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Bridging the Finance Talent Gap with Millennials

  • By Staff Writers
  • Published: 10/27/2019

For finance departments to bridge the the talent gap, they need to attract and retain millennial financial professionals. Doing so requires a fundamental understanding of how millennials work and how it can differ from previous generations.

To make sure millennials are attracted to the finance function, “we need to change the way finance works and thinks,” said the Asia-based finance director of a large medical instruments company. “Unlike the earlier generation who were happy to wait 10 years to learn the ropes about different areas of finance and move up the ladder, millennials expect to do it within two to three years.

Finance needs to eliminate as much manual work as possible, reduce the learning curve, and possibly widen the finance roles to attract millennials to our profession. These changes will also benefit the earlier generation who are already within the profession.”

The following are four ways finance can make itself more attractive to millennials:

1. Engage in an image makeover. While finance may not be as alluring as some marketing and design jobs, the function has a lot going for it. It brings together two fields of interest: finance and technology. It allows professionals to expand and build their knowledge base. It offers a way to truly impact organizational performance. “Making an impact is one of the top features of the millennial generations,” one practitioner said. Already, many finance functions are changing their image (and their approach) from the stodgy reporting-oriented departments of yesterday, to forward-looking, technology-enabled, decision-support teams. That’s an attractive workplace for millennials.

2. Offer continuous learning. One of the most telling tips the APQC pointed out in its study is that companies that are successful in closing the talent gap recruit from professional associations. AFP’s CTP and FP&A certification programs help build the foundational knowledge that new staff needs to succeed. Business schools do not necessarily teach these skills. At the same time, such designations fulfill millennials’ constant need for learning. In the FP&A arena, “we already see this change in the greater attention paid to professional development,” said Jim Kaitz, president and CEO of AFP. “The interest reflects an overall change in the attributes of the profession. FP&A moved to driving strategy and growth.”

Explained one assistant treasurer: “With new hires, I outline how the company will be investing and developing new talent—what new skills he or she would learn, what internal and external training and professional certifications. There’s a litany of things we can make available.”

3. Appeal to their analytical nature. According to Christine Hollinden, president and founder of Hollinden Consulting, when it comes to finance, generational differences have both positive and negative implications. Finance is often an area that deals with highly proprietary, competitive and confidential information. It’s often also a more conservative department within an organization. “The good news is that most millennials seeking careers in finance are more analytical by nature, but are also more naturally inclined to ask the right questions,” she said.

4. Be honest about the function. Selling finance doesn’t mean selling a pie in the sky. It’s critical that executives are upfront about some of the more conservative aspects of the profession. While millennials are flexible and adapt to change more easily, according to Hollinden, this doesn’t come without risk. In finance, specifically, the tight regulatory environment and the confidentiality and sensitivity of the information, present a specific challenge. “That means finance managers have to be upfront when recruiting new talent 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,” she said.

But while changes are required, the reality is that finance has already evolved into a more exciting place to work, and moved beyond “bean counting” into a strategic partner to the operations and management, according to Hollinden. That means the roles within it can be very attractive to young talent. “We’ve seen big shifts as finance personnel become more proactive and strategic,” she said. “That fits hand-in-glove with the mindset of millennials.”

Hiring professionals who posses one of AFP's two certifications can greatly help finance departments bridge the talent gap. Learn more about the CTP and FP&A here.

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