Overcoming The Critical Skills Shortages in Finance
All industries face the same hiring challenges – keeping pace with evolving technology and finding the best talent in a strong job market. The finance and accounting industry is no exception, except that it comes with its own unique set of challenges that organizations and accounting services firms face when they want to become competitive in today’s business world.
With digital transformation prevalent in every industry, accounting and finance roles have perhaps been the most affected with many of the tasks being automated and cloud based. In the past, finance managers oversaw the company’s finance, bookkeepers maintained the books and accountants undertook transactional accounts payables and receivables. Today, these roles have merged and some have become obsolete.
Roles in finance today require more than number crunching – they require the ability to analyze and synthesize large volumes of data in a broader business context of sales, operations, data science and supply chain. These are capabilities that most existing accounting and financial professional do not have.
Most of our clients are facing the brunt of the skills gap and cite recruitment as one of their most critical issues. Whilst there is no shortage of accountants, there is a shortage of financial skills with soft skills such as active listening, problem-solving skills and business skills such as strategic planning, business decision support and the ability to present data to a non-financial people.
There is also a shortage of high calibre middle management candidates with soft skills and emotional intelligence to provide strategic and advisory services.
Aside from a technology disruption, there is a generational disruption that is also occurring. The experienced workforce is mostly an aging population who are retiring or about to retire. The older workforce has not been able to adapt to innovative technologies, blockchain, data analytics and cybersecurity which have affected the industry.
As a result, there is a lack of succession pipelines no matter what the discipline, whether accounting, auditing, tax or advisory.
With the wide age gap between the experienced finance workforce and mainly millennials, there is a disconnect with the older generation lacking technology skills and mindset with the younger generation needing to learn the fundamentals of finance and accounting but have the technology aptitude and mindset. This has led to a lack of learning opportunities for the younger generation entering the field.
Striking a balance is critical – techno-centric vs client centric – where firms are using technology to reduce costs and increase productivity, there is an opportunity to leverage technology to get better at what businesses need most – proactive insight analysis and guidance.
Technology cannot replace judgement and a finger on the pulse of the geopolitical and economic landscape.
Data analytics and visualization is enabling businesses to utilize customer intelligence to predict revenue growth and profitability and given end users access to real-time financial information to improve organization performance, respectively. However, these areas need the right skills to interpret the data and present relevant and insightful analysis which will enable the organisation to innovate.
Moving up the value chain – accounting and finance roles need to change from transactional and compliance to strategic advisory, business transformation and data-driven insights. This requires accounting and finance professional to have a deep understanding of strategy, business process, technology integration and automation to serve their businesses for the future and stay relevant.
The career path of an accountant is in flux as it needs to be redefined to address how an accountant builds their experience with automation eliminating many entry level roles. Although technology will augment their knowledge, their strategic and advisory experience will come from years of experience from working in industry. The question remains, how do they get that experience when they cannot even get an entry role?
As the number of hours of traditional transactional accounting is dramatically reduced, finance leaders need to embrace that value-add services are now mainstream activities which they need to provide as the function evolves. In an advisory capacity, finance professional needs to be able to manage liquidity, control costs and make sound investment decisions.
Finance needs to be far more involved in the strategic direction of the business, providing it with rich data and driving high-level decision making and risk management.
With millennials not viewing longevity as a positive career choice, one way to address the skills shortage is to establish a sustainable talent pipeline with a focus on developing and growing people internally.
Change in the accounting and finance industry are inevitable. It is time for business leaders and HR to rethink strategies and culture for attracting, engaging and retaining a new generation of finance and accounting professionals. Those that are embracing this and applying change management in their firms and organizations will survive whilst those who are fighting change will have a challenge competing and surviving.
Unable to find the right level of skills in accounting and finance?
We specialize in finding the most suitable finance candidates for our clients to build a successful workforce – contact us or call +971 552 167567 to explore how we are helping our clients overcome their recruitment challenges.
About Deepa Sud
Deepa is the founder of Plum Jobs, an HR advisory and executive search consultancy based in Dubai.