Finance Recruitment Trends Spring 2021

In this blog, Phil Bailey looks at recruitment trends in Finance and the way in which companies with the best talent have been relatively well-placed to handle recent challenges.

Strategic Background

It is impossible to summarise the last 15 months in two short paragraphs but some context will help us to better explain the current recruitment situation for Finance roles.

Financial Services companies with processes that were the least location-dependent were able to adapt more quickly when restrictions were imposed in early 2020, and subsequently turned their attention to generating longer-term competitive advantage. This is not to downplay the initial challenge though. There may have been better capital positions coming into 2020 than there were pre-Credit Crunch at the end of 2007, but the impact was still severe as credit losses had to be allowed for, existing investment portfolios looked set for very poor returns and interest rates remained historically low.

The pandemic accelerated existing trends and precipitated new ones. For example, it soon became apparent that commuting volumes were likely to fall permanently, consumer FinTech saw accelerated late adoption and real-estate lease rates plunged in The City. By analysing opportunities and threats and reviewing cost-out maturity, liquidity and asset portfolios in the new strategic context, Finance departments contributed to the development of new operating models that will stabilise as the lockdown restrictions roll back. Rather than cost-cutting, the focus has been on cost optimisation, capital efficiency and the secure funding of new styles of transacting business.

Flexible Working and Transformational Leaders

Banks moved from business as usual at the end of 2019 into accelerated change programmes by spring 2020. Regular accounting practices had to be performed in the most challenging of circumstances; reporting was very difficult due to disrupted communications, and accurate forecasting in such an exceptional business environment became almost impossible. Performing time bound tasks like this during the disruption of lockdown saw the increased recruitment of reporting specialists and although operations have tended to stabilise now, the situation has led to changes in the baseline requirements for new candidates.

We’ve all had to work flexibly over the past year. Some people are naturally better equipped for this than others. It’s a trait we are asked to actively recruit for now and companies are training staff to be more resilient. Remote working is likely to remain a more regular part of most people’s working lives and at management levels an emotionally intelligent approach has proved to be productive. This is another “must have” that has started to appear on job descriptions.

These soft skills are not only useful when change is imposed upon us; they are also recognised strengths of leaders who are trying to effect change. Essentially, everyone in Financial Services is playing their role in a transformation process now so this is even more relevant. When attempting to transform a business, it is important to consider the challenge holistically and objectively and to address complex problems without falling victim to inertia. While it may fall to CEOs and Chairmen to sell the clear vision at the top level, senior Finance staff need to perform a similar role with their divisions as well as playing a critical role in the development of strategy.

Strategic activities specific to recent events have included:

  • Accelerating digital transformations that were underway pre-COVID and analysing the financial implications of transacting business in new ways;
  • The modelling of which assets, functions and services are core to the business and which should be divested or outsourced;
  • Calculating the cost implications of retaining customers who are reluctant to use eBanking;
  • Financing the retention and reskilling of employees to deliver business in new ways while maintaining good mental health;
  • Calculating how to use existing real estate effectively with lower occupancy density and how to decentralise operations to support customer support and business continuity.

Finance Recruitment Trends

Finance are pivotal banking functions that require strong leaders with the ability to understand every aspect of the business in strategic context while managing large teams. They are responsible for audit, governance and the preparation of regular and bespoke reporting upon which major decisions are based. The ability to understand and support strategic decision-making from the perspective of different senior leaders means Finance presents a strong career path towards C-Suite roles.

In spring 2021 the recruitment market is quite buoyant, not only is business confidence increasing but there are so many mitigation and transformation projects that require audit, governance, research and analysis. As mentioned earlier, reporting became an increasingly mission-critical discipline which led to an earlier resurgence in hiring figures for mid-level roles. Now the focus is moving to strategic delivery and the roll out of new business models, we are seeing an upturn in vacancies for financial management specialists in the £100k+ range. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and the sense of urgency increases, selection and hiring processes are likely to shorten.

After a flat couple of years, salaries are on the increase and most companies are reporting talent shortages for their Accounting and Finance divisions as they seek candidates with the optimum combination of technical, analytical and soft skills. The increases are slightly dampened by the need for banks to invest more in remote working and the understanding that staff won’t be expected to spend quite so much on commuting, especially to London. There has been a tendency for senior specialists in, for example, tax structuring, credit risk management or M&A to stay put during this turbulent period and this is starting to have an inflationary effect on remuneration packages.

As discussed, soft skills are a genuine requirement at all levels. These include general business acumen, the resilience required to handle constant change, tenacity, the ability to collaborate, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and problem-solving. It is recognised that this final skill of problem solving is better achieved by diverse teams and banks are taking their diversity drives more seriously than ever. As well as parameters like ethnicity and gender, a wider range of age profiles is being considered based on the realisation that younger candidates have a good aptitude for switching between project teams as they are increasingly expected to do.

There is also demand for technical and analytical accounting. While AI hasn’t removed jobs it has seen a shift towards data driven methodologies. As banks seek to create resilient business models which can withstand the uncertain business environment, business intelligence needs to be pulled in from multiple sources. Even at the CFO level, some banks, especially those with the most digital service offerings, are now looking for tech savvy candidates who are adept at database management and a level of coding.

Contact Phil Bailey at Healy Hunt for your Finance search projects.

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