Companies around the world are facing challenges to find skilled professionals, and the accounting and finance profession is no different.

Almost nine in ten global businesses (89%) said it is a challenge to find the right people to join their finance teams. This has become even more challenging in the face of digital transformation and automation, with both traditional finance and interpersonal skills also becoming must-haves in the workplace.

Around the world, the areas in which it is most difficult to find finance and accounting staff are:

  • Business and financial analysis - 36%
  • Financial management/control - 31%
  • Audit - 28%
  • Accounting - 27%
  • Compliance - 25%

Whilst this situation is similar across many different countries there are some regional differences when it comes to the skills gap – with business and financial analysis taking the top spot in Germany, France, Brazil and much of Asia Pacific; whereas financial management and control is the most important skill set in Benelux and the UK. This is typically influenced by the speed of the digital transformation journey that is taking place and cultural priorities.

As we hurtle towards an increasingly automated finance function, finance leaders believe some technical and soft skills are expected to become more important than others. Soft skills such as leadership, communication and commercial acumen are important for finance professionals to develop in the next five years. But these must marry with the development of technical abilities such as financial software, accounting and financial reporting, regulation and risk management capabilities. Key skills demands in the future will focus on:

  • Strategic vision - 41%
  • Problem solving - 40%
  • IT skills - 37%
  • Data analytics - 36%
  • Commercial/business acumen - 35%

But again, in different countries some skills are being prioritised above others. Technical knowledge such as IT and data analytics skills are being prioritised in countries including Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and the UK. In contrast, soft skills including leadership, strategic vision and problem solving is paramount in countries such as Belgium, France, Australia and Hong Kong.

To fill the skills gap and adapt to changing skill set requirements, companies are looking at a range of alternative options to address the war for talent.

Some are looking at pay and perks to retain and recruit new staff. Salaries for existing finance staff in companies are expected to increase by an average of 6.9%.

Others are looking at how bonus payments can help. Almost one in four finance professionals (23%) can expect a bonus in the next 12 months as companies look to reward and retain staff.

While financial perks can help, there is often much more needed for a happy and engaged workforce. In fact, while the majority of workers we surveyed around the world feel they are being paid appropriately for the work they do, feeling appreciated, being treated with fairness and respect and deriving a sense of accomplishment for their work were key drivers of happiness for finance and accounting professionals.

Another interesting fact is that many say they are willing to hire non-finance professionals to fill the gap and address the war for talent in this way – this is according to 84% of those surveyed. This willingness to go down the less traditional recruitment route is based on the recognition of the increasing importance of soft skills. Over half (51%) of finance leaders questioned believe soft skills are more important than technical ones when it comes to certain positions. And many, 39% see it as an important solution to the skills shortage challenge rather than simply increasing salaries and boosting bonuses.

Whatever the solution may be, the finance profession must act on the shortfalls in talent that are preventing businesses from moving forward. Businesses must continually adapt to changing requirements and skill sets to recruit, develop and nurture talent to move their organisations forward and advance their employees’ potential.