Hiring Challenges Unique to the Finance &  Accounting Industry

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There are some hiring challenges that are common to all industries, like keeping pace with evolving technology and coping with a talent shortage in a strong job market. The finance and accounting industry, however, comes with its own unique set of challenges that competitive organizations must face in addition to the broader issues mentioned above.

Top Challenges When Hiring Accountants and Other Financial Professionals

Millennials make up a growing segment of the workforce, but they’re hard to come by in the accounting industry

According to the Pew Research Center, people born between 1981 and 1996 surpassed Gen-Xers as the largest segment of the U.S. workforce in 2016. The latest data estimates that more than one in three workers, or about 35%, fall into the millennial age group.

The influx of fresh talent should be a good thing for firms looking to attract new candidates, right? But not so fast—in the accounting field, millennials on the younger end of the spectrum actually account for one of the smallest segments of the workforce. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, workers age 24 and under account for only about 5.5% of accountants and auditors nationwide. In the workforce as a whole, this number is about 12% (for reference, on the opposite end of the spectrum is convention and event planning, a field where about 16% of the workforce is under 25).

A PwC report shares some surprising insights about millennials in financial services. According to CEOs in the field, attracting and keeping younger workers is one of their biggest talent challenges. Millennials in all fields job-hop more than their older peers, but those in finance are particularly hard to keep. Only 10% of millennials currently working in the sector said that they planned to stay in their current role for the long haul, compared to 18% across all sectors.

Of those working in financial services, 42% of millennials said they’re open to offers and 48% said they were actively looking for new opportunities. This tells us we need to step up our efforts to retain this important workforce segment.

The finance industry trend of difficult millennial hiring is compounded by the fact that the largest segment of the workforce is about to retire. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or AICPA, says that 75% of its members will be eligible for retirement by 2020. This means that if companies want to achieve longevity, they must place a heavy emphasis on initiatives to recruit—and keep—the under-40 workforce. Succession planning is also paramount.

The rapidly changing technology landscape has created an unprecedented accounting skills gap 

In years past, bookkeepers kept the books, auditors conducted the audits, and CFOs oversaw the company’s financial planning. Thanks to the rapid evolution of technology, though, in today’s workplace the roles are rarely so cut and dry.

Modern jobs in finance require more than just the ability to crunch numbers—we have apps that can do that for us, after all. Companies are looking for financial professionals who can draw deep meaning from financial data, analyzing it in new ways and helping apply it in a broader business context. This requires an amalgamation of knowledge that spans the areas of business management, operations, data science, automation and more—skills that most existing financial professionals haven’t had time or resources to acquire.

CEOs are feeling the brunt of the skills gap. In the PwC survey referenced above, a quarter of chief executives in the financial services sector said they’d had to cancel or delay a key strategic initiative in the past year because the right people weren’t available to execute it. Similarly, an industry-wide survey asked CPA firms about the biggest organizational challenges they were facing. The results were broken into segments based on firm size. Every segment named staffing as one of their top five most pressing issues, with four out of the five segments ranking it number one on the list.

The skills gap makes it all the more important to build a strong employer brand that’s attractive to the best and brightest minds in the business—but it’s about more than attracting new talent. These numbers point out a growing need for employee development initiatives (link to employee development post when available) to expand and advance the skills of your existing team members.

The industry has an image problem

Though it might be a trite stereotype, the stuffy, suit-wearing image of the financial services industry is a stereotype nonetheless, and there are certainly many firms that still hold fast to a no-nonsense, traditional corporate culture. In such a highly competitive talent market, this image is an issue.

More than ever before, the best candidates crave flexibility, and flexibility means something a little different to everyone. It might cover anything from the ability to work remotely to unlimited time off to pet-friendly offices and more. Perhaps the most pressing driver behind the demand for flexibility is a greater balance between the office and everything outside of it; in an annual survey, FlexJobs found that 76% of employees were seeking jobs with greater flexibility because they wanted a better work-life balance.

Employees also want meaningful working relationships with their higher-ups—something that hasn’t typically been a priority in the rigidly structured world of finance. In fact, in some cases, positive managerial relationships can be a stronger selling point than money—and can convince candidates to stick around longer. 58% of employees say they would stay at a lower-paying job if it meant working for a great boss.

Even wardrobe isn’t off-limits among the sticking points for discerning candidates. In a UK study, 61% of people looking for a new job said they’d have a negative perception of any company that enforces a dress code.

While the suit-and-tie standard for Wall Street firms probably isn’t going away any time soon, there are many accounting and finance organizations that can—and perhaps should—consider loosening the tight corporate reins in favor of a less humorless, more attractive company culture.

There’s a major, burnout-inducing crunch once a year, and it happens annually

It’s no secret that accountants pretty much want to pull their hair out from January to April. During the heaviest weeks of tax season, accountants regularly cite working 70 or 80 hours a week, surviving on little sleep, gaining weight and neglecting things like exercise and healthy eating. In a cross-industry survey, CPAs reported a higher level of perceived stress than law enforcement officers.

And while the “busy season” isn’t quite as dramatic for every role in the finance industry, the related stress touches most roles in some way or another. Though the tax crunch comes with the territory, the industry’s irregular, high-stress busy season can be a major turnoff for candidates choosing between a job in accounting or some other parallel field.

Employers note its impact on hiring; in the AICPA survey of top organizational challenges we mentioned earlier, the seasonality and “workload compression” of the field was one of the biggest issues CEOs cited as an item of concern.

So what can be done to overcome the hiring challenges surrounding such an inherent part of the industry? Hiring managers can play a key role in helping organizations create a proactive culture of fighting tax-season burnout.

Use volume metrics from prior years to predict workloads and make sure you have adequate staff in place—and fully onboarded—ahead of the first of the year. Consider non-traditional employees like part-timers to support your full-time staff. Use freelancers to fill gaps and balance labor hours during the height of the tax crunch, keeping a close eye on the hours logged by staff.

When you instill such initiatives as part of an active approach to fighting burnout and package them with other mental health benefits like programs to help employees cope with stress, they can be packaged as a selling point in your employer brand and used as a tool in your arsenal for hiring accountants.

Overcome Financial Services Recruiting Challenges by Turning to the Experts 

For a helping hand with attracting millennials, planning for staffing succession, sourcing for niche skills and other financial recruiting industry struggles, enlist the staffing professionals at 4 Corner Resources. We’re experts at hiring accountants, auditors, controllers, payroll staff and other specialized roles to cover all of your finance needs.

Whether you’re looking for temporary help to get through tax season or searching for the right individual to join your accounting team full-time, we’ll tap our vast talent network to match the right candidate with your role. We understand that job success is about more than just skills; the perfect candidate possesses the right mix of technical expertise and culture fit that will ensure long-term satisfaction for both you and the employee.

Let us start looking for your next great hire today. Contact us now to start the conversation.

Stacey Haley

About Stacey Haley

Stacey Haley is the CFO of 4 Corner Resources, a nationally renowned staffing agency. She has eight years of experience in public accounting as well as seventeen years of consulting in the private sector. As a CPA, Stacey works closely with decision-makers and shareholders for small and medium-sized businesses. Her vast experience varies from debt financing, auditing, cash flow management to mergers and acquisitions. In her free time, she enjoys horseback riding and being outdoors!