Millennials Are Transforming How Finance Works

Estelle Lagorce

If you haven’t already, get used to it: Millennials are now officially the largest demographic group in the U.S. workforce. And they have very different aspirations and expectations than their fellow workers do about the nature of work.

Millennials are typically self-motivated and forward-looking. They understand the power of technology and social media, and all the different ways to use both to network and communicate with one another. So does that make them “dangerous” to how finance operates in the future? Their characteristic work style – caring deeply about workplace satisfaction, social networking, and mobile-addiction – changes the historically new-trend-and-technology-averse finance department. As a result, all financial professionals worldwide are now seeing their role and job within the corporate enterprise differently.

On the April 26, 2016 edition of Financial Excellence with Game-Changers Radio, produced by SAP’s Bonnie D. Graham, three thought leaders agreed: Yes, it could make them “dangerous.” (Listen to the episode here.)

According to Henner Schliebs, vice president and head of Global Finance Audience Marketing at SAP, it is not millennials themselves who are dangerous. Rather it is their work style that is being picked up by others in the finance department. As he said, “It’s not really a generational conflict. It’s a shift in society, it’s a shift in the workforce, and everybody is and should be a part of it.”

Another attitude

One of the ways millennials differ from previous generations is in their attitude toward money: They are more money-conscious. And according to John Arellano, senior manager with the Aerospace & Defense and Aviation group at Deloitte Consulting, millennials share 13 times more content about their personal finances on LinkedIn than the preceding Generation X. And this spills over into their style of financial planning.

“Many millennials have started saving for retirement in their early twenties,” John commented. “It’s really interesting how early they understand the importance of saving money and investing money for the future.”

Celina Rogers, vice president and editorial director for CFO Publishing, agreed. “I certainly think it’s interesting that millennials have such a keen interest in personal finance. And I think that feeds into the desire among some millennials to find more secure work – but also to find meaning within that work. And that’s where I think many finance functions will be challenged: to provide that sense of meaning together with the kind of security finance has offered in the past.”

In fact, millennials’ attitude towards work will put the traditional financial department under threat. Millennials want the flexibility to work when they want to – work on a Sunday, for example, and have Monday off. Henner added, “Technology advancement over the last couple of years makes this possible.”

Different expectations

The expectation from millennials that they can be more self-deterministic will undoubtedly be a challenge for many finance departments. But enlightened CFOs are embracing it, as Celina explained. “Many finance leaders see this as a tremendous opportunity. By absorbing millennials and their approach to work into finance, [leaders] can help transform their finance functions in ways that are incredibly important to the business in general.”

Millennials also expect the latest technology at work. They have grown up with the Internet and mobile phones. They want to use their own devices, not the aging company desktop. And they also expect to be able to access from anywhere the data and systems they need to do their jobs.

But according to Henner, there is something else that makes them different, and that will be a catalyst for change. “They want to see what their contribution is to the overall mission of the company and the company’s contribution to society,” he said. “This is a very drastic change in how a CFO should perceive his or her role.”

Fragile loyalty

With millennials bringing lots of fresh ideas to the table, the panel of experts believes it is important to communicate with them and incorporate their ideas. Simply seeing millennials as another resource is not enough. Millennials want their work to have meaning, which requires treating them differently; otherwise they could easily walk away from their job. As John put it, “There are a lot of great millennials in the workplace that a lot of firms need to retain.”

Gaining their loyalty requires rethinking the finance function, what its role in the organization should be, and, importantly, communicating this to everyone involved. Finance can no longer be seen as simply reporting the numbers. Finance needs to report what the company is giving back to society, from a social, environmental, and societal perspective.

Reverse mentoring

Millennials also want to work smarter, not harder. For them it’s not about a work-life balance; it’s about work-life integration. And this can also benefit other demographic cohorts in the workplace. Henner sees a kind of “reverse mentoring” happening, where the older generations are learning from millennials. For example, he observed, millennials are asking, “Why should I do a job that can be automated? If a machine can do it, why should I?”

Millennials also want to be connected to their companies 24×7 so they can work when they want to. “I think this convenience that improves our whole lives is something that we can learn from the millennials,” he continued.

The millennial CFO

So as millennials climb the corporate ladder (if there is such a thing any more) and start taking on the role of CFO, what changes do the experts think they will make?

For John, it will be technology. “With technology, you are going to see a lot of new capabilities.”

Celina added that it will happen quickly, even in the next five to ten years. “I think that the fresh perspective that millennials will bring to finance will really accelerate and drive change, if for no other reason than the value consciousness they will bring.”

For Henner, millennials are already having an effect. “They want this digitalized world because they grew up with it,” he explained. “They grew up with information all over the place and they are expecting the same within the organization [where they work].”

Prediction

So what are the experts’ future predictions regarding millennials? For John, it’s leadership. “Millennials are no longer leaders of tomorrow. They are now leaders of today. So we have to understand that, first and foremost.”

Celina pointed to the influence factor. “I see that in ten years, millennials will really dominate finance leadership. In that capacity, we’ll see tremendous improvement in the kind of enterprise technology that’s working in finance and an expansion of finance’s influence.”

And for Henner, it’s how millennials will manage the generation after them. “Given that 50% of the children going into elementary school today will have a job that does not currently exist, millennials will have to face bigger problems than we’re facing with them right now,” he says. “I wish them all the luck in the world.”

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Estelle Lagorce

About Estelle Lagorce

Estelle Lagorce is the Director, Global Partner Marketing, at SAP. She leads the global planning, successful implementation and business impact of integrated marketing programs with top global Strategic Partner across priority regions and countries (demand generation, thought leadership).