Automation can help slow the talent drain

Staff welcome automation, surveys find.
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Francis Scialabba

4 min read

The accounting and finance talent pool is shrinking. An IMA survey found 11% percent of people in finance-related jobs plan to exit the field within the next year. And 16.9% fewer students received bachelors’ degrees in accounting than did a decade ago, according to the AICPA’s Trends survey.

The talent drain is making it harder for CFOs to staff their finance functions. An Avalara survey found 84% of CFOs in the US and UK are contending with a talent shortage in accounting and finance.

But there are some steps CFOs can take to improve their chances of recruiting and retaining accounting and finance personnel—and perhaps change perceptions of the field along the way.

Automation, and now AI, can perform the more tedious tasks of the finance function, freeing staff to focus more on strategy and analysis. That can make for happier staff, who will be more likely to stay, and can make roles more attractive to prospective hires, experts told CFO Brew.

A changing mindset towards work: Some finance leaders believe that attitudes towards accounting and finance work have shifted recently. In financial fields—as in many other industries—entry-level employees are often expected to “pay your dues” by performing rote and basic tasks, Josh Schauer, VP of finance at insightsoftware, told CFO Brew.

That certainly was the case for Schauer, who began his career as an accountant. He did his share of “manual gruntwork,” he said, but he’s found that younger employees have “less patience” for that kind of dues-paying.

“With accounting and finance, those first few years can be challenging,” because employees are doing manual work such as journal entries and reconciliations, “things that really very few people enjoy,” he said.

Ashok Manthena, an author and speaker on AI for finance and founder of AI-enabled finance software company ChatFin, feels the same way.

“This is true, particularly for the newer generation,” he told CFO Brew. “If we give them these kinds of tasks, very manual step-by-step procedures,” they’ll be bored and likely to look elsewhere, he said.

Later on in the career path, Schauer and Manthena both said, finance gets more exciting. “It’s like investigative journalism,” Manthena said. Staff can analyze issues to determine their root causes, for instance, he said.

By handling the duller, more rote tasks, automation can help staff spend more time on intellectually challenging, value-added work—what Schauer dubs the “macro, big-picture type of stuff.”

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That, in turn, will help boost their job satisfaction. “When we can automate all these manual processes,” Manthena said, “financial accounting will become very interesting for people to start out in as a profession.”

Ultimately, Schauer knows automation can improve employee well-being, because he’s seen it firsthand. When he joined insightsoftware around four years ago, the finance team was still handling many tasks manually, such as tracking and reconciling HR data and recognizing recurring revenue. Now, software does it for them. “It’s been a pretty profound improvement,” he said.

“We’re a living example,” he added, of how automation “will improve not just the efficiency of your function but also the long-term tenure and satisfaction of your staff.”

The latest tech can be a recruiting tool: It’s not just tech enthusiasts like Schauer and Manthena who favor automation: Employees want to use more tech on the job as well. Many finance and accounting professionals responding to a recent IMA survey said they wanted to see employers “consider the adoption of advanced technologies,” Susie Duong, senior director of research and thought leadership at IMA, told CFO Brew.

“People are willing to embrace the technology, and they are willing to upskill and reskill, and to me, that’s exciting news,” she said. “Having advanced technology in place will be significant in attracting and retaining young talent.”

Training helps upskill and retain: Employers can embrace employees’ desire to upskill by providing them with training. Though such training will require a “front-end investment of your time,” Schauer said, but he believes it “ends up realizing significant returns pretty quickly.”

It can also give newer staff a glimpse of what they’ll be able to do as they progress in their career. “Particularly within accounting, you want to make sure that they have visibility into what can come down the road,” Schauer said.

Training can also serve as a recruiting tool, Manthena said. Many employees are worried about not having the right skill sets.

“You should give that ability to your team,” he said. “Say, ‘Hey, go learn. The company’s going to pay for it.’”

News built for finance pros

CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.