An Article by Jeff Blumenthal – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal
Jul 12, 2018, 10:10am
Among the major issues on the minds of chief financial officers is recruiting and retaining top talent to deal with changing job functions and implementing new technology, according to local finance professionals.
The CFO Alliance’s annual CFO Sentiment Study, released this week by the Wayne-based network of more than 7,000 senior financial leaders, says an inability to find or retain the ‘right’ employees and leaders is a key concern for today’s finance executive.
Over 60 percent of respondents expect their hiring needs to increase over the next 12 months. Even more critical is that only 13 percent believe the rising leaders at their enterprises will stay or be ready to lead when called upon to do so.
Nick Araco, CEO of the CFO Alliance, who once headed up business development for RSM in the Philadelphia region, said the job market affects who gets hired and how. CFOs are no longer just looking for those who can capture, analyze and report data. They are called upon to create and enhance the customer experience.
“There is constant monitoring to make sure the [return on investment] discussed is being met in the short term and the long term,” Araco said. “Finance professionals are compensated based on customer satisfaction and retention and team communication.”
Tonya Zweier, CFO of health care consulting firm McBee in Wayne, said finance used to be a back-office function designed to tell executives what happened with the business and project what was going to happen. CFOs weren’t integrated into the rest of the operation — that has changed.
“Now they are part of sales,” Zweier said. “You need people who are outgoing with an understanding of how everything at the company works. They are no longer the stereotypical accountant.”
And that means companies are seeking to hire a different type of candidate.
“We are looking for a different skill set today and it’s not always easy to see on paper,” Zweier said. “We’re looking more for cultural fits. Personalities, confidence in talking with people outside the finance function. I start with what type of person they are.”
Zweier said 10-minute personality tests that produce two-page write-ups for employers provide valuable insight into whether a candidate might get bored with routine or indicate in which environment they would best function.
Ellen Purdy, CFO of electronic health records provider Office Practicum of Fort Washington, said companies are now growing on the back of technology and not people, that no doubt means fewer employees. But the ones they hire for finance are more focused on critical thinking roles rather than clerical ones.
With unemployment at an exceptionally low number, the job market is exceptionally tight.
“It’s hard to find people and even harder to keep them,” Purdy said. “They will leave for a higher paying job unless you give them a compelling reason to stay.”
Like many CFOs today, Office Practicum’s human resources department reports to Purdy. She finds that encouraging finance professionals to carve out roles in which they are exposed to the broader company can be key for retaining top talent.
“There is a big focus now on growth and not cost-cutting,” Purdy said. “So you are stepping on the gas. Sales might not be in your title, but we are definitely selling.”
Araco said there is a pretty healthy debate in the CFO community about the use of technology. Most still rely on spreadsheets to analyze data. But new technology now enables them to present data in a more digestible fashion to clients and their colleagues in other departments, who often view presentations on mobile devices.
Programs from companies such as Tableau Software provide more visually appealing explanations of what key data means to other executives at companies and their clients.
“You have people from different background and it helps people see what we see,” Zweier said. “Not everyone you work with is a numbers person. I work with a lot of people who come from a medical background. So all of this new software helps.”
Purdy said many companies now use technology to integrate different departments.
“It allows every department to talk to one another,” Purdy said. “They can see all of the info on one dashboard rather than having to look at different spreadsheets.”
Application of new IT solutions and cutting-edge technology helps to gain competitive advantage. Cloud-based solutions help automate processes, integrate data and analytics help identify opportunities for profitable growth and digital and mobile technologies help to improve decisions.
So it’s not surprising that a KPMG study last year found that 70 percent of CEOs say technology will have the greatest effect on the future role of the CFO. CEOs expect them to continuously explore and implement the best new technology.
“Thinking is more short-term now,” Araco said. “Anything beyond a three-year growth plan won’t work anymore. The pace of technological advancement does not permit it. So you cannot execute beyond that.”