Get talent: how CFOs can make the most of the people they hire


Chief Financial Officers (CFO) all over the world are facing a challenge – maximising the value that finance teams bring to the business.

People – and not numbers – are the sum of an organisation, and in a new report with KPMG, ACCA (the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants), looks at how finance departments can raise their game and add value to their organisation.

The report, “Maximising people power: effective talent management in finance”, focuses on the people side of the finance function, but it also has significance for people in other departments within organisations too; the recommendations and case studies in the report could easily be applied to marketing, human resources or strategy departments in businesses who face similar talent challenges.

Integrated talent management sits at the heart of organisational success. Essentially, businesses need to have the appropriate professionals with the right skills and competencies available at the right place and time.

ACCA commenced its review of talent management in 2010 by asking CFOs around the world their opinions about the issue. We found that only 20 per cent of organisations had a talent management strategy that fully integrated talent identification, development, deployment and retention activity across finance teams.

It’s clear that the economic slowdown has frustrated talent management efforts, as our initial report also found strong support for the concept that talent management programmes play an important role in keeping finance staff engaged and motivated.

This dichotomy is a concern and it cannot continue. The next decade presents an enormous opportunity for the finance function to make a difference to every organisation’s success – whether a small business or a large listed company.

The canny CFO needs to take a holistic view to talent management. Good talent management strategies go beyond engagement and motivation. Once implemented, effective talent management can ensure better succession planning, which can have a positive effect on the bottom line by negating or reducing staff replacement costs. Above all, it helps to cultivate the skills that finance professionals need to improve the performance of their organisations and drive long-term sustainable value.

By maintaining a motivated pool of finance professionals, CFOs can meet the various challenges they face with confidence. It means they can minimise their own costs as well as the costs to their organisations, generate maximum value in a period of slow economic growth and position their companies so they can take opportunities that arise as economic conditions improve.

But what do great talent practices look like, and what do under-pressure CFOs need to consider? The report offers eight recommendations from taking the time to define talent to identifying the key skills and behaviours that finance professionals must have to deliver the organisational strategy.

Part of this strategy is to ensure that the finance function offers comprehensive learning – leading organisations offer a comprehensive range of learning and development activities, which can be selected to suit the needs of the individual. Organisations are increasingly using finance academies to provide structured and consistent training.

The report also looks at the role of the finance business partner (FBP) as part of the talent mix – and their part in the finance business partnering model.

The FBP is a highly commercial accountant, who applies his or her core technical knowledge to business issues and focuses the much needed finance lens on organisational decision making.

As KPMG says in the report, finance business partnering is a crucial role – it supports the whole business to raise standards, takes a forward-looking approach and has a strong commercial view. The FBP is usually free from the distractions of core finance work, which enables her or him to offer this critical level of support.

CFOs looking to introduce a partnering model need to be able to provide FBPs capable of meeting the demands and expectations of the business operations they support, who can inspire trust and respect. If they don’t, they may find the FBP role being passed to individuals from a commercial, non-financial background, who are then taught the necessary finance fundamentals. This would weaken the influence that finance has in the organisation, and arguably the quality of service that FBPs could provide: some of the strengths of qualified finance professionals – the ability to interpret numbers quickly and apply highly rigorous analysis – would be lost.

But the challenge for CFOs and for their FBPs is to counter the effects of the recent economic downturn, which has frustrated many talent management efforts.

The report leaves no doubt that developing talent is a vital issue for all finance leaders. It is one that must be addressed if finance functions are to fulfill their potential and provide the necessary support their organisations need to thrive in this increasingly complex and challenging world.

There are tremendous opportunities ahead. ACCA and KPMG’s experience tells us that those organisations that put talent at the heart of their finance function and who create great finance functions gain a competitive advantage. And in these still challenging times, there can only be a clear bottom-line benefit in doing this.