AI continues to be a hot topic for finance, with CFOs on the hunt for tech-savvy new employees who can bring the detailed understanding of the technology they need to their finance departments.
While the growing pressure to find and utilize such talent is apparent, companies need to work quickly to ensure they are able to attract such employees — such as the up-and-coming members of Generation Z, who have different expectations of what they want from their jobs, said Ben Hodzic, managing director for executive search firm Selby Jennings.
Appealing to the Gen Z employee
While the recent launch of OpenAI-backed generative AI tool ChatGPT has spotlighted AI and machine learning, such tools have been put to use for years to help automate various aspects of finance. Selby Jennings’ clients are “continuing to look for people that are skilled in using... different programming tools that have to do with AI and machine learning,” Hodzic said in an interview.
However, competition to nab employees who have skills or experience with swiftly-evolving technology is fierce, making it critical for companies and leaders in the finance space to find ways to stand apart from the pack.
Gen Z workers are searching for areas where they can make an impact, Hodzic said. This is something that actually gives finance an edge when it comes to attracting younger talent as at an asset management firm or hedge fund, for example, “everything is geared towards impact” in terms of client returns or capital.
However, Gen Z is also searching for a certain amount of flexibility, which has been a trickier mark to hit for financial players, Hodzic said.
“I think there's been a lot of rethinking about work from home and work flexibility happening in the finance industry,” he said.
Companies have responded to the looming future of work question with varying responses — many banks, for example, are pushing for staff to return to the office full-time, Hodzic said. Smaller, more nimble firms with 100 or 200 employees, meanwhile, have adopted hybrid work styles requiring three or four days spent in the office, which has been an advantage when it comes to hiring younger workers.
“The assumption is that they still want to be in the office the majority of the week,” he said. “They know that's where they're going to develop their skills, and they know that they have to be around a team, they have to be surrounded by the technology and the people to learn.”
Aside from impact and flexibility, there is another, basic area where finance firms can stand out when looking to entice Gen Z talent: compensation.
There are companies nowadays who are getting “very creative” with their compensation packages, Hodzic said, including those which are adding hourly rates for their interns or adding sign-on bonuses for new hires.
“They're doing things that show, ‘Look, we are very committed to you, and we see this as a very long-term partnership with you, and because of that, we're going to invest in you,’” he said.
Prepping for the changing finance pipeline
The need to find new generations of talent is pushing companies to foster stronger relationships with universities that have strong technology programs, as up-and-coming graduates will have the most modern experience with the various digital systems that are now being put to use across the finance space.
“I think that there's definitely a bigger push from the industry to start working closer with STEM-oriented universities and sort of specific business schools that put an emphasis on things like computer science, business analytics, data science,” Hodzic said. For example, there’s a growing demand for actuary talent in the insurance industry that understands that technology.
However, this also raises new questions in the minds of executives as they accelerate their search for tech-savvy new financial minds — many companies are asking themselves if they should continue to target the same traditional universities as usual or if they need to look further to other schools and programs, Hodzic said.
The question of where future finance or accounting professionals are going to come from is looming large in today’s finance departments as CFOs grapple with a shifting set of responsibilities, many of which fall outside of their traditional remit. Succession planning is becoming a top priority for many companies as they consider the skills and experiences new generations will need to effectively serve as future finance chiefs, CFO Dive previously reported.
The breakneck evolution of generative AI tools has also created some concern among accounting and finance talent when it comes to the future of the industry, but for his part, Hodzic does not see a future where AI will fully replace human financial professionals.
“I think especially within financial services and financial science, there's always going to be that need for discretionary views on the markets and human input,” he said, pointing to the need for such views on the economy or what the Federal Reserve is doing as examples.