Controllers Council recently held a webinar on Managing Corporate F&A Talent, sponsored by Oracle NetSuite.

Our panelists included Barbara Salazar, Michael Mance, and Christine Gu. Barbara Salazar is a CPA and chief financial officer of E2 Consulting Engineers, with more than 25 years of F&A experience. Prior roles included VP of Finance, CFO, Corporate Controller, along with SEC reporting, and SOX compliance, and audit at PWC. Barbara is a CPA and an Ivy Leaguer, with an MBA from Stanford.

Michael Mance is Vice President of Finance Operations for Dialysis Care Center, a leading kidney dialysis provider. His 30-plus year career includes controller, VP Financial Reporting, and many other financial reporting roles at Fortune 500 companies. Michael earned a Bachelor’s in Accounting from Illinois State University and is a CPA.

And last but certainly not least, Christine Gu is an active CPA with 20 years of F&A experience. She is Chief Accounting Officer of Enjoy Technology, a recent IPO via SPAC, with both controllership and finance reporting roles. Her prior roles included VP Finance, Corporate Controller, and a public accounting career at KPMG. Christine has built and scaled multiple startups to public-ready, and she earned a BA in accounting from San Francisco University.

Following are key takeaways to this discussion. If you are interested in learning more, view the full webinar archive video here.

What is your overall finance and accounting or F&A staff environment?

Christine: I manage a fully remote team of about 30 people including individual contractors, consultants from outside firms, located across US, North America, and Europe. So, we have experienced staff shortages starting from the second half of 2021 for various reasons that I will summarize into three categories. One is work-life balance. There’s some burnout from staff, given the IPO trajectory that we’ve been going through. And then the other one is skill gap, transitioning from a private company to a public company, so some staff lack certain skill sets. And then the last one is the outside opportunities. There’s lots of competition from other companies, and that’s the primary reason that we’re losing staff.

Michael: We’re a smaller, privately held company located in the Chicagoland area. The environments, most of the individual employees are coming into the office a majority of the time, but the vast majority are local, live within a short driving distance. We do, though, provide work-life balance. So if people need to stay at home, for family, friends’ needs, et cetera, we do promote that. As far as from a shortage standpoint, we’ve had very little turnover, fortunately enough. But we’ve had turnover, which I can expand on, some of the other questions, where people have resigned and jumping, going to other companies, basically more driven by hefty salary increases.

As far as looking for new team members, I think you just need to act rather quickly. We’ve basically narrowed it down to where we’ll do one phone screen, we’ll have the individual candidate come in, meet two to three people, and then we’re done. So, we do not have a long runway of three, four, five interviews. Now interviewing is expedited.

Barbara: Our headquarters is located in Emeryville, next to beautiful San Francisco, and offices all over US, with some global activity. So, our environment is hybrid, and it’s actually very interesting because different people work different schedules. Some people come once a week, some people twice a week, some people three times a week. We don’t ask people to come more, because otherwise we will not be competitive.

It is very hard to retain staff, and there are clearly shortages of talent, especially of finance talent. We are fortunate. I mean, we have an amazing corporate culture, where we are really trying to do a lot of stuff for our employees and retain people. Some people stayed with this company for over 10 years, some even over 15 years. Our revenue is growing more than 2x this year, so it’s amazing. We are highly successful. But with that comes a lot of challenges. We do need to recruit, and recruitment comes with challenges. Some people whom we just hired resigned. Maybe used our offer to negotiate with their present employers, so we wasted a lot of time, and did not receive new hires. So, it’s exceptionally hard to hire new people right now.

How are you managing staff retention?

Michael: I think it’s key with your current staff, from a retention perspective, to invest in retaining them. What investments are you making in the staff? It could be CPE, continuing professional education. What type of goals do you have set prior for the team? Are they “smart” goals? Company-sponsored events, we’ve done that. We’ve had employee recognition that we’ve incorporated. That’s gone very well. We do that on a quarterly basis.

I think clear and concise and open transparent communication is key, also. So we do have company newsletters, seminars, events that are coming up, and we are encouraging with the team to what is the promotional standpoint and what opportunities are there for those individuals to grow within the team.

So those are the things that have worked out very well for us. The company culture was mentioned a little bit earlier. What type of company culture do you have? What opportunities, and what are you utilizing for resources for betterment for the individual team members, as well as collectively in a team environment? So, change is good, but I think clear, concise communication works out great for the team members.

How are you managing staff recruitment?

Barbara: What we found out, and this is quite unusual. In recruitment, previously, you will just go and recruit, and you try to do it less through an agency, because it’s extremely expensive, and more from your internal team. Right now, we found out, we have to advertise on Facebook, LinkedIn. And we participate in conferences, not only to sell our product, services, but also to recruit great employees. And right now, it’s becoming one of my sources.

We often do not have enough staff to accommodate our revenue growth, because we doubled this year. So, it is challenging. We are always behind on all recruitment positions. We are trying to get it known to all employees how great we are, what we offer, we have 30 years of history, but it is hugely challenging. And what I found out, while our people did not resign because our company does have great retention. It has often happened when we recruit, and it is too hard, because there are shortages of talent. So, people accept role, and if it is too hard, they just resign within a month, within few weeks. That happens, so we are always behind. We are managing that recruitment, I would say, very effectively. And we do try to attract people by high compensation, high bonuses, hybrid environment, work-life balance, and positive culture. I try to offer them whatever I need to recruit, and we’re always behind on recruitment.

What are you experiencing regarding F&A compensation?

Christine: We have experienced significant increases in the senior and manager level, and moderate increase to director and above. That’s the sort of my experience, in terms of compensation for the staff.

Your prognostication of F&A talent trends?

Michael: I think there will continue to be uptick, but I think long term, I think if you’ve seen out there, especially at big companies, there’s been a lot of layoffs of late. And just what I said earlier, people leaving where it’s more financial driven, but you’re seeing more and more layoffs. I think a lot of companies bought into that. The companies aren’t performing as well as they did. Now they’re over budgeted or overstaffed, because they really went over the job limits from a salary compensation. So, I think we’ll have some struggles in the short term, but I think it will even out in the long term.

Barbara: I would say that what I see, there is more and more demand for skilled F&A talent. So, there is always shortages of skilled people, and people who will make you public IPO, right? So, to do that, you need to do a lot of F&A, a lot of technical accounting, and these people are really in shortage. They’ll start demanding more and more wages, and similar, Michael made very good point about work-life balance, hybrid environment, more flexibility. So F&A and other advanced talent, they are demanding not only high wage bonus, but also work-life balance, and a hybrid environment.

Christine: I think I foresee more stability in the staffing, primarily due to the economic downturn and the layoffs alluded by Michael earlier. That creates more with a degree of uncertainty of the future. And so, people sort of hesitate to move with the current, recent situations.

And there’s also less openings and less competition from outside, and back to the three reasons that I had kind of summarized at the beginning. So, I see at least one third of that is because people see opportunity outside, people always think, right, the grass is greener on the other side, so they jump, but realize, yeah, there’s more work with the higher pay. I think I will foresee in the next year also; people will probably be more stable and be less jumping compared to last year or the year before. But long term, I believe once the economic comes back, once companies start going through IPOs or getting on the trajectory of becoming public company.

To view the complete webcast, download full webinar here.

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