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Demystifying Millennial FP&A Careers
Understanding the role of an FP&A professional is difficult, since it may differ across companies, industries, and even within the finance function of the company itself. What further complicates the profession in the disruptive and non-traditional work-styles of Millennial workers compared to their predecessors in the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations. The Millennial generation, which continues to make up a larger and larger percentage of the workforce, will change the way FP&A hiring takes place and the way we manage our finance talent. The article will demystify Millennials and explain how the FP&A profession must change to attract top talent.
By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be Millennials, the generational group born between 1980 and 2000. They’ve grown up during a time of swift change and technological innovation. They’ve also lived through a global economic recession and upheaval that has transformed the way people work and live. Accordingly, Millennials have a very different set of priorities and expectations that differ notably from other generational groups.
At the same time, the demands of businesses require unique talents from accounting and finance professionals. What young professionals can expect to see in their careers and what elders need to consider when developing this highly-motivated demographic, will be vastly different than decades past.
Supporting this assertion, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) unveiled unprecedented changes to the CPA exam beginning in 2017.  These changes, intended to address the changing needs of the accounting profession, included: assessing higher-order cognitive skills, critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical ability, as well as professional skepticism; a thorough understanding of professional and ethical responsibilities; a strong understanding of the business environment and processes; and effective communication skills. Although this batch of skills has long been valued in the workplace, it wasn’t until recently that this combination of technical and soft-skills would be tested by the profession’s pre-eminent certification.
Many traditional accounting duties – such as inputting journal entries, closing month-end, and preparing financial statements – are not the value-add activities they once were. While they’re mere necessities keeping the wheels on the bus, they aren’t necessarily steering the bus in a valuable direction. It’s not to say that companies will forego these core accounting activities altogether, but they will become increasingly automated or outsourced to low-cost providers. The changing dynamic of the workforce will require that accounting and finance professionals wear more hats and behave more with strategic intention. Their value will come from duties that require critical thinking, not just doing and repetitive tasks. They’ll be expected to play different roles within the function. More accountants will find themselves behaving more like FP&A professionals, financial strategists focused in strategic planning, analytics, and making decisions.
Knowing this evolution, accountants should anticipate which skills they’ll need. Effective communication skills, which have long been present on job descriptions of all types, are going to become increasingly more important among financial and analytical professionals. Specialists in these areas are not only going to be expected to be technical experts, they will also be expected to translate analytical outcomes into easy-to-understand mediums for financial and non-financial people alike. Presentation skills, data visualization, and emotional intelligence will be some of the core soft-skills FP&A professionals will be expected to possess. Surprisingly, these skills, aren’t commonplace in university business curriculums or entry-level job training – but they should be.
Finally, Millennial workers, compared to prior generations, may demonstrate a greater hunger for development and reinvention throughout their careers. Their managers, who should take the time to mentor them, must also be greeted by young professionals who are coachable. Rather than expect career growth to occur concurrent with the passage of time, young professionals must demonstrate their mastery of technical and soft-skills alike. Millennials should seek out project opportunities that develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills rather than anticipate those projects coming to them.
The changes taking place within accounting and finance may not be news to those of us already in the profession because we see the impact in our work every day. But it may be surprising to those people now entering the profession. No longer does success come to those who masterfully memorize and apply technical methods. Success will come to those who can think strategically and subjectively, solve unique problems, and add value across many dimensions of the business. This is the new finance and it’s quite different than the one we recognized in the past.
 “Exposure Draft: Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination.” AICPA; September 1, 2015.
The article was first published in Unit 4 Prevero Blog