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Finding Talent: A Top Priority—and Challenge—for Finance

  • By Brian Kalish
  • Published: 5/22/2015
Among the six challenges financial planning and analysis (FP&A) professionals face, talent acquisition and retention is likely the sharpest of double-edged swords. While it presents nearly limitless opportunities for today’s brightest and most capable FP&A people, it also offers challenges for those in charge of recruiting (and retaining) them. From San Francisco to New York to Oslo to Paris, nearly everyone I speak to ranks talent as a tier one issue for finance.

To be a truly effective FP&A professional, you have to prove with confidence that you have three key qualities: You must be a quant who is curious and can communicate effectively across business lines. That may appear to be a simple skill set, but there are very few people who excel at all three. There are professionals who are very good at accounting but lack real curiosity, or they’re too introverted to communicate effectively with key executives, an essential skill in forecasting.

While you can earn a CPA and begin your accounting career virtually right out of college, FP&A requires more finesse, nuance and, perhaps most important, experience. Curiosity cannot be taught, and it takes some seasoning before even the brightest FP&A stars rise to the top. It also takes equal parts book smarts and street sense. It requires business partnering skills, which are not formalized in any classroom setting—they must be learned in practice.

With experienced FP&A professionals in short supply, there’s an even greater onus on companies to find the right pool of talent to propel their businesses forward. While it’s challenging to build these skills in-house, it’s ultimately less costly. However, most companies are poaching good FP&A talent from outside the company. It takes time to recruit these people and up get them to speed, but it offers the advantage of bringing in veteran professionals quickly so they can operate at today’s ever-increasing business velocity.

Companies looking to develop—and retain—in-house talent have a number of resources available. Among them are AFP’s training and development program to benchmark employees and develop leaders internally to decrease departmental turnover and attract top talent.

The pressure has never been greater for companies looking to recruit top FP&A talent to convince candidates that they want to work for them. Companies that want to build their FP&A bench strength must demonstrate to candidates that the position is not simply glorified financial reporting. They must offer prospective employees more than a great salary and benefits. They must offer a real seat at the table as a strategic partner—an insider who can help the organization make better decisions at the business level and at the corporate level.

Sitting pretty

On the other edge of this sword, experienced FP&A pros are sitting pretty. With demand for FP&A people dramatically outstripping supply, there’s been no better time to be at the top (or even the middle) of the finance food chain. Certified FP&A people are in an even more enviable position. Today, more than ever, the FP&A track is the fastest route to the CFO suite, as many companies look to their finance department to fill executive roles.

The ability to develop and hone the right set of tools and skills is becoming increasingly important to stay viable in finance. Now is the best time for even the most able and established FP&A professionals to brush up on any number of skills, from advanced cash flow forecasting to analytics. Companies today are under unprecedented pressure to deliver to customers faster and more accurately, relying heavily on the finance function to help them make better, smarter decisions.

The FP&A role is quickly evolving—no longer relegated to the back office crunching numbers, FP&A has been established as the ship’s trusted navigation deck with such tools at its disposal as rolling forecasts and deep analytics. No longer are we lacking the data to make better decisions. On the contrary, one of the challenges FP&A faces today is what to do with all the data and analysis within our grasp.

Great FP&A professionals already have an edge. To sharpen that edge—to become invaluable collaborative business partners—they must be able to see through the challenges, be outgoing and be top communicators. They need to see through the lens of every business unit, speak their language and have an arsenal of methodologies at their disposal to tailor their message to very specific audiences. Meeting with other financial professionals, exchanging ideas and building out their networks are all excellent (and accessible) ways for finance professionals to stay at the top of their game.

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