re sure to be left behind.
  • Be Authentic: Be honest about what you’re offering – don’t put on a show or make promises that you won’t keep. When it comes to hiring practices, your reputation is everything. Short term gains acquired by underhand means will have long term consequences. Remember that any recruitment process is a negotiation. Some applicants will not be a good fit for your business and, just as importantly, your business will not be a good fit for some applicants. Be honest and willing to accept this, even if it means missing out on first choice candidate.
  • Empower: Listen, praise, forgive and trust. It’s not rocket science, but you’d be amazed how rare it is to find. Ensure employees have their voices heard, and are given generous room to innovate and improve. After all, it’s employees who come in every day and perform their particular role – they’re likely best placed to see what works and what doesn’t. This means that minor mistakes may need to be forgiven, but that’s worth it in the long run. Build trust and praise effort as much as success. Create this kind of culture and you’ll have candidates queuing at the door.
  • Engage: How to ensure that potential employees will be engaged? It’s all about setting the right conditions for engagement to flourish. If you haven’t already, it might be time to dust off your brand values and mission statement – have a look and see whether they reflect values of the employees you have, and the employees you’re looking to recruit. If you care about your employees, and care about the things your employees care about, then they’ll want to work for you and they’ll work hard towards making your business successful for everyone’s benefit.

How to Solve, Not Win, the Talent War

Attracting top talent is important, but it won’t solve the underlying problems that have led to the ongoing shortage of qualified candidates. Firms must make fundamental structural changes if they want to future-proof their finance and accounting talent pool.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, firms should address the problems caused by the education gap. Senior management should be willing to invest in the training and education of existing employees who will fill senior positions in the future. Professional development must be built into the corporate structure, so that employees don’t have to make tough choices or take risks in order to improve and progress.

Another solution is to create intermediate posts between entry level and senior positions. If it’s not possible for a younger employee to step between his or her role and the next on the ladder, add another rung. Provide additional responsibilities at a manageable pace, and mentorship along the way. A McKinsey study found, in 2017, that one-third of existing talent gaps can be addressed by re-skilling current employees.

It may also be beneficial to re-think what you look for in a potential candidate. As the sector embraces artificial intelligence and automation, the most important skills for senior finance and accounting employees will necessarily change. Qualifications from prestigious schools and incredibly impressive test scores will no longer indicate aptitude, as technology removes much of the need for computational thinking, candidates who demonstrate impressive soft skills, such as approachability, leadership and communication, will be prized.

It may also profit businesses to look to the world of technology for candidates. As the industry becomes more reliant on software, the benefits of having someone on the team who understands how it works cannot be overstated. Firms willing to wider their prospective candidate pool and look to hire intelligent, empathetic and engaged employees from a range of backgrounds will likely reap the rewards for years to come.

Have you struggled to recruit top talent in the finance sector? Do you offer something unique that makes employees excited to work with you? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!