This article was first published in the April 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Remarkably, it’s almost 20 years since McKinsey coined the phrase ‘war for talent’ in a 1997 article. The study spawned a generation of both supporters and detractors, yet whatever your view on the original study, what is certain is that attracting, developing, engaging and keeping hold of good people with the right skills has continued to be a key priority for businesses. This is true of enterprises of all sizes and in all sectors, and also from the perspective of finance professionals; CFOs and other finance leaders rightly recognise the importance of developing their staff and helping them achieve their career ambitions through appropriate opportunities.

Yet a new light has been shone on the quest for securing people with the right skills in the face of globalisation, changing finance ‘delivery’ models and the emerging requirement for new capabilities. In particular, although the shared services and outsourcing journey started in the early 1990s, access to offshore talent probably wasn’t one of the primary drivers. Moving on 20 years, the industry is now well established, yet the longer term implications in relation to people management and the changing nature of career paths remain not particularly well understood. In global finance functions this is particularly true today. In short, the advent of shared services and outsourcing has had an indelible impact on finance careers; it has changed the finance career paradigm.

Yet if organisations are to future-proof the development of their finance people today, these changes and implications must be better understood. This is why ACCA is launching a new research programme which will address the critical talent challenges organisations now face in developing the next generation of finance professionals. Our ambition is to bring new insights into the practices enterprises must adopt to attract, develop, engage and retain their future talent. 

Our programme will draw on a range of quantitative and qualitative research activities, including global surveys, ‘deep-dive’ enterprise case studies, in-depth career profiling and leadership interviews. It will aim to understand how talent and people development programmes must evolve in response to changing technology, the maturity of shared service functions, emerging finance models and the broader corporate cultural and industry context.  

The programme intends to focus on a number of critical areas. We want to understand the aspirations and challenges of the youngest generation in global finance functions today, the nature of their work and employment engagements, working patterns, career ambitions and motivations, their attitudes to remuneration and what works in attracting, engaging and retaining them. We also want to look at how career paths are changing for finance professionals, understanding the value placed on different experiences gained across different activities, the career opportunities that go beyond finance, common pathways in and out of finance, and emerging best practices in career planning that organisations are seeking to deploy. In addition, we will explore the changing nature of skills, capabilities and behaviours, as well as the learning and experiential interventions that can be deployed to help cultivate these, along with valuable leadership qualities and traits.

Jamie Lyon FCCA is head of corporate sector at ACCA