The Interim Talent Solution: Rebalancing Supply and Demand in UK Finance Skills

June 20, 2024 M.E. Reidy
vector illustration with representation of various finance symbols

Finance sits at the center of the talent storm. With the CFO becoming the strategic consigliere in most organizations, high-calibre financial expertise is in high demand. Meanwhile, the increasingly complex needs of UK companies are pushing the evolution of the finance function. Technological advancements that create efficiencies and allow for deeper financial analysis are requiring teams to shift focus rapidly from auditing and accounting to big data analysis, technology and AI investment, risk management, and sustainability – leaving many finance teams under resourced and under skilled.

While the need for specialist experience grows, the supply of qualified talent is shrinking. Accordingly, we’re seeing a rising demand for highly skilled finance experts to act as interim CFOs, Controllers, and Heads of Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A). But what particular advantages can on-demand talent offer UK companies? And how can these individuals best be deployed in bridging the skills gap?

The UK’s finance skills crisis

Across the board, the UK’s skills gap is at a breaking point, with the imbalance between supply and demand causing chronic staff shortages. According to the government’s 2023 Employer Skills Survey, 23% of workplaces had at least one vacancy in 2022 – with 36% of all UK vacancies chalked up to skills deficits. In tandem with this, overall economic inactivity has been on the rise in the UK since the pandemic.

A significant factor in this landscape is the finance talent gap. Research by software provider Alvalara found that 92% of CFOs in the UK face talent shortages and struggle to recruit within their accounting and finance teams. They need robust players who are both commercially and technically savvy. Among the most in-demand technical skills are financial controls, accounting, and audit; FP&A and modeling; and tax strategy. Meanwhile, key finance-related projects competing for the limited talent include interim leadership, business processes optimization, business intelligence and analytics, and financial operations improvement.

In response to Alvalara’s survey, 47% of CFOs cited employee burnout around hours and menial tasks, as well as accounting and finance employees switching careers, as notable factors in the evaporating talent pool. Traditional ways of working are less attractive to new talent, and organizations that are not moving to automate the basics and instead utilize finance professionals in value-adding projects are failing to attract them.

An interim talent solution for complex finance roles

This skills shortage is particularly acute at C-suite level. With the increasingly strategic role of the CFO and growing complexity of the position beyond its historical boundaries, finding the right talent can take time UK companies do not have. In addition to traditional finance capabilities, CFOs now have responsibilities for harnessing data for actionable insights; costing sustainability; risk management in unpredictable financial waters; financing genAI; and being a key strategic partner to the CEO.

Consequently, the search for a new permanent, full-time CFO with the right capabilities can be extensive. To keep moving on key initiatives and daily operations, companies are choosing to engage interim finance leaders. At Business Talent Group, 54% of the requests we receive for interim C-suite talent are for CFOs – making it the top interim C-suite requirement – while across all seniority levels, finance makes up 52% of interim needs. This is against the backdrop of a 46% year-on-year increase in requests for interim CFOs; and a 114% rise in demand for SVP and VP-level finance talent, such as Controllers and Heads of FP&A.

The benefits of interim finance talent

Combined with far-sighted succession planning, interim finance leadership offers an agile route to improving skillsets within the finance department. During periods of transition, an interim CFO can maintain continuity, provide guidance, and contribute specialized expertise when assessing new opportunities and driving innovation. They bring an external, neutral perspective, enabling them to provide an honest view of company culture and operations without being influenced by internal politics.

Interim CFOs can use their background to balance lack of experience within internal teams and help with hiring into the finance talent pipeline, ongoing career development, internal training, and mentoring – ultimately establishing a dynamic, business-critical department.

More broadly, in engaging on-demand finance talent, companies gain experienced talent, ready to hit the ground running, within as little as two weeks. And, working within a fixed timeline, interims are highly motivated to accomplish essential tasks and put specific processes in place at pace. They can complete short-term initiatives that will set the existing, and future, team up for success.

Companies can use the period of interim support to advance the finance team’s capabilities, allowing them more time to find the perfect permanent solution, while refining their criteria for what that means. This includes aligning the role(s) to the company’s future goals – yesterday’s ideal financial leader might not have the right mix of skills and experience to get the business where it wants to be in six months.

A guide to utilising interim finance talent

There are a number different capacities in which organizations can draw on the skills and experience of interim CFOs and finance leaders. Key among these are:

  1. Traditional interim CFO: Interim CFO talent can step in to provide steady leadership and keep workstreams moving during a temporary leave or gap in the organizational chart.
  2. Support for acting finance leaders: When internal resources have been redeployed to fill the CFO role, companies can tap experienced interim CFOs to consult, guide, and back-stop acting CFOs.
  3. Backfill for internal talent currently acting as CFO: Companies may also seek on-demand CFO-level talent to provide targeted support in roles such as interim Treasurer or VP of FP&A.
  4. Fulfilling critical near-term components of the finance function: By carving out certain workstreams and objectives, the interim role can be hyper-focused on special projects and niche needs.
  5. Assessing the finance function and wider business operations: This analysis enables the incoming permanent leader to understand the lie of the land and be effective from day one.
  6. Support for newly appointed permanent CFOs: With organizational knowledge and a trusted relationship established through their period of engagement, interim finance support can oversee immediate project-based priorities as the permanent CFO gets up to speed – and round out missing expertise in the existing team.

To discuss options for sourcing the immediate financial skills needed within your business, and how interim finance talent could work for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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About the Author

M.E. Reidy

M.E. Reidy is a managing director at Business Talent Group (BTG), a Heidrick & Struggles on-demand talent company. She leads BTG’s UK-based team, working with clients across Europe. As BTG’s leader in Europe, M.E. focuses on building out the on-demand talent offering across the region. She works closely with clients across industries, including financial services, industrials, life sciences, and nonprofits, supporting critical strategic, operational, and transformative projects through flexible talent solutions.

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