Changes in the way people work have created new challenges for organizations and a realignment in the ways they attract and retain accounting and finance employees.

In a recent webcast poll conducted by Deloitte’s Center for Controllership, 82.4 percent of public companies reported accounting and finance talent retention issues over the past 12 months. Private companies have also been impacted but less so, with 68.9 percent reporting retention struggles.

The poll aggregated the views of more than 1,200 public and private company hiring manager participants.

“When we work with chief financial officers and controllers and ask what keeps them up at night and how they prepare their workforce for the future, their responses and questions about process improvements revolve around getting the most from their team, adapting to new ways of working and remote work, and fighting for talent,” said Matt Hurley, a partner at Deloitte. “The poll results provided data that aligned with and supported what we are aware of and what we see when we work with our clients.”

In the poll, 57.9 percent of public company hiring managers and 46.2 percent of private company hiring managers said their talent is leaving for higher pay. Other reasons noted were employees departing for higher roles (18.7 percent public; 14.4 percent private) or to change industries (5.8 percent public; 8.3 percent private). Only 10.3 percent of public respondents and 24.7 percent private said they did not face any retention challenges.

“We have observed organizations are taking a hard look at how they have done things in the past, challenging themselves on what is working and not working, and coming up with innovative ways to differentiate the experience they provide or offer unique incentives for employees to join and stay,” Hurley said. “We were not surprised higher pay was at the top of the poll results for retention challenges, but companies can’t keep throwing money at the problem.”

In practice, beyond pay, Hurley sees companies using career development initiatives and increased work flexibility for retention. Responses to retention issues are specific by company and by type of employee. But there is also an overall need to change the way employees work and daily processes.

“Remote work has led to changes and concerns with building needed skill sets for future leaders, transitioning roles, and maintaining institutional knowledge and company culture,” he said. “Employees are not sitting next to each other anymore to work, so all these areas are affected. Companies need a new strategy for how they build these in this different environment.”

Attracting talent in the year ahead

Of those responding, 82.3 percent of public companies and 73.7 percent of private companies expected to have to work to attract and retain accounting and finance talent in the next 12 months.

Hiring has changed significantly because of remote work and increased flexibility, and companies need to be agile to adapt to new market demands for talent.

“Companies are facing a new struggle because they now need to differentiate their organizations and their work experience from other employers,” Hurley said. “They are now competing for talent globally rather than regionally because of changes in the location of employees they hire and the fact employees can now live anywhere they want.”

Hurley said he has seen companies he works with who used to be “the place to work” in their local area facing difficulties in attracting and retaining talent because those potential employees now have options about where they work.

Need to hire in the next 12 months

Respondents most cited the following needs in acknowledging the urgency to hire accounting and finance employees in the year ahead:

  • More headcount in existing areas where workload is increasing (34.3 percent public; 38.6 percent private).
  • More technological skills in areas like cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic process automation (23.4 percent public; 20.5 percent private).
  • Counter attrition caused by talent shifts resulting from the “Great Resignation” (21.9 percent public; 17.5 percent private).

Hurley noted there has been a period of recent significant changes in accounting—in areas like revenue recognition, leases, and current expected credit losses (CECL)—that has created increased workload for accounting and finance employees. Additionally, new technologies, particularly use of the cloud and changes in ERP in response to accounting and business changes, call for new skills.

“The work is not going away for accounting and finance professionals, as expectations are increasing and they are being looked to for more than debits and credits,” Hurley said. “Companies can’t automate fast enough to meet all the new expectations of their employees.”

While the poll did not provide specific detail on talent shifts, in practice Hurley has seen accounting and finance transitioning from job to job for better pay, a new title, or more flexibility.

“When people move, it causes a ripple effect, with a loss of institutional knowledge and the need for more training,” he said. “It is a lot more challenging than just finding another body.”