education, finance

Today’s critical skills in finance

At my company, we’ve been thinking a lot about talent management, talent development and succession planning in the finance areas. We have a shortage of “bench strength” to fill key leadership roles in finance, in part due to the supply/demand imbalance of finance graduates. And we believe that our key employees are confused about their career path options as we change the face of finance through shared services, analytics and business partnership.

This issue is not unique to my company. We have seen amazing change in the world of business in general, and finance in particular; factors such as flattened organization structures, new generations entering the workforce, and the rise of remote work.

The first two, in particular, have hindered career paths that traditionally move vertically. General Electric used to have 17 levels in its organization (from lowest staff level to CEO) – now it has seven. Yet many Millennials want to move quickly through the ranks as validation of their energy and creativity – but there aren’t enough ranks to move them through!

Together, the factors above and the events of the Great Recession have hurt our ability to identify, train and retain talent, and to articulate career options to our employees.

So we’ve embarked on a talent management and career development strategy to bridge the gaps. Part of that process was to identify the key competencies needed to be a top performer in finance, and ultimately a leader in finance. Here’s a quick snapshot of the difference between what used to count as “success” in finance and the skills we look for now:

Technically strong, deep knowledge of one finance function Broad knowledge of multiple finance functions
Knowledge of operations only to resolve specific accounting issues Extensive operations knowledge or experience, for better financial decisions
Analytical thinking Creativity and innovation
Manage relationships with team and immediate leaders Manage relationships with a variety of stakeholders
Develop own and others’ technical skills Develop own and others’ leadership skills
Gather information, create reports Make decisions/communicate results

Actually putting these competencies on paper has been, and will continue to be, an important aspect of communication between the employer and our employees. It is one part of a toolkit –other elements include better interview questions, better job descriptions, and regular performance evaluations against these competencies.

Now our employees at least have a chance to develop the right skills. Could there be anything more frustrating than working for years to hone certain skills, and get to the “finish line” (the day someone is selected for promotion, let’s say) only to be told those weren’t the right skills to be developing? We had been doing that to our finance employees regularly.

Many of the desired new model competencies can’t be taught in a training class. These factors add to the responsibility of us as employers to provide opportunities to our existing employees to gain these skills – offering job rotations, project assignments and formal mentorship/coaching are ways in which we can invest in our existing talent to ensure they are ready to take the mantle as finance leaders of the future.

Finance leaders of the future (smart phone and hoodie?) will look different than those of the past (ten keys and green visors?) and of the present (laptop case and suit?). To succeed, they will need to be more adaptable, more creative, and more in touch with the people and operations around them. Do you have what it takes?


One thought on “Today’s critical skills in finance

  1. Great subject and viewpoints Rick. I know you and Dave Porter had a discussion on Teradata’s College Network around the country including UNLV. In early June Dave and I spoke with Gerry Tuffy, and we agreed to try to invite you to our next informal business dinner meeting in Las Vegas. I will keep you posted on those schedules and try to get you on the calendar with Gerry, Dave and myself. I hope all is well, regards.


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