Credit unions finance and accounting leaders are facing a shortage of quality entry- and mid-level employees.
And when quality employees are found, it can be difficult to convince them to stay for a variety of reasons.
A new CUNA CFO Council white paper, “Overcoming Skill Gaps in Finance & Accounting,” explores these challenges, and whether credit unions can move beyond them.
Research by Competency Crisis and the American Productivity & Quality Center revealed “large gaps between the competencies that organizations need to succeed and those that entry-level management accounting and finance professionals possess,” says the report, which defines “entry level” as having a bachelor’s degree and less than three years of work experience.
“The consequences of hiring challenges can include increased spending, reduced productivity, and diminished work quality,” the report says. “Nearly half of survey participants are experiencing increased time to fill entry-level positions. Roughly one-third are experiencing increased recruiting costs, and just under one-third are hiring under-qualified candidates to fill entry-level positions.”
Two of the three biggest gaps are for nontechnical skills: leadership and strategic thinking/execution. Three more nontechnical skills are within the top 10 widest gaps: change management, process improvement, and business acumen.
What does this mean for credit unions, specifically, when it comes to hiring qualified entry-level finance and accounting staff? At $700-million asset Alabama Credit Union in Tuscaloosa, efforts to deal with these gaps start early in the education process.
“We serve, and are located in close proximity to, the University of Alabama, and we conduct several outreach programs, including financial literacy training,” says Brandi McKinney, Alabama Credit Union’s human resources (HR) director.
“We also recruit at the university for our internship program and professional positions,” McKinney says. “Our discussions aren’t limited to accounting, but we definitely underscore the value of knowledge of accounting basics, and there’s an internship in the accounting department for an incumbent who shows an interest in accounting.”
Eleanor Brown, the credit union’s chief financial officer, adds that participation in local professional organizations also helps the credit union recruit new talent.
Local chapter meetings held by the Tuscaloosa Chapter of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions are beneficial not only for the credit union’s finance department leaders but also for additional accounting staff and interns who can learn about pressing industry issues.
“Often, local certified public accounting firms speak to cover recent Financial Accounting Standards Board Accounting Standard Updates, as well as recent regulatory updates pertinent to our industry,” Brown says.
When it comes to recruiting the best candidates for finance and accounting positions, credit unions often find internal resources are best for match-making.
“I firmly believe that for most positions, a company’s own HR department is the best option for finding good talent,” says Julie Wigley, vice president of talent and brand development at University of Michigan Credit Union in Ann Arbor. “It knows the culture of the organization better than anyone and can be passionate about both the organization and the position.
“You can’t underestimate how passion and culture identify themselves in the recruiting and interview process, and that can sway a candidate to want to work for you,” she adds. “I’ve always operated on the premise of ‘hire for attitude, train for skill,’ and it has never led me wrong in my career. That being said, an external recruiter can be a very beneficial option for particular, hard-to-find skill sets and critical positions.”
Notes McKinney: “This is completely situation- and position-specific. We’ve never used an external recruiter, but potentially would for a higher-level position if we didn’t have a successor internally, or if we couldn’t find one using our traditional means of recruiting through the HR department and/or networking with peers.”
Sometimes, the finance and accounting department may have a ready-made candidate, and have little need for assistance to fill a position, says Tom Kuslikis, University of Michigan Credit Union’s vice president of accounting and finance.
Each department and the credit union overall should adjust and maintain a constant understanding of its current strengths, he says. “If there’s a strong bench internally that a credit union can use, then they should use it. However, if the credit union needs to look outside for talent, then it should use HR or an external recruiter.”
No new hires come perfectly equipped, but some skills and qualifications are more important than others, says Kuslikis.
“The foundational accounting and finance skills are very important,” he says. But more important is that the new team member be coachable and willing.
“If they want to learn and grow and are willing to be coached, then a lot of what they need to be successful will come.”