While companies across sectors have grappled with ongoing volatility in the past year, so too have the finance professionals who have been tasked with keeping businesses afloat. The near total shutdown of sectors such as hospitality and travel sparked an initial wave of retrenchments and left even the most confident of employees feeling uneasy.
Now, with steadily rising vaccination rates and a sense of cautious optimism returning to the global business environment, finance professionals may well be reflecting on their current role — and sizing up new opportunities. But with the prospect of third and fourth waves of the pandemic still looming large in many regions, is now the right time to be considering a bold career move?
David Stevens, FCMA, CGMA, director at Jammy Recruitment UK, said that professionals must take the ongoing uncertainty into consideration and remain fully aware of the macroeconomic risks.
“It shifts from accelerated hiring spikes to pauses in recruitment in a heartbeat, and it’s incredibly hard to predict or understand,” he explained.
Yet Stevens pointed out that amidst this unpredictability, one factor has remained constant throughout the pandemic: a shortage of high-performing finance professionals, who have strong technical skills as well as the mindset and emotional intelligence to succeed.
“This certainly makes it a seller’s market for high-performing finance professionals at this time and, particularly, for management accountants who have the ability to analyse data, provide insight, and then business-partner with another team or department. … This skillset, while always in high demand, has become particularly valuable during the pandemic.”
According to Stevens, the outlook for management accountants is therefore “incredibly positive”, with the current demand for these skills outstripping supply.
Patrick McCubbin, associate director at human resources consulting firm Robert Half UK, echoed this sentiment, and said that there isn’t significantly greater risk in moving now than there was 18 months ago — with the overall hiring outlook “trending upwards month on month”.
“Now is a fantastic time to be a management accountant, as it combines a number of skills — numerical ability, data analysis, and commercial acumen — which are in high demand in the current market,” McCubbin added. “Being able to marry these three skills together gives management accountants a huge boost in terms of their employability.”
If you are thinking of making a career move now, here are several things to consider.
Hiring: Private equity, M&A
When looking at the broader business environment in the UK, McCubbin said that companies are focused on finding ways to protect what they have, while also looking to “creatively support growth” for the rest of the business.
“This means that we’re seeing big demand in areas like cash flow forecasting and technical reporting, controls, and procedures as businesses look to safeguard their existing positions; as well as demand for data analysts who can provide insight into where the key growth opportunities are and how they can be exploited.”
According to a Robert Half survey of UK CFOs about their top priorities for 2021, the top five hiring targets for the coming months are financial planners, finance analysts, accounts managers, audit/reporting personnel, and tax managers.
Regarding specific sectors, McCubbin said that the biggest spike in demand for finance candidates is coming from private equity, given that firms “have a lot of capital ready to invest and need to make sure they’re finding the most interesting assets available”.
Additionally, Stevens said that the pandemic has increased the number of companies going into administration, creating more distressed merger-and-acquisition activity across all sectors in the UK.
“Finance candidates with merger-and-acquisition and due diligence experience are therefore in high demand, as well as candidates who have ‘transformational’ skills and experience in rethinking business processes to cater for changes in consumer behaviour,” he explained.
Skills for the future of finance
In the US, where the overall business outlook has been buoyed by government stimulus and increasing vaccination rates, demand for finance skills is high and is increasingly focused on “digital fluency”, according to Steve Gallucci, US CFO Program leader, Deloitte & Touche LLP.
“With a robust capital market and the creation of new public companies in the US, there is increased demand for financial professionals who have the skillset to meet today’s demands as well as those for the future of finance,” Gallucci explained.
In Deloitte’s CFO Signals report for the first quarter of 2021, for instance, CFOs indicated that data analytics and forecasting are the skillsets that they would most like to bolster on their finance teams, while skills in technology, digital, and automation were the next most frequently cited. Business knowledge, acumen, and judgement, including references to confidence and an ability to deal with ambiguity, were next on the list.
“In addition, CFOs are looking to hire finance professionals who are able to lead in a virtual environment (given that many teams will continue to operate remotely) and who demonstrate empathy in their day-to-day work,” Gallucci said. “Many of these are skills that have not traditionally been associated with finance but which are becoming increasingly important in the post-pandemic environment.”
Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half US, emphasised the growing need for finance skills that can support companies working towards “regrowth” while meeting the demands of virtual working.
“Finance professionals looking to grow their careers may be uniquely positioned at this time if they can demonstrate their ability to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and understand technology in a way that will drive business,” McDonald said. “There’s also great potential for someone who understands hybrid work and the importance of employee wellbeing … and there’s added value in someone who can lead with empathy now more than ever.”
According to McDonald, there has been a particular need for strong finance skills within technology, healthcare, property management, and financial services — while not-for-profits, construction, manufacturing, and government have also been bright spots for finance professionals in recent months.
Making your move
While the overall hiring outlook for skilled finance professionals looks positive, and particularly for those based in the US and UK, McCubbin highlighted that it’s important to consider what you could gain from a move — “What am I going to learn? Where is this company going? How does this enhance my CV?” — rather than focusing on the broader economy or what you might be leaving behind.
“It’s always best to try and find a new role when you’re feeling happy in your current one, because then you know that you’re moving for the right reasons,” he added. “It’s far better to be excited about where you’re going rather than just being relieved at escaping where you are currently.”
In addition to examining personal motives for a move, McDonald encouraged finance professionals to gain deeper insight into where their current and potential organisations stand and where they are headed.
“As finance professionals, it’s important to pay attention to outlook — so take a good, hard look at each company and be honest with yourself about their success potential,” he said. “Of course, some finance professionals’ roles are to help revive the fiscal health of an organisation, but be realistic about what’s possible and what’s too lofty in today’s landscape.”
If you do decide to take the plunge and change roles, Stevens urged aspiring job hunters to complete a full SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis on any potential new position, and when completing this analysis, to consider the total package on offer including financial and nonfinancial rewards.
“Take the time to thoroughly understand and review the contractual offer before you hand in your notice with your existing employer,” he cautioned.
For example, is there a probation period? Do they state that any redundancy payments are made at the statutory levels? What costs are you liable for if the company funds your professional CIMA development?
“Whilst these items should not be a deal breaker in isolation, you do need to know where you do or don’t stand … so ensure that your eyes are wide open to these kinds of details.”
Finally, McDonald emphasised the importance of knowing how to demonstrate the value you can bring to an organisation and a new team at this time.
For instance, if your goal is making a transition to a new industry or to advance to a role that may have taken more time to get to by waiting to grow through the ranks, you will have to demonstrate how you’ll be able to start adding value immediately.
“You’ll want to show that you understand the landscape for their specific industry and their needs and show how you can help,” McDonald said. “If you are able to do all that during a time like this, it may very well be a career risk worth taking.”
Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.
— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.