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Finance Executives Can’t Afford to Ignore Millennials

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 2/22/2016

businesspeopletalkingThere’s a lot of praise and criticism thrown around about the generation born between the early 1980s and 2000. For finance executives, one thing is for sure: To ensure they hire and retain top talent, they must learn how to manage and motivate this younger generation.

“By 2020, millennials are going to be the dominant part of the workforce,” said Jim Kaitz, president and CEO of AFP.

CFOs are already feeling the impact, according to Ajit Kambil, global research director of Deloitte’s CFO program. According to Kambil, one of the big challenges CFOs face is how to develop people and get the right talent in the right seat. The other is how to create a well-functioning team. “CFOs have to deal with the diversity of the workforce, which includes generational diversity,” Kambil said. “Millennials have a very different mindset,” he said. That means CFOs need to develop a new way of thinking about career paths and consider how to motivate the new generation to keep the best performers engaged and loyal.

Bill Booth, executive vice president of treasury management, national and specialty businesses at PNC Bank, has hands-on experience with millennials. He was involved in a strategy to relaunch a major commitment to PNC’s training program in 2008-2009 for undergraduate students and has remained deeply involved. “From 2006 through 2015, we hired 913 individuals into the [corporate and institutional banking (C&IB)] Development Program,” Booth said. “We’ll be bringing on approximately another 100 this year for a total of over 1,000 hires since 2006. We’ve been very fortunate with the quality of the participants.” Indeed, he feels millennials are unduly criticized in some corners.

“It’s a great group,” Both said of the millennials he has encountered. “Obviously, not everyone PNC has brought on has worked out, and we do see higher attrition with shorter-tenured employees. But many have turned into permanent hires and many have evolved into high performers.

Bringing a lot to the table

One of the recurrent themes among finance executives is that millennials are digital natives.

According to Booth, that quality, combined with their ability to absorb new things, are their top strengths. “Today, technology is ingrained,” he said. “For generation Xs it was adopted. For baby boomers it was learned. Millennials’ ability to absorb and gather information is much faster compared to previous younger generations. For finance and FP&A, this is an opportunity to leverage and direct those skills to play to their strengths.”  

According to Sigmund Toth, head of business controlling at Norway-based wine supplier ArcusGruppen, another one of millennials’ strong suits is their ability to communicate and work well with people. “They have a very high relationship quotient and do very well in an advisory role,” said Toth. That’s becoming increasingly important in the FP&A function, as professionals are working in partnership with the business. “They have a higher degree of social awareness and recognition of the importance of managing relationships,” he said.

In addition, the top performers in this age group bring an expansive set of experiences to the finance function. “They seem to have a broader resume,” Toth said, both in terms of life (extra-curricular activities) and professional experiences. “Some seem to manage their entire lives as if it’s a checklist of items for a resume. The upside is that they have a focus on their goals and they think broadly about their careers.”

Millennials also tend to be more intellectually curious and self-reliant. 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, fast to execute and don’t need to be spoon fed.”

It’s important to recognize—and leverage—another distinctive feature: millennials’ cultural and social values. “They want to work for a company that espouses strong and poignant social values,” Booth explained. That may be a big plus for the right companies. For example, PNC has just moved into its new headquarters in Pittsburgh, and by LEED standards it is the greenest skyscraper in the world. The project was about sustainability, but also about attracting a workforce that sees eye-to-eye with PNC’s culture. “It helps market our culture to millennials,” he said.

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