insight magazine

CFOs Seeking (But Not Finding) Finance Talent

The greatest staffing challenge facing CFOs in the U.S. and Canada is hiring skilled employees. By Dennis Whitney, CMA | Digital Exclusive - 2019


Finance departments are experiencing a talent crunch. According to a recent study from Robert Half and the Financial Education & Research Foundation, the greatest staffing challenge facing CFOs in the U.S. and Canada in 2019 and beyond is hiring skilled employees. Why is it that CFOs identify this as their most significant challenge? Why do four in 10 financial leaders feel their teams are understaffed? The short answer is that there is a skills gap: The supply of skills most needed on finance teams today falls short of the demand.

Unfortunately, this problem is not going away any time soon. The strong job market in recent years, coupled with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 7 percent growth projection for the accounting and finance profession, suggests this will be a lasting problem for CFOs and finance departments unless senior finance leaders take action.

The Dilemma

The ongoing digital transformation of the finance function is radically changing the skill set needed to take advantage of digital technologies. Artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA), and advanced data analytics and visualization are powerful tools that can help organizations improve processes and generate business insights that can create a competitive advantage. But without the right people on the team, the finance staff often spends most of its time on the traditional finance functions of oversight and hindsight. CFOs are increasingly looking for finance professionals who can leverage digital technologies to deliver the more valuable functions of foresight and insight.

This skills shortage is also due in part to the slow pace of change in traditional undergraduate accounting programs and the failure of corporate training programs to adapt and address current needs. Accounting associations like the Illinois CPA Society, IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) have responded by developing education and resources and certificate programs that allow accounting professionals to develop the skills they need to become future-ready and, hopefully, future proof.

The AICPA and IMA both have revised their respective certification exams to better prepare accountants entering the profession and upskill the current workforce for a profession that increasingly values analytics, technology, and strategic decision-making and planning. This reflects the evolution of the accounting profession, as accountants are being asked to move beyond protecting value, public financial reporting, and regulatory compliance. These functions are still very important, and they are certainly not going away, but the business partnering role has become more essential. Finance’s role has evolved into a dual focus of protecting value and creating value. The business partnering skills of insight and foresight, specifically how the finance team can use data analytics to create value for the company, are what is needed for accountants to develop to advance their careers.

Taking Action

CFOs and other finance leaders can play a big role in narrowing the skills gap. To solve the problem, businesses, universities, and associations need to work together to better prepare our current and future talent. We need to collaborate on training programs that more directly fit organizations’ needs.

CFOs have the leverage to jump start the conversation about developing new training programs that focus on future-ready skills sought by business leaders. Finance teams can work directly with their local and national professional associations, using their competency frameworks to identify the skills needed and to design training programs for new recruits and existing staff who might not have all the desired competencies.

Companies cannot rely only on university accounting curricula to cover all the necessary skills. Rather, corporate finance leaders can be champions of change. In response to industry feedback, many universities now integrate data analytics into their courses, so students are beginning to learn these technical skills. The best university programs also are working toward developing strong critical thinking skills, which is essential in the new world of AI and RPA.

To ensure there is no talent gap, the proactive finance executive needs to see the future and work alongside the profession’s stakeholders to create the talent necessary for driving innovative business insight that will outperform the competition.
Dennis Whitney, CMA, is IMA’s senior vice president of certifications, exams, & content integration.

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