Selling FP&A To Millennials: Memo To Finance Chiefs

Nilly Essaides

Finance needs to make itself attractive to millennials. By 2020, millennials will make up a significant part of the workforce, and CFOs are already feeling the impact. According to Ajit Kambil, global research director at Deloitte’s CFO Program, the two biggest challenges CFOs face today is developing talent and creating a well-functioning team.  If finance chiefs can figure out how to motivate the new generation and keep their best performers engaged and loyal, they can overcome these challenges.

While financial planning and analysis (FP&A) may not sound as sexy as digital marketing or designing video games, finance should not sell itself short. After the 2008 crisis, a lot of finance-minded students turned sour on banking. However, they’re still interested in the overall field, and there are a lot of exciting opportunities that FP&A can offer millennials, such as:

  • Learning the ins and outs of the business
  • Experiencing multiple facets of the finance function
  • Working at the front end and driving strategy
  • Interacting with senior management to support high-level decisions
  • Playing with cool new technology tools.

While that’s true for various areas of corporate finance, it’s especially true for FP&A. According to David Gray, director of FP&A at C&S Wholesale Grocers, FP&A is now one of the less structured areas in finance. That opens up the possibilities for diversity of background and education; it can be anything from degrees in science, to history, or computer sciences. It also perfectly suits millennials’ natural curiosity and tendency to ask a lot of “why” questions. “What we need is a good mind,” Gray said.

An image makeover

To attract this new talent, finance needs to change its approach and clearly communicate these changes to prospective employees. It must transform from the stodgy reporting-oriented department of yesterday to a forward-looking, technology-enabled, decision-support business partnership team.

  1. Deliver a sense of purpose. One thing that works in FP&A’s favor is that it offers a way to truly impact organizational performance. That’s something that speaks directly to millennials’ desire to make a bigger impact; it needs to be clearly stated to new recruits.
  1. Offer continuous learning. Millennials are impatient and perpetually curious. It’s important to offer them constant challenges inside and outside the organization. Internally, that means new assignments and cross-functional projects. Externally, it’s continuous education and career development opportunities like AFP’s FP&A Certification program. The two-year old program has 2,000 enrollees in over 60 countries.
  1. Be upfront about the function. Finally, don’t sell a pie in the sky. Senior finance executives should be honest about what the job is really like, while drawing on their own passion for the profession to get new recruits enthused about the prospect of working in the field.

Take a different perspective

Recruiters say that finance executives need to look at millennials’ careers the way millennials do. While executive search firm Spencer Stuart generally conducts assignments at the most senior levels within organizations, consultant Phil Murphy recruits millennials for certain positions and also works with millennials on his own team. Murphy points out that millennials view career management very differently from previous generations, as evidenced by frequency of job changes. In the past, people generally believed long, stable tenures with organizations served as important indicators of job performance. But millennials don’t necessarily think this way. “They are much more willing to take chances with their careers early on, experience different environments, and proactively acquire different skills across multiple organizations,” Murphy said. Finance executives who understand this will have an easier time attracting new talent to their organization.

They also need to feed into their desire to work independently but see the big picture. Darpan Agrawal, director and head of FP&A for Asia Pacific at Philips Health Tech, manages a relatively young team. “The advantage they bring is that they’re knowledgeable and are interested in what is happening throughout the company,” he said. “They are fast to learn and fast to execute and don’t need to be spoon fed.” It’s incumbent on finance executives to leverage that mindset and make it clear to candidates that they’ll be able to exercise their intellectual curiosity and branch out while understanding how that work affects the organization as a whole.

According to Chris Ortega, a millennial and manager of FP&A at WebLink International, a lot of businesses have yet to understand the needs of this new generation. “If you apply the overall tone from the Baby Boomers, you will lose them,” he said. “They want not to [just] join companies, but have the opportunity to shape them. Companies that can make that commitment will have an advantage. That’s the differentiator.”

For additional insights on managing millennials, attend the session Demystifying and Developing Millennial Careers at the AFP Annual Conference this October. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter.

Nilly Essaides

About Nilly Essaides

Nilly Essaides is senior research director, Finance & EPM Advisory Practice at The Hackett Group. Nilly is a thought leader and frequent speaker and meeting facilitator at industry events, the author of multiple in-depth guides on financial planning & analysis topics, as well as monthly articles and numerous blogs. She was formerly director and practice lead of Financial Planning & Analysis at the Association for Financial Professionals, and managing director at the NeuGroup, where she co-led the company’s successful peer group business. Nilly also co-authored a book about knowledge management and how to transfer best practices with the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC).