According to the latest Deloitte CFO Signals™ Survey, finance chiefs cite a lack of consultative, partnering, analytical and technical skills as hindering their teams’ ability to meet the expanding needs of the business. Thus, finding finance talent that possesses those skills is an ongoing challenge. AFP’s own research for an upcoming financial planning and analysis (FP&A) guide on talent management supports this survey.
“CFOs are more focused on the experiences of the individuals than the titles,” said Phil Murphy, a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s financial officer practice. “More so than any other functional area, FP&A differs across organizations. FP&A means different things to different companies and CFOs.”
For entry-level positions, one of the biggest challenges is getting people in the door who can hit the ground running, according to Roy Smith, director of analytics at Caesars Entertainment Corp. Filling positions with people who can truly go beyond just simple Excel skills is difficult.
Past that point, the key issue becomes retaining top talent. Once professionals develop the analytical and business development skills, they become desirable to other companies. The advent of big data and the increased demand of analytical professionals have only exacerbated this challenge.
As for filling higher level positions, CFOs are increasingly attracted to candidates who bring operating finance experience to the table. According to Murphy, they are looking for people who have been very close to business unit managers, supporting and driving business results in a much more operational way. These candidates are preferable to ones who have spent the majority of their careers at the corporate headquarters aggregating and consolidating information without delivering insight and impact. “While this is not a totally new phenomenon, it has become more apparent in recent years,” he acknowledged.
FP&A professionals who wish to attain those roles must do a better job of articulating their experiences than colleagues in, for example, treasury or internal audit. The interview process for those positions is often rigorous. “Those searches are often more challenging for companies and for the search firms which advise them,” Murphy noted.
It’s important to find a candidate with a wide breadth of experience, noted Megan Lesko, Manager of financial planning and analysis at Apollo Education Group. ”I look for someone who has solid understanding of accounting, financial statements, and who is savvy with financial systems and Excel,” she said. “Today, being an effective FP&A professional also goes beyond budgeting, forecasting, and post-close activities like variance analysis. I am also looking for the right personality that can manage across the organization at multiple levels. You need good business skills as well. Accounting, strategic planning, HR, and experience doing board and executive presentations are all important.”
Overall, FP&A chiefs support their bosses concerns. They’re having a hard time finding candidates with strong analytical skills who can also produce reports that affect behavior, drive management decision-making and add value to the business, and who understand business operations.