The Future Ready CFO: The common sense solution to acquisition and retention

future ready cfo employee retention

In my first two articles focusing on the Future-Ready CFO and advisory teams, I discussed the identity crisis underway within our great profession of accounting and finance. More specifically, I looked at the cause for this as well as presented ideas on how make the profession both more attractive to a younger generation and more influential and relevant within the business world. More than ever, organizations and society need us to bring order, clarity, and cohesion to a disruptive, uncertain, and transformative business environment. 

Let’s refresh on why “Accounting” is a dull and incomplete descriptor for our profession. We need to rebrand and have all the assets to do so. 

  • We are not only stewards of value; CFOs and advisory teams also create value for long-term sustainability. 
  • There are many exciting and diverse career paths in our global profession, but we insist on leading with financial accounting as though standards, reporting, compliance, audit, and attest are all we do. 
  • We spend more time dividing, arguing about management vs financial accounting or CMA vs CPA. Instead, we should be unifying to excite purpose-driven millennials to our profession.
  • Build in emerging competencies within college curriculum and support it within training companies, professional associations, and even government entities. Strategic planning, futures analysis, technology, and data science are all an integral part of our profession and should be treated as such. 
  • We can move fast to seize opportunity. With the mainstreaming of ESG reporting around the world and mandatory disclosures starting with climate change, our profession has an opportunity to lead in responsible environmental reporting and long-term enterprise strategic planning/sustainable business management. This leadership position would allow us to attract younger generations. 

So, we know we need to attract new people into the accounting profession to fill a rapidly depleting pipeline. But that’s only part of the challenge. 

The alarming lack of retention in the accounting profession 

Acquisition is very important for a profession which needs to be more diverse and inclusive, but we can’t overlook the necessity of nurturing and engaging our “loyalists.” So, let’s shift the challenge to retention in our profession. 

We already know that more than 300,000 accountants and auditors have left their jobs the past couple of years. However, a study conducted by IMA and Robert Half1 showed that the problem of retention will only get worse. 

To summarize, they found that 29 percent of respondents have voluntarily left a company in the past 24 months, and another 41 percent plan to leave an employer in the next six to 12 months. More concerning is that 11 percent plan to leave the profession entirely in the next 12 months.

The study also focused on turnover trends based on age, which showed that individuals between 18 and 38 left their companies in the highest volume (39 percent) and are also the most likely to leave their employer in the next six months to a year (41 percent). Also, 8 percent of the respondents in this age range plan to leave the accounting and finance profession altogether in the next 12 months. 

The top of the funnel (attracting students to accounting programs) is eroding rapidly so if this retention trend continues, we will lose the race for relevance. 

Looking for opportunities 

Let’s not get too depressed, though. Every good risk manager knows that there is an opportunity side to risk, so let’s focus there. According to IMA and RHI, “successful strategies for talent retention are often based on a comprehensive approach that combines competitive compensation and benefits with policies and initiatives such as fostering an inclusive and supporting workplace culture, respecting employees, and recognizing their performance, providing career growth and development opportunities, and promoting work-life balance through flexible work arrangements”. 

Basically, the best way to boost both acquisition and retention in the accounting and finance profession lies in a combination of employer-specific initiatives and systematic, structural changes led by leaders of the profession. The company specific initiatives need to be focused on culture and competence building. The initiatives led by leaders of the profession include branding, identity, and content, otherwise known as the “body of knowledge,” or BoK. The most significant, but readily achievable, structural initiatives to improve acquisition and retention in our profession are: 

  1. Stop the territorial ownership and protection of specific cohorts within the profession. A growing profession both in numbers and in influence over time benefits us all, allowing us to win the race for relevance. Auditors and book-close specialists in financial accounting often transition to management accounting jobs and vice-versa. To ascend in the pursuit of a CFO position, it is often the expectation that you step out and lead an operations or market-facing team, and then step back into finance that much more enriched. 
  2. Define the many exciting and diverse career paths and opportunities within our broader global profession. I said it before, and I’ll say it again. There’s more to accounting and finance than auditing, compliance, and reporting, but until we stop leading with that, we’ll turn away young people from the profession. 
  3. Step up the representation and “identity” of the profession to include value creation enabled by BoK training, curricula, and certification in domains like strategic planning, futures analysis, technology, and advanced data analytics. More on this in future blogs, but the main point is as leaders, we must be the ambassadors for the profession – ALL of it.


  1. Talent Retention in the U.S. Accounting and Finance Profession

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