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Strategic Business Skills Are Not Just for the CFO Anymore


TalentA new era of business is dawning as organizations look for finance staff—from the C-suite to entry-level—with a broader mix of competencies that include the application of financial disciplines in the management of the business. Employers are looking for finance professionals with management accounting skills, business skills and the potential to be strategic business partners.

CFOs have plenty to worry about these days—but the one issue that continues to arise is talent. “It’s all about people,” said Nick Araco, CEO of the CFO Alliance in a recent CGMA Magazine article. “Most of the dialogue we’re having is going back to talent, regardless of whether we’re talking about strategy, or capital structures, or regulatory environments, the people side pops into every conversation.” The fact is, there is a shortage of finance professionals with business-partnering skills.

I often refer to a quote from PwC’s recent report, “Data Driven, What students need to succeed in a rapidly changing business world,” which states:

Business leaders often lament skill gaps, and we believe demand will continue to exceed the supply of candidates who have an analytical mindset, technical skills, and a foundation for leadership.

So while skills in data analytics will be desired, we believe broader business acumen, global awareness, relationship skills, and leadership abilities will be just as coveted.

While employers search for the right fit for their open positions, they may do well looking at their existing employees and consider implementing training in these soft skills. Last summer, the AICPA and Robert Half surveyed nearly 450 staff-level CPAs in business and industry. Thirty-one percent of them said that they love their current jobs and want to continue to build skills and take on challenging projects. And while they responded that they would like to grow in some fundamental accounting areas like tax, Excel and budgeting, an equal amount of respondents said they want the opportunity to learn soft skills like public speaking, management and communications.

Upskilling your current employees is a one-two punch: Your current staff tends to have a good understanding of your business so, by providing them with training in soft skills and business partnering, you are helping to strengthen your finance team. Furthermore, investing in your staff and presenting them with opportunities for learning and growth increases employee engagement—which is always good for the bottom line. “Companies are understanding the connection between strong customer relationships and employees who are aligned and engaged,” Araco said.

Time and time again, in the media, in whitepapers and in my personal interactions with business decision makers, I have seen examples of the need to close this skills gap. Recently, my staff had the pleasure of taking a trip to The Coca-Cola Company headquarters in Atlanta to meet with Kathy Waller, CPA, CGMA, Executive Vice President and CFO, to discuss this very issue. Watch this short video where Kathy speaks about the value of “challenging the status quo” by pushing to obtain, build and highlight business skills for yourself and your staff.

I’d love to hear from you. For those in charge of making hiring decisions: have you had difficulty finding talent with the right mix of skills and abilities to fill your finance roles? And for those looking for a job: do your competencies match what you’re seeing in job descriptions? What tools and resources have you used to develop your skills beyond the traditional accounting functions?

Arleen Thomas, CPA, CGMA, Senior Vice President - Management Accounting, American Institute of CPAs.

Talent compass courtesy of Shutterstock.

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