Finance and treasury staffers are still in demand, with a recent survey by Robert Half showing that 62% of finance executives at large companies think their finance departments are understaffed.
“The hiring market has really remained very competitive for a sustained period of time,” said Tim Hird, executive director at Robert Half Management Resources. “The overriding trend is that organizations of all sizes and all industries are experiencing talent shortages, and that’s resulting in recruitment and retention challenges.”
Some of the demand in the finance sector reflects companies’ growing need for “more specialized and niche skills” over the last five to seven years, Hird said, with some of that stemming from companies’ need to comply with new regulations and some from the growing reliance on technology.
“We’re beginning to hear a lot about digitalization and automation,” Hird said, noting the demand for “very strong digital and technology-system-related skill sets.
“The talent pool that has some of the niche skills has gotten tighter,” he added.
Executives at Futurestep, a unit of executive search firm Korn Ferry, agreed that those with finance and treasury skills are in demand.
“There’s a huge competition for people who have great credentials, who have good training, who have come through difficult economic environments,” said Gloria Mirrione, vertical leader for financial services for Futurestep.
Arlene Kobayashi, a practice leader in the North American financial professionals search practice at Futurestep, said finance and treasury have been evolving since the financial crisis to be “less of a purely technical function.
“The business is looking toward these functions to be more strategic, to work more closely with the business and to be strong business leaders in addition to very strong technical experts,” said Kobayashi, pictured at right. “That’s really changed the landscape of talent within this function and increased the demand.”
The broader skill set that’s involved includes strategic thinking, communication and relationship-building skills, and the ability to interface with other parts of the business, she said.
Mirrione cited companies’ interest in finance employees with technology skills. “One of the things we see is just that desire to have someone who has spent time in a fintech-type environment or understands electronic payments or electronic trading,” she said.
Kobayashi said companies were responding by providing more rotation through various finance functions.
“We’re seeing organizations putting more effort into developing and rounding out those skill sets,” she said, adding that as entry-level hires move up, “they’ve gained that broader exposure and are better-positioned to add more value on the strategic and business side of things.”
Oddly, the competition for finance and treasury employees isn’t having much effect on pay.
“We haven’t seen compensation evolve as rapidly as the demand for a different skill set has in the finance function, which just increases the demand for true high-potential and succession-potential candidates,” Kobayashi said. “I’d say, particularly in some very large organizations, there still is a fairly rigid compensation structure in bands that hasn’t evolved as quickly as the demand for different skill sets.”
In fact, the Association for Financial Professionals’ annual compensation survey shows finance and treasury staffers enjoyed an annual average salary increase of 3.5% in 2016, little changed from the 3.6% increase in 2015.
Mariam Lamech, AFP’s director of survey research, noted that the average annual salary increases shown by the survey got up to 4.2% in 2005 and 4.4% in 2006 before declining amid the financial crisis. The average annual boost headed back up again after the recession, making it to 4.1% in 2015, but since then has backed off a bit amid economic uncertainty.
“So many surveys are showing organizations not spending much because there’s so much uncertainty in the economic environment,” she said. “I think that’s translating into this as well.”
Lamech noted that AFP’s average salary gain for finance employees still outpaces the increase the Society for Human Resource Management reports for exempt nonunion salaried employees, which rose about 3% in 2016.
The average salary increase varies according to the level of the position. Executives like treasurers, CFOs, and vice presidents of finance saw their salaries rise just 2.7% last year, while those in management positions, such as directors of treasury, assistant treasurers, and FP&A directors, saw an average 4% increase. Employees in staff positions saw a rise of 3.4%.
On the other hand, bonuses tend to be much larger for higher-level employees. Executive-level finance employees took home an average bonus of $63,957, which was equal to 36% of their base salary. Those in management positions received an average bonus of $20,804, or 20% of their base salary, while the average bonus for staff was $5,048, or 8% of base salary.
The AFP survey gathered compensation data on almost 4,900 employees working in the 20 positions tracked, ranging from CFO, treasurer, and controller down to assistant cash manager and accountant one.
While the average increase barely budged from last year’s, some positions saw bigger gains. The best average increases were seen by managers of treasury/finance and financial reporting specialists, both showing an average 5.1% increase in base salary.
Lamech noted that financial reporting specialists had seen their pay rise just 1.7% in 2015, so the 5.1% surge in 2016 might have been an offset to the below-average gain the year before.
Runners-up included cash managers, with an average increase of 4.6%; assistant controllers, at 4.7%; and financial planning and analysis senior analysts, at 4.2%.
The AFP data also put some numbers on the value of an MBA and professional credentials. Executives with MBAs—CFOs, treasurers, controllers, and vice presidents of finance—earned almost $16,000 more than those holding the same positions who didn’t have an MBA. Those in management positions with MBAs earned over $16,000 more, and those in staff positions took home more than $5,000 extra a year.
And a question about factors that affect upward mobility in the treasury or finance department elicited mentions of an MBA as well as a number of certifications, including the CPA, Certified Treasury Professional and Financial Planning & Analysis designations, and Chartered Financial Analyst.
Lamech suggested that certifications are more attractive to workers in the lower two levels, management and staff, than they are to executives. Lower-level finance staffers are “younger, more driven toward certification, while those in higher positions in the organization in the finance area have a lot more experience,” she said.
Robert Half’s Hird said the strong demand for finance talent was leading companies to revamp their talent management programs.
Companies “recognize [that] to attract ambitious employees, these individuals are looking for training and development opportunities, and they’re looking for it quickly,” said Hird, pictured at left. “Sometimes people decide whether to join organizations based purely on what professional development opportunities they’re going to receive in the first two years at the company.”
So companies are providing more of those opportunities to employees, even those who haven’t been with the company that long, he said.
Training and development can come into play not only when companies are recruiting but as they’re trying to retain employees, he added.
“If an employee is suddenly coming to them asking for career development, for exposure to work in other areas, or just more exposure or interaction with other groups, that’s a clear sign that they’ve got an employee who’s got itchy feet,” Hird said. “They’ve got to be looking for those signals that potentially one of their employees is in danger of leaving.”