According to data from the Office for National Statistics, the UK finance industry had more than five vacancies unfilled for every 100 jobs between April and June 2022 – putting the sector behind only hospitality and tech firms.

Finding the best way to embed new talent into the finance team is crucial in ensuring they stay committed to the business for the long haul, but as times have changed, so have the challenges. This was the very topic of conversation at our recent Tipalti Illuminate event, where a panel of finance leaders discussed everything from the automation journey, including key drivers and the implementation process, to the importance of keeping young talent engaged and retained in a competitive market.

Fresh talent want more than mundane manual tasks

When it comes to graduates joining finance teams. Traditionally, they are expected to spend the first few years of their career getting to grips with the intricacies of financial processes. Whilst in years gone by young talent has accepted this as a necessary step within their development, the time in which they are prepared to stick around just working on repetitive tasks within accounts payable (AP) for example, has significantly shrunk.

According to Tipalti research, a third (32%) of young professionals say modernising finance with technology would be the most exciting problem to solve if they became a CFO. Given the ambitions of young talent, entry into the finance profession should no longer be confined to purely budgeting, forecasting and financial operations. Young professionals should be given the opportunity to be part of the pioneering direction that a career in finance can provide – if supported with the right processes.

Capitalise on young talent’s ambitions to add value and thinking strategically

Those entering finance teams start at the very bottom, getting to grips with the basics. But, too much time spent on repetitive tasks will cause an issue much quicker than it used to. Alun Davis, Head of Finance at Plentific highlighted this during the panel, “What I was finding was that our young talent were getting bored quite quickly and losing their attention” - this prevented Davis from getting the best from his team.

Our research revealed that 40% of young professionals see identifying new opportunities to accelerate growth, productivity or profitability as an exciting opportunity as a CFO. It’s clear there’s much to be excited about a career in finance but when stuck in the tedious lifecycle of manually-intensive processes employees, both new to the business and existing, will quickly become disillusioned and churn will be high. Alex Rogers, CFO at Design Cuts, notes that if their junior account hires were carrying out mainly manual, often mundane, tasks then they probably wouldn’t stay at the firm.

Businesses should be capitalising on this passion, instead of isolating them into the back office function. For Maria Liston, CFO at Basebone, she didn’t want her team to be continuously processing. Instead, she said, “I want them to provide useful insights for the rest of the business.” When new talent enters the team, businesses should see this as an opportunity to capitalise on fresh perspectives for strategic insights. But to realise this opportunity, businesses need to be asking how they can limit the mundane tasks to create a more engaged, inspired and motivated team, who are likely to stay at the business long-term.

Facilitate cross-departmental collaboration by increasing efficiency

Crucial to success through global financial instability is ensuring the business is lean, the finance team have an integral role in delivering streamlined operations which are agile enough to withstand change. Currently, 56% of finance teams spend over ten hours a week processing invoices and supplier payments – these inefficient and time-consuming tasks are simply not fit to deliver strategy at pace.

Davis recognises how crucial automation is to increasing efficiency and providing strategic insights for the business. He said: “the automation journey is about getting the information in the timeliest manner in front of my C-suite. And if we can't do that, these guys cannot make the right sort of business decisions.” Liston added, “we’ve grown but our finance team hasn’t…the choice was to invest in technology and not in headcount”.

Not only is the ability to rapidly turn data into insights for the rest of the business key for agility in challenging economic circumstances, but working smarter by improving efficiencies and procedures can result in higher levels of collaboration across the business. Liston said, “I can see much more collaboration, people having conversations about what this data actually means for the business… Automation has elevated the role of my team in the eyes of their peers and in other departments... they’re now a bit more interested in what we do in the sense of where we are adding value.”

For new talent in the business, the ability to see that their insights are not just numbers in a spreadsheet but inform a key part of the decision-making insight for the rest of the business will boost morale and satisfaction in the workplace.

Making the difference

To realise the full potential of the finance team as a strategic asset within the business, and crucially retain that talent, it must stop being siloed and labelled ‘the process department’. Increasing the efficiency of AP through automation can give the team time and autonomy to be integrated, and starting to make the difference as the crucial strategic arm of the business, providing credibility and improved decision-making.

Scale-up businesses will quickly outgrow their current systems – and indeed their young talent – if they do not build a finance department that channels teams towards more exciting, strategic endeavours. To support finance professionals as they craft their trade, it is crucial that finance leaders lean on automation to unleash time for these opportunities. The business will be paid dividends in increased productivity and the ability to capitalise on their talents’ analytical expertise.