Finance execs: Many candidates lack critical thinking, problem solving abilities

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Skill sets beyond technical knowledge are critical when it comes to employing experienced accounting professionals most effectively, according to a recent report by Grant Thornton LLP.

Fifty-five percent of survey respondents thought that the lack of employees with the necessary soft skills – communication, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities – was the most significant challenge in recruiting seasoned accounting professionals.

Approximately 50 percent of respondents said the increased workload/number of hours has made corporate finance and accounting careers less attractive, making it the second most significant obstacle in hiring senior finance employees. The dearth in technical skills among experienced accounting staffers ranked third, according to the report, The Evolving Accounting Talent Profile: CFO strategies for attracting, training and retaining experienced accounting and finance professionals.

The report presents research findings distilled from interviews with chief financial officers at publicly traded and privately held companies on the state of the accounting employment market, including staff development and job turnover. Building upon Grant Thornton’s survey of more than 500 U.S. senior finance executives in 2009, the new analysis presents insights on a range of concerns facing CFOs in the hiring and retaining of experienced finance professionals involved in formulating accounting policy, financial reporting, internal controls, and compliance.

“Because of rapidly changing rules and regulations in the accounting industry, we would have expected lack of talent with technical accounting skills to be the primary challenge for CFOs. As a result, we were surprised to see soft-skills deficiency to be a more pressing issue,” said Gina Kim, a director in the Public Policy and External Affairs Group at Grant Thornton LLP. “CFOs are really looking for people with soft skills, like critical thinking and problem solving, to understand the implications of shifting accounting standards.”

As macroeconomic factors force CFOs to pay closer attention to the bottom line and rein in corporate spending, senior finance executives also are charged with meeting the expectations of experienced finance and accounting professionals in order to prevent employee turnover. Thus, talent management is more crucial than ever at a time when changing regulations and new advances in technology make skill development, technical competency, and retention core priorities for CFOs, according to the report.

Designed to assess the CFO outlook on accounting and finance employees with at least a bachelor’s degree and 10 or more years of work experience, Grant Thornton relied on the assistance of third-party research firm Evalueserve Inc. for its interviews of 32 CFOs, including 10 non-U.S.-based CFOs of companies located in Australia, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. The study was conducted between the fourth quarter of 2009 and first quarter of 2010, and included CFOs at 13 public and 19 private U.S.-based companies along with six public and four private non-U.S. companies.

It also provides a rare inside look into the different viewpoints held by senior finance executives at public and private companies. For instance, Grant Thornton’s survey found 62 percent of public company CFOs thought the lack of soft skills was the biggest recruitment challenge involving accounting talent, as compared with 44 percent of their counterparts at privately held businesses. By comparison, 56 percent of private company finance executives said that increased workload has made accounting and corporate finance careers less attractive, compared with 46 percent of public company CFOs.

The Evolving Accounting Talent Profile noted that talent management isn’t confined simply to soft-skills identification and employee development. Changing accounting standards and technology advances also require that technical expertise be improved through additional training. Grant Thornton’s study offers best practices to today’s CFOs in addressing the most urgent talent-related concerns:

  • Identify critical skill requirements: CFOs should screen potential accounting candidates on technical competencies and emerging soft-skills needs.
  • Use a multi-faceted approach to bridge skill gaps: Training is fundamental to building the capabilities of experienced staffers in acquiring soft and technical skills.
  • Implement on-the-job training: CFOs should provide on-the-job training sessions, especially those related to technical abilities, which allow accounting professionals staff to employ recently learned skills in real-world situations.
  • Enhance long-term growth potential: Senior finance executives should address employee concerns about advancement, training, and development opportunities in order to improve long-term growth potential and minimize turnover.
  • Consider financial and non-financial factors to retain employees: CFOs need to recognize the role of nonmonetary incentives (recognition, exposure to senior management, opportunities to lead projects) in motivating employees and improving staff retention beyond benchmarking compensation.


To view The Evolving Accounting Talent Profile: CFO strategies for attracting, training and retaining experienced accounting and finance professionals.

About Grant Thornton LLP:

The people in the independent firms of Grant Thornton International Ltd provide personalized attention and the highest quality service to public and private clients in more than 100 countries. Grant Thornton LLP is the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd, one of the six global audit, tax and advisory organizations. Grant Thornton International Ltd and its member firms are not a worldwide partnership, as each member firm is a separate and distinct legal entity.

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