Author: Mark Partin, CFO of BlackLine, a provider of automation solutions for finance and accounting
Mark ensures BlackLine’s finance organization continues to drive growth, capitalizing on the rising demand worldwide for software solutions that generate greater efficiency, financial governance and risk management across all financial operations. Previously, Mark served as CFO at global Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company Fiberlink Communications, and at Headhunter.net (now Careerbuilder.com), helping lead its IPO. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
Against overwhelming odds, CFOs over the past two years have strategically assisted their CEOs to enable business decisions on how to forge ahead profitably and where to pull back. Now, with economic headwinds whipping up, many finance chiefs are finding they lack needed skill sets to makes sense of what already is a baffling year.
Aside from interpreting the impact of interest rate increase, the new year continues with most of the same daunting issues confronting companies in 2021, including supply-demand bottlenecks, rising inflation trends, higher energy prices, labor shortages, and an indefatigable pandemic.
To effectively adapt, compete and grow in the face of such headwinds depends on the skill sets assisting the CFO within the finance organizations. The best finance talent can triangulate the business threats, trends and cases, turning them into a series of decisive actions. However, only 14 percent of CFOs are confident they have this talent, according to a November survey we commissioned of more than 1,150 C-level executives and finance professionals in midsize and larger companies.
Other studies posit similar high demand/low supply challenges. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of CFOs in audit firm Grant Thornton’s most recent CFO survey “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that their organizations are confronting a “possible shortage of human talent that might risk the achievement of short-term strategies.”
Not just any talent, of course. Given the CFO’s vital strategic role, the hunt is on for “unicorn” talent—perfect-fit candidates with applicable skills. Our survey finding indicate that CFOs seek candidates with a combination of traditional finance & accounting (F&A) skills and broad-based software and technology competencies. Topnotch F&A skills alone were deemed ineffective to reach or surpass their desired standard of performance, providing the financial analyses, due diligence and insights needed for strategic and capital decision-making.
McKinsey & Company’s most recent global CFO survey arrived at a similar conclusion, stating that the effective use of digital technologies for planning, budgeting, forecasting and overall finance processes is encumbered by “inadequate internal skill sets” to design, build and/or implement these tools. CFOs that fail to invest in these decision intelligence technologies may experience “lasting effects” on their “overall resilience,” the management consultancy stated.
The shallow supply of unicorn talent has resulted in a war for such skill sets, with more than half the number of CFOs (56 percent) in the Grant Thornton survey stating that “retaining key talent” was a crucial human capital priority. As the Great Resignation suggests, people are more inclined to leave current employment for greener pastures elsewhere.
CFOs are worried more about recruiting multiskilled talent than they are about other pressing issues— adaptability to hybrid working models, addressing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals, and even their companies’ long-term growth, our survey findings showed. A staggering 40 percent were concerned the talent shortage will slow their digital finance transformation.
Certainly, not all CFOs will get what they seek; there isn’t enough unicorn talent to fulfil every recruiter’s wish list. Rather, there is a trickle of these skill sets in the pipeline, with 29 percent of the survey respondents putting the blame on academic institutions. Many colleges and universities aren’t providing relevant technology classes to prepare students for a career in finance. The respondents specifically cited a scarcity of coursework on the use of AI algorithms in decision management.
CFOs have the power to narrow the yawning talent gap. In partnership with HR and IT leaders, they must invest in training current and new F&A staff, with this coursework focused on best-in-class finance workstreams and the use of advanced technology tools. According to the McKinsey survey, leading finance functions have more than tripled their use of robotics and AI tools since 2018, and nearly doubled their use of advanced over the same period.
Sitting on the fence is not the answer, certainly not with CFOs guiding a path through today’s complex challenges. Now is the time to invest in a digital finance transformation that emphasizes process automation along with advanced technology training.