08 February, 2017

Generation Next: the Millennial CFO

Millennials, with their technology skills and aptitude for change, could make great finance leaders.

Generation Next: the Millennial CFO
08 February 2017
With more than half of the population in the Middle East aged between 18 and 34 years (United Nations), Millennials are flowing into the region's workplace and transforming it. New generation CFOs make no exception. As Deloitte points out in a special report, "the CFOs today are eliminating rigid silos, standardising and integrating processes, and creating systems for businesses to respond faster to changing market, customers, and regulatory changes".

Bringing in more technology for smarter finance

Author Marc Prensky, who first coined the term "digital natives", describes Millennials as a generation born after 1980 who are "native speakers" of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. "Millennials are a creative generation since they were able to experience connectivity and technology from its infancy. They understand the various global opportunities that exist and are more inclined to follow their interests," comments UAE-based Suzan Shedid, Millennials Researcher and strategy consultant at Palladium Group, the digital transformation consultancy. She says that in the field of finance, younger workers are attracted to roles in the growing field of data analytics and consultancy. "Millennials would be more inclined to be involved in technology-driven finance roles and automate most of the role." As part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Shedid thinks their technology skills could prove very useful since the World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified accounting and finance as some of the jobs at risk. "Digital natives can innovate and implement technological changes, help companies keep up with technology trends and can teach other generations at work about technology."

Creating a positive work environment

Young finance leaders are indeed "well equipped to deal with the change happening in the sector that is primarily being driven by globalisation and technology," as ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) stresses in its recent Generation Next report. For the retention and management of younger workers, Millennials therefore expect companies to include more technology in every aspect of their business. From the recruitment process - which should include social media, video interviewing, and even the use of big data to reach out to candidates, to BYO ("Bring your Own") work - allowing employees to perform task on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, and adoption of cloud-based systems. However, if Millennials' great aptitude for technology makes them valuable to corporates, their expectations at work differ somewhat from that of their elders. "Millennials tend to enjoy creativity, teamwork and flat structure firms in order to be able to voice out their opinions more freely. In addition, Millennials see a great importance in work-life balance which is not viewed as a priority by the Baby boomers," says Suzan Shedid. "They view their jobs as an extension of their personality, hence, companies need to ensure that they can provide a job that is attractive as well as a welcoming environment".

Career progression opportunities

They may be more concerned with a good life/work balance than previous generations, Millennials are nevertheless ambitious and expect to develop fully at work. Young professionals see finance and accounting as "a solid platform for skills attainment and career growth," ACCA said. "Almost half of them said they were attracted to the profession for the potential long-term career prospects it affords as well as the opportunity to develop a broad range of skills. Some 85% agreed that finance career background experience would be valuable for organisation leaders in the future."

However, the ACCA report also revealed that Millennials are an incredibly mobile generation, and quickly jump ship if they are not satisfied, with 40% admitting they would change jobs in two years. To increase the retention rate of younger workers, Shedid believes a company needs to keep them engaged and offer ongoing support. "One of the key issues is lack of training and development that results in a stagnant progress of the employees," she stresses. "Companies should always try to keep the jobs interesting and ensure that employees understand the crucial role they play in order to achieve the company's vision." To avoid routine, she recommends finance positions to slowly move more towards advisory and solutions provider. "It's the role of the finance department to be able to integrate with every part of the business. Hence, to advertise a finance role in a way that is viewed as informative and prestigious can be very useful to companies." She remarks that according to the WEF, some of the critical skills that will be required by future employees are heavily focused on human interaction. "Thus, the finance role needs to rise from being individualistic to team work that can enhance emotional intelligence, negotiation skills, communication and critical thinking," she says.

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