Treasury Talent

Treasury professionals sitting tight despite hirer demand

Published: Jan 2022

High job vacancy levels across many sectors are reflected in the treasury recruitment sector, where corporates are finding it challenging to fill senior finance roles.

Magnet attracting metal figures

The number of unfilled jobs continues to rise in countries recovering from the worst effects of the pandemic. UK vacancies reached a record high in November, the number of available positions in Japan was at its highest level of the year in October, and even in the US – where job creation figures were below expectations in November – demand remains high for finance professionals. In this context it is hardly surprising that companies are facing considerable challenges in finding the right people for senior roles such as chief financial officer, treasurer or financial director.

At the end of the summer the market was full of vacancies and senior finance leaders were confident about moving jobs. However, as summer passed to autumn potential candidates were thin on the ground – those who had been ‘waiting out’ the pandemic before they moved had done what they needed to and were now settled in new roles according to Refreshing’s Director, Charlie Jones. “Our work now is much more about headhunting and working hard to draw candidates from existing roles,” he says. “Responses to job ads are lower and we expect this to reduce further before the end of the year.”

Jones says it is not unusual for the best candidates to be considering three or more offers at a time. “There is huge competition to find the most talented people and companies who don’t work quickly and carefully consider the packages they are offering will lose out every time,” he adds. “Clients who have moved through the worst of the pandemic are ready to hire but until confidence returns and senior finance leaders feel happy enough to leave one stable job for another there will be an imbalance in the market.”

Bobby Lane, CEO of professional services consultancy Factotum, reckons it is more difficult than ever to find and attract the right people for senior roles as a result of a trend that was evident even before the pandemic. “The direction of the market pre-Covid was for chief financial officers and finance directors looking to take on a broader commercial role within a business rather than retaining a pure financial focus,” he says. “This means that many of those looking to change jobs are not looking to stay as a CFO or finance director but move into chief executive or managing director positions.”

Coupled with people taking time to reassess their personal goals and the way that they were working during lockdown, Lane says this has led to a contraction in the talent pool. “There are still people out there, but it is harder to find them and get them through the door,” he adds. “Existing employers are aware of the challenges of finding replacements so they are doing all they can to ensure that senior people do not leave, from increasing their salaries and loyalty bonuses to changing working conditions or job roles. Even if someone says ‘yes’ to you, nothing is guaranteed until they actually walk through the door on day one.”

According to Lane, the explosion of start-ups in the technology sector in particular has significantly increased the number of businesses looking for senior team members with financial experience. “There are technical candidates and people with commercial acumen in the market, but finding an all-rounder is not that easy,” he says. “There are suitable candidates available for employers who are clear about the role they are offering and realistic about what they are looking for, but the opportunity to work with a technology start up or fast-growing business has been more attractive than entering the profession and training over the last decade.”

Emma Ireland, recruitment consultant at Ten Percent Financial, agrees that there are fewer applicants for vacant roles, although she says mid-level positons have proved harder to fill than more senior roles since the end of lockdown. “We see fewer suitable candidates for roles than pre-lockdown in terms of both external applications and expressions of interest from candidates already registered with us,” she explains. “This is creating a shortage within the sector and has seen firms struggle to fill the roles they are recruiting for.”

Rej Abraham, Managing Director of ABPM, strikes a rather more positive note, suggesting that while potential candidates are fully aware of their value and reluctant to move unless the proposition is commercially appealing, merger and acquisition activity has seen some senior finance leaders enter the job market. On the topic of flexible working, he reckons the majority of CFOs/finance directors still anticipate spending most if not all of their time in the office while accepting that their teams don’t necessarily need to do the same. “The e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, homewares, construction and IT services and technology sectors have been notably active and there is a bias for recruiting from similar sectors,” says Abraham. “Competition is particularly noticeable where organisations are competing for finance professionals from their own sector.”

With a reduction in candidate numbers there is always going to be pressure on companies to offer as much as they can in terms of salary and improved working conditions. Unlike Abraham, Jones says candidates now assume that finance roles will allow for working from home at least two or three days a week and that any company demanding more time in the office than this is at a huge disadvantage.

“Salaries at newly qualified levels are up by 10% or more in the past six months,” he adds. “Those at the most senior levels have also seen their salaries rise, but to attract the best people companies are having to think more about the full package – bonuses and equity are less of a ‘nice to have’ than they were.”

Ireland also refers to increased demand for remote working roles, stating that for many this is now a non-negotiable factor. “For some, concerns about the pandemic are the reason stated for this, while for others it is a question of work-life balance,” she explains. “In many cases candidates are prepared to accept a lower salary if remote working is offered. But while working from home has become more common over the past two years some firms are still resistant to the idea, which can make recruiting more of a challenge.”

Lane agrees that the pandemic has prompted a reassessment of career objectives for many senior finance professionals. “The global experiment in home working gave them a real insight into what their work-life balance could look like,” he says. “I have spoken with a number of senior finance professionals who have subsequently decided that they would take lower paid roles in order to be able to work from home more often and not face the daily commute.”

Lane echoes Ireland’s observation that employers that do not offer flexibility are significantly reducing their chances of attracting the best talent. To make their task even harder, he says companies may also have to accept the need to pay higher salaries to tempt the right people away from their existing employers. Looking further ahead, Lane reckons the disparity between supply and demand for candidates with both technical and commercial skills will ease over the course of this decade.

“In recent years there has been a resurgence in people entering the profession and training to be a finance professional, so there will be a new wave of commercially minded, well-rounded finance professionals for the future,” he concludes. “However, this does not help the current position so employers have to recognise the challenges that they will face as post-lockdown, candidates may be happy to stay where they are or look for a total change of direction.”

Case study

Aceleron logo

One of the obvious challenges in recruiting staff during a pandemic is meeting potential candidates in person rather than virtually.

“Fortunately the restrictions had been eased by the time we started the process so we were able to see quite a few people in person, but that might not be possible in the coming months,” says Amrit Chandan, CEO of clean tech company Aceleron, which recently recruited its first CFO through ABPM. “It is also important that the candidates are comfortable meeting this way.”

Because of the early stage nature of the business, Chandan was looking for someone with experience of venture fundraising as well as operational experience. “We promote a flexible working culture but for such a senior role it is vital that there is a willingness to get stuck in and do what is needed, including travel because some meetings are too important to do online,” he adds.

Chandan says he receives a large number of requests to connect on LinkedIn from recruiters looking to place people in the company on an ongoing basis, which he describes as “tiresome” when he is not looking to fill a specific role. The recruitment process for the CFO role started at the end of the summer and the chosen candidate was signed up in the second week of December. “We spoke to around a dozen people and my priority was to ascertain how they might fit into the business and whether they inspired confidence that they could do want I – and the business – need them to do,” explains Chandan. “Some of those we met had the potential to grow into the role, but just didn’t have the skills and experience we require right now.”

The company has a strategy of paying the market rate for new recruits, although Chandan says anyone looking primarily at the remuneration would not have been seriously considered. “For such a senior role we encourage working in person at least initially while the person is learning the ropes, but beyond that we enable staff to work around school runs and important life events,” he adds.

Case study

ETZ logo

According to Nick Woodward, Group CEO of recruitment software vendor ETZ Group – which took on an executive financial director/CFO earlier this year – the biggest challenge in the recruitment process continues to be finding people with integrity. “We have talked to a lot of people who claimed to have certain skills and experience that they simply didn’t have,” he says. “Then you try to find candidates with real world business experience, people who have done something entrepreneurial or sales focused – and because the UK economy has become dominated by the service sector the pipeline of this type of candidate is drying up.”

The company’s latest recruit was found after a search that lasted around three weeks and was assisted by Ten Percent Financial. “We didn’t have as many options as we expected, although the candidates were all good quality,” says Woodward. “In terms of salary and working conditions, candidates want to be able to work from home – it is very hard to attract people if you make them come to an office when the work can be done equally well remotely.”

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