CFOs Looking for a “Softer” Side in Staff

 July 14, 2010 ( - As CFOs and their staff become more engaged in organizational decisionmaking, soft skills such as critical thinking and communication are increasingly important, new research finds. 

A Grant Thornton report on its study said a majority (55%) of CFOs cite lack of soft skills as the most significant challenge for recruiting talent, followed by concerns about the workload or lifestyle in corporate finance and accounting (50%).   

Public companies cite lack of soft skills as their primary recruiting challenge (62%), with workload or lifestyle concerns as their second-most pressing issue (46%), while private companies rate workload or lifestyle as their foremost concern (56%), with soft skills of secondary importance (44%).   

According to the report, lack of technical skills rates as the third-most urgent challenge in recruiting accounting talent (23%). Like their U.S.-based counterparts, most non-U.S. company CFOs list lack of soft skills as their chief concern in recruiting accounting talent (70% vs. 55% in the U.S.); however, non-U.S. company CFOs rate lack of technical accounting skills as their second-most concern (60% vs. 23% in the U.S.).  

Of CFOs at companies with revenues under $100 million, 62% cite communication skills as a central requirement for accounting talent. This emphasis on communication skills is likely driven by the multifunctional role accounting professionals play within these organizations, Grant Thornton said.   

In addition, a majority of CFOs (77%) cite soft skills as the most significant training challenge for their existing accounting talent, followed by understanding and applying international accounting standards (68%) and addressing new external reporting needs (50%). Half of the CFOs surveyed also expressed a need to train accounting professionals on enterprise resource planning (ERP) or IT systems and technological developments such as eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL).   

(International Financial Reporting Standards) IFRS-related training is the most critical challenge for CFOs at companies with over $500 million in revenues, with 83% rating it as challenging or very challenging. Training around soft skills, complexity of standards and the evolving regulatory framework follow, with (67%) of respondents rating each of these areas as challenging or very challenging.  

When asked about top voluntary turnover drivers, most CFOs cite poor work-life balance and limited advancement as top-most concerns (45%), followed by poor training and development opportunities (32%). Poor compensation/benefits ranks fourth on the list of top turnover drivers. 

Grant Thornton, assisted by a third-party research provider, conducted one-on-one interviews with 22 U.S.-based CFOs and 10 non-U.S.-based CFOs representing a range of industries and company sizes. Thirteen public and 19 private U.S.-based companies were surveyed, along with six public and four private non-U.S. companies.  

The survey report is here.