It’s (talent) crunch time in finance

Four areas where HR business partners can step up to help

Posted by Jessica L. Bier and Steven Ehrenhalt on April 25 2017.

Finance and HR naturally have a lot in common: Both are generally back-office functions; both are expected to support and serve the business; both have been and still are transforming to become more data driven, customer focused, and digitally adept—all in an effort to become more valuable to the business. For HR business partners aligned with finance, four areas in particular where finance is experiencing talent-related challenges are a prime opportunity to step in and make a meaningful contribution.

Four influential trends fueling four talent challenges
First, let’s look at some of the broader trends in finance that are driving the talent crunch, which are not so different from those being experienced by HR (and IT and shared services for that matter):

  1. Pressure to perform. As noted, finance, like HR, is increasingly expected to provide strategic guidance to other parts of the business.
  2. Pressure to comply. Changing government regulations require ongoing diligence from finance in order to be able to provide the organization with a strong control and compliance presence.
  3. Pressure to think ahead. Ongoing financial uncertainty and the trend toward globalization has increased the need for many CFOs to adjust their traditional thinking on organizational strategy and work with the organization on developing new scenarios.1 + 2 + 3 brings us to…
  4. Pressure to embrace digital. Digital is a disruptive force throughout the organization, and digital technology and tools are evolving to help finance meet its mandates. To update core systems and existing capabilities, finance is moving toward scalable, cloud-based, software-as-a-service models; process robotics to automate transaction processing and help lower the risk of errors; and high-powered visualization technology to better explore large, high-density data.Finance is also exploring exponential digital tools to deliver new and different capabilities, such as advanced analytics to tackle hard questions with insightful answers; cognitive computing and artificial intelligence (AI) to simulate human thinking; in-memory computing for unprecedented speed and access to data; and blockchain, a truly revolutionary approach to managing transaction data via a digital ledger.

Also in play, shifting skill requirements and the Millennial factor
Two additional forces are also in play. First, the skills needed in finance are evolving. Typically, finance talent is risk-averse, reserved, numbers-oriented, and geared toward problem solving. If we think about the digital-driven shift, the future may require more creativity, adaptability, assertiveness, and willingness to challenge the status quo.

The second force is the Millennials, who comprise the largest share of the American population1 and tend to enter the workforce with high expectations for business and their role in it. Deloitte’s series of annual Millennial surveys reveals that only 28 percent of the Millennials who participated feel their organizations are making the most of their skills and experience. Three-quarters (77 percent) say their companies’ purpose is part of the reason they work there.2

These broader trends, many directly related to the disruptive trend toward digital, are the impetus for the four areas where finance’s talent crunch is ripe for HR business partner intervention: namely, leadership, culture, skills, and engagement.

  1. Leadership: Digital transformation involves leaders who have the ability to disrupt, lead, and evolve at an exponential pace. What is HR doing to help identify and build those skills?
  2. Culture: Leaders should consider cultural readiness and the embedded organizational traits that will enable them to do business digitally. How can HR help finance assess the current culture and make needed shifts?
  3. Skills: Digital change and the open talent economy present unique opportunities to evolve talent approaches. Does the competency model for finance talent need to be updated? How can other HR processes—recruiting, development, job rotation, performance management—be configured to help bring in and retain the right talent in-house? Alternatively, consider what skills and capabilities are better suited to residing in the Communities of Expertise (COEs) that the entire organization taps into, not only finance.
  4. Engagement: Active and full commitment to business goals calls for a more engaged and inspired workforce. How engaged is finance talent today? What would it take for people to see your organization as actively and fully committed to them and their goals?

Step up and step in
Digital transformation is fundamentally human-centric because it’s about imagining new ways of value creation. For that to happen effectively, people have to be digital enablers as well as users of new digital capabilities.

Talent models for digital finance are tilting toward data science with increased business partnering, and many finance organizations do not have all the right people in place to make the shift. Training and development are becoming more important—as Millennials are eager to learn and expect a chance to develop—and can be done through job rotations, stretch assignments, job shadowing, and intracompany moves. The need to recruit for new skills is also taking on new urgency.

In our experience, CFOs are hungry to talk about talent. Hungry for insights from talent specialists. Hungry for assistance in building their function’s capabilities. This is a tremendous opportunity for an HR business partner to step up and make a meaningful contribution to the function and to the organization as a whole.

We are working right now with finance organizations to help them solve their talent puzzles. We’ll be sharing more ideas for building and strengthening the four pillars of leadership, culture, skills, and engagement in future posts.

In the meantime, for more context around the challenges in finance, including insights from our conversations with CFOs, check out our publications, Crunch time: Finance in a digital world and the follow-on Crunch time, too: CFOs talk off the record about finance in a digital world. You can download them here.

Jessica L. Bier is a managing director in Deloitte Consulting LLP and leads the Human Capital Finance Transformation practice.
Steven Ehrenhalt is the US and global finance transformation leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP.

1 Richard Fry, “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation,” Fact Tank, Pew Research Center, April 25, 2016.

2 Mind the gaps: The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey,

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