Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

How to Keep Finance Talent from Jumping Ship

Ken Judd
Chief Financial Officer

It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of finance talent in the workforce. While the national unemployment rate is now at a svelte 3.9 percent, that figure grows even slimmer for this segment, where demand for those with accounting and finance-related degrees are outpacing supply: A recent analysis by recruiting firm Robert Half pegged the unemployment rate for accountants at 1.8 percent; for financial analysts, it was a mere 0.8 percent. 

Yet, finding talent is only half the battle. The real challenge is keeping up-and-coming finance professionals – particularly those in the first decade of their careers, who have the highest attrition rates – from jumping ship. Finance managers aren’t alone in this regard. In a recent Deloitte survey, 43 percent of Millennials said they planned to leave their current job within two years. When talent takes off, companies face direct and indirect costs of recruiting and training replacements, and lose institutional knowledge in the process. 

Meanwhile, small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) in booming markets face yet another hurdle: How to compete against Fortune 100 companies that are moving in or ramping up. If all else in the equation is equal, your talent may very easily jump at the chance to add a big brand to their résumés.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be an equal experience. Whereas many SMBs may come up short when it comes to global name recognition or recruiting firepower, they can offer finance talent even better reason to stay: Flexibility, exposure and long-term opportunities that may be hard to find at larger firms.

Here’s how to get an edge:

1. Know what you’re up against

Every market has its own dynamics, which is why it’s important to keep tabs on what’s happening in your backyard. Are new companies moving into the region? How are accountants, financial analysts and other finance professionals being compensated? Don’t rely on national trends or surveys to glean this critical information.

It’s important to put your best foot forward out of the gate, but you’ll also want to stay current on salary, benefits and workplace trends after you make key hires. Once talent starts looking elsewhere, it’s often too late.

While offering a competitive salary and traditional benefits (i.e. health insurance and retirement) is a must, be sure to look beyond the obvious. The Deloitte survey found that after pay, culture and flexibility are a top priority for millennials. No doubt, the flexibility to work at home, leave early when needed or sidestep red tape carries as much weight as compensation, both in the decision to take a role and to keep it.

2. Play to your firm’s strengths

Larger organizations can offer brand recognition and competitive benefits, but when it comes to giving finance professionals exposure to senior executives or developments outside of accounting, smaller companies often have an edge. At SMBs in particular, the lines between finance, operations and other functions are blurring, offering motivated finance professionals myriad opportunities for career development. In yet another study, this one on “How Millennials Want to Work and Live,” Gallup found that 87 percent of respondents said career development is important in a job.

Of course, it’s one thing to pay lip service to these promises during the recruiting process and quite another to deliver on them. To keep top talent in the fold, finance leaders need to make sure up-and-coming employees have the opportunity to have a seat at the table.

Fortunately, technology has made it possible for finance professionals to shift their focus from data collection and reporting, to analysis and strategy. Again, for finance professionals at smaller organizations, this alone may be reason to continue to stay.

3. Find the right fit in the first place

Many hiring managers are so eager to fill a position that they neglect to take the extra steps needed to ensure employee retention. Given the high cost of recruiting and training new talent, it’s far more effective to make sure that a new hire has staying power the first time around.

Going back to the Deloitte survey on top priorities, culture is a top priority for today’s class of talent. Yet, what qualifies as a great culture for one hire might be a miss for another. Therefore, it’s essential to know what’s unique about your firm’s culture, and size up candidates accordingly.

If your firm’s culture is entrepreneurial, for example, your best shot at keeping talent is spotting people who can thrive in a dynamic environment. Then again, what others might consider an opportunity – intellectually, professionally and even financially – others might find too unpredictable.

4. Embrace big-company best practices

In the fight to keep top talent, and stay competitive, SMBs should aim to embrace the agility of a smaller organization while emulating some of the best practices of a larger one. This includes making sure your finance talent has everything they need to do their jobs effectively. In a PwC study on how millennials are reshaping the workplace in financial services, more than half of young professionals said access to state-of-the-art technology was important to them when considering a job.

There was a time when smaller employers could not compete with the behemoths in this regard – but modern improvements have made this engagement possible. Cloud computing, advanced analytics and other leaps have made it possible for finance teams at SMBs to adopt the best of both worlds.

Is finance talent keeping you up at night? Compare yourself with America's fastest-growing companies.

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