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By Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half 

Companies around the world are facing challenges to find skilled professionals, and the finance sector is no different. Almost nine in ten (89%) CFOs said it is a challenge to find the right people to join their finance teams. This has become even more challenging in the face of digital transformation and automation, with both traditional finance and interpersonal skills also becoming must-haves in the workplace.

Around the world, the areas in which it is most difficult to find finance and accounting staff are:

  • Business and financial analysis – 36%
  • Financial management/control – 31%
  • Audit – 28%
  • Accounting – 27%
  • Compliance – 25%

Whilst this situation is similar across many different countries there are some regional differences when it comes to the skills gap. This is typically influenced by the speed of the digital transformation journey that is taking place and cultural priorities. In the UK, our skills priorities differ slightly, with 24% of CFOs considering financial planning and control a key business challenge.

As we hurtle towards an increasingly automated finance function, finance leaders believe some technical and soft skills are expected to become more important than others. Soft skills such as leadership, communication and commercial acumen are important for the finance sector to develop in the next five years. But these must marry with the development of technical abilities such as financial software, accounting and financial reporting, regulation and risk management capabilities.

Key skill demands in the future will focus on:

  • Strategic vision – 41%
  • Problem solving – 40%
  • IT skills – 37%
  • Data analytics – 36%
  • Commercial/business acumen – 35%

But again, in different countries some skills are being prioritised above others. In the UK, data analytics (42%) followed by communications skill (40%) are the most in demand skills. This reflects the need for digital skills and the increased demand for soft skills, as processes and positions continue to evolve.

To fill the skills gap and adapt to changing skill set requirements, companies are looking at a range of alternative options to address the war for talent.

Some are looking at pay and perks to retain and recruit new staff. Salaries in the finance sector are expected to increase by an average of 6.9% for existing employees. In the UK, the average pay rise for permanent existing staff is expected to be the same.

Others are looking at how bonus payments can help. Almost one in four (23%) finance professionals worldwide can expect a bonus in the next 12 months. In the UK, 24% will get a bonus in a bid to motivate staff, yet solely financial perks could prove to be counterproductive.

Another interesting fact is that many say they are willing to hire non-finance professionals to fill the gap and address the war for talent in this way – this is according to 84% of CFOs. This willingness to go down the less traditional recruitment route is based on the recognition of the increasing importance of soft skills. Over half (51%) of finance leaders questioned believe soft skills are more important than technical ones when it comes to certain positions. And many, 39% CFOs see it as an important solution to the skills shortage challenge rather than simply increasing salaries and boosting bonuses.

Whatever the solution may be, the finance sector must act on the shortfalls in talent that are preventing businesses from moving forward. Businesses must continually adapt to changing requirements in skill sets to recruit, develop and nurture talent to move their organisations forward and advance their employees’ potential.