Closing The Talent Gap In Finance And Treasury

Jim Kaitz

How can organizations do a better job of matching their long-term goals with employees’ career goals?

Across industries, CFOs are grappling with increasing talent gaps. And they will continue to face these gaps unless they have professional development plans for education and specialized training for their finance and treasury teams. That’s why it makes sense to have ongoing training and development at all levels to stay on track and help provide the mobility to move up the chain of command.

According to Phil Murphy, consultant with Spencer Stuart’s Financial Officer Practice, “Treasurer candidates today need to meet a higher standard and be deemed as having boardroom credibility.” But at the same time, 33% of companies cite career paths as the biggest staff development challenge in finance.

A large part of the reason the talent gap exists is simply because a majority of finance and treasury departments are not making training and development a top priority. Busy executives (and equally busy managers) are too consumed with their day-to-day tasks to align goals with talent and provide the training to meet future challenges. However, this practice is not sustainable—it only hurts finance departments and their companies in the long term.

While the search for top talent is difficult for all companies across all functions, finance is particularly under the gun as it undergoes a dramatic and sometimes turbulent transformation. Compliance and accounting—finance in general, treasury in particular—are now considered partners in the business. Finance and treasury profes­sionals’ roles are aligned more precisely with companies’ strategic goals as they work more closely with senior leadership, but there are persistent gaps in the talent market (for both job seekers and employers).

Technical training is a great start, but it’s not enough. “The technical skills are the price of admission,” according to Murphy. However, he adds, “candidates distinguish themselves by displaying broad business acumen and superior leadership and influencing skills.” Add collaboration to the list, and you’ve described the perfect finance/treasury candidate.

The responsibility of providing the learning environment for these skills lies with the companies themselves. They can hardly expect their people to have board-level credibility without offering the training to help develop these skills. This kind of training needs to be woven into the very fabric of the finance function. CFOs need to align training with other job functions as a priority within their own departments. They need to ensure that their people are developing the skills to help carry the company into the future.

According to KPMG’s 2015 Global CEO Survey, 97% of CEOs say attracting and retaining top finance talent is the most important contributing factor to improve the finance function. However, only 33% of CEOs give their CFOs a passing grade in talent management. An equally glum study from the IBM Institute for Business Value says that 82% of CFOs see the value of integrating enterprise-wide information, but only 24% think their team is up to the task.

And even if you have a good staff—able to find the right people—how do you keep and motivate them? Again, it’s a frustrating reply: Studies prove time after time that top performers are the first to walk out the door. And each departure means that the organization is losing a valuable investment.

Hiring and training people takes time—sometimes more than executives believe they have. In many cases, it makes sense to train people from the inside in leadership skills they can carry forward. But this sort of training has to be part of your business culture, beginning on a new hire’s first day, and continuing throughout his or her tenure with the company.

Investing in (and reaping rewards from) your people obviously carries mutual benefits. And like any investment, it requires some work. CFOs and other finance executives should prioritize engaging with their teams—motivating and training them to become finance leaders. They need to ask, “What are the most important skills finance leaders of tomorrow need today?” I hear CFOs talk about communication, collaboration, and negotiation skills, but what are they doing to train their people in these disciplines?

Beyond being rigorous numbers people, highly skilled forecasters, and fantastic communicators, finance and treasury professionals need sophisticated business skills and the ability to leverage influence. Again, what are top finance executives doing to prioritize supporting these skills?

The time to start addressing the talent gap is now. Training is a critically important step toward addressing the challenge. A majority of companies—57%—say they use or maintain financial support for continuing education and certification to keep their finance staff performing at a high level. More companies need to do so, and more finance and treasury leaders need to make it a top priority.

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Jim Kaitz

About Jim Kaitz

Jim Kaitz is president and CEO of the Association for Financial Professionals, which represents over 16,000 treasury and financial professionals globally. The organization established and administers the Certified Treasury Professional® and Certified Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis Professional® credentials, setting standards of excellence in finance. He was formerly EVP and COO of Financial Executives Institute, a professional association of over 14,000 senior financial executives representing 8,000 companies in the United States. Prior to joining FEI in 1988, he was manager, Trade and Business Affairs at Baxter Healthcare Corporation. He also served as legislative assistant to the Honorable James Shannon (D-MA), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Jim is a 1978 graduate of Georgetown University.