Why Gen Z Holds the Key to Your Accounting Success

January 29, 2021 Theresa Rex

Young black accountant talking on a phone

We’re about to see a lot more of Gen Z in accounting. In fact, we’re about to see a lot more of Gen Z everywhere we go, now that the oldest members of a generation born between 1997 and 2015 are busy blowing out 24 candles and marching to “Pomp and Circumstance”.

That’s right. With the oldest Millennials entering their 40s(!) Gen Z – or Zoomers – are the newest generation to enter the workforce, and while they share some traits and professional aspirations with their older siblings, brands and employers are quickly finding that they have to put the broad brush down as they work to attract Gen Z.

Making The Connection With Gen Z By Understanding Their Values And Concerns

gen z accountant using computer and other technology

Perhaps the first thing to know about Generation Z is that they represent not just a demographic shift – they are on track to be the most diverse generation in terms of race and ethnicity in American history – but a cultural one, as well. They've already lived through a lot – 9/11, The Great Recession and now a global pandemic – and that has undeniably shaped their worldview. Where Millennials came of age in the midst of economic and cultural optimism, things have been slightly less sunny for these new college grads.

This hasn't necessarily made them cynical so much as a mix of discerning and cautious. They value action over promises, are largely distrustful of brands and cite climate change and income equality as being  their top public policy concerns. They're also on track to be the most educated generation in history, yet express reluctance to take on student loan debt.

They have never lived in a world without internet, which means they expect technological literacy as consumers and in the workforce but are fiercely protective of their privacy and don't share the previous generations' starry-eyed awe of tech giants like Facebook and Amazon.

More: Gen Z Is Entering The Workforce – Are You Ready For Them?

It's never wise to categorize entire swaths of the population in a single word, but if it had to be done, when it comes to Zoomers that one word would almost certainly be "principled".

Gen Z Could Be A Catalyst For Change In The Accounting Industry

gen z girl in the accounting industry

Knowing that, it's easy to see how a future workforce of Zoomers is poised to be a gamechanger for the accounting industry by addressing two of the industry's biggest challenges: talent and technology. Accountancy as a whole is looking at a very different talent pipeline than they're used to and there's a real opportunity to solve some stubborn talent supply challenges. To take advantage of those solutions, however, employers need to take an objective and solutions-based look at their company's culture.

Zoomers Could Alleviate Accounting Talent Shortages

As financial realists, they tend to place more importance on job stability and a competitive salary and benefits package than the Millennials – who tend to favor personal fulfillment – that came before them. This means that a career in accounting could be a very attractive prospect to rising college freshman and undecided majors. That's excellent news for finance leaders who have been feeling the squeeze for years.

Watch: Solving The Accounting Talent Problem [VIDEO]

Gen Z Is Equipped To Rise To Technology Challenges

Adapting to technological change is a consistent priority for financial leadership, so the incoming wave of "tech natives" brings the promise of a workforce that's equipped to do precisely that. Gen Z wasn't just raised on the bleeding edge of new technology, they consider it a minimum requirement in practically every aspect of their experience as students, consumers and employees.

They will carry a set of skills that includes data literacy and technological autodidacticism with them to the office that will make them invaluable to organizations that are increasingly turning to data-driven decision making and cloud-based ERPs to stay ahead of the competitive curve. It's not difficult to imagine that the youngest workers may be the ones spearheading technological implementations in the workplaces that can attract them.

More: Data Driven Decision-Making: A Blueprint & Case Study [WEBINAR]

As a bonus, as Zoomers enter the workforce during the new normal ushered in by the coronavirus pandemic, they're potentially better equipped to work from home – and to perform that work both productively and effectively – than the professionals who are experiencing virtual collaboration and remote work for the first time.

To Keep Gen Z In Accounting, The Finance Industry (And Function) Has To Change

Would it surprise you to learn that Gen Z accounting students are more likely to turn down a Big Four internship if they experience a sense of negativity in the firm's recruiting tactics? This includes talking negatively about other firms or insinuating that students are "lucky" to be chosen for one, according to recent research in The Journal of Accountancy. They can afford to be discerning, and that means addressing the issue of diversity and inclusion.

For Gen Z, diversity is defined much differently than for the generations who came before them, and inclusion is a core value that has touchpoints in everything from what they buy to what they want from their governments and employers. To attract them to finance and accounting, businesses need to address the long-standing race gap in accountancy at the very least and be proactive about D&I initiatives. Remember, Zoomers are more skeptical than the generations before them, and they can see a toothless marketing ploy a mile away.

That means – at minimum – the industry needs to address the following recent findings from the American Institute of Certified Public Accounting (AICPA)'s 2019 Trends Report in regard to race if they hope to attract the generation that is diverse, values diverse representation and understands that their talent is in demand:

Racial Breakdown AICPA 2019 Graph

The Good News: Gen Z Is Already Interested In Accounting Career Paths

finance professionals tapping gen z talent pools

That said, thanks in large part to Gen Z's pragmatism when it comes to choosing a career, many are already considering one in accounting. The International Federal of Accounting (IFAC) recently surveyed 3,388 Zoomers between the ages of 18-23 and found that a full 55 percent of them were either considering (34 percent) or actively pursuing (21 percent) a career in accounting.

Of the 20 countries where the survey was conducted, 19 respondent groups listed their top career priorities in this order:

  1. A stable career path
  2. Salary and benefits expectation
  3. Work-life balance

Here's the rub: the two countries that didn't order their career priorities this way include the U.S. and India. In both instances, the top three considerations for Gen Z job hunters were:

  1. The ability to make a meaningful impact through work
  2. Salary and benefits package
  3. Work-life balance

This means that while accounting will still be an attractive prospect for stateside students and new grads, they'll expect the work to be stimulating and to be able to see the impact they're making through their work both within the company and to society at large.

Overcome Current Challenges To Attracting & Retaining Gen Z Talent

paying attention to what matters to the next generation of accountants

It's clear that in the coming years, there's going to be stiff competition for Gen Z accounting talent – for plenty of good reasons. The opportunity to allay persistent and long-standing hurdles to tech adoption and talent shortages is within reach – so long as finance leaders have a firm grasp on how to hire and retain this unique workforce.

Pay Attention To What Matters To The Next Generation Of Accountants

Generation Z is going to gravitate toward employers that can demonstrate a culture of diversity and inclusion, respect and professional development. They're going to expect to be paid fairly, and they'll want their salaries to be commiserate not only with the job that they've been hired to do but are looking more broadly at issues like income equality and economic stability within their home countries.

They'll expect to have a salary that's kept at least moderate pace with the cost of living and inflation and are likely to end up at organizations and with employers that can show a clear path upward. The potential is there for Zoomers to job hop less than their older siblings, but that's a loyalty they'll expect to go both ways. Be prepared to approach hiring from a long-term investment point of view.

More: Here's Why We Invest So Heavily In Our People – And You Should Too

Work-life balance is important to Gen Z, though it may be less important than compensatory packages and professional development depending on which country they call home. One way that finance leaders can stay ahead of the curve is to weave the current work-from-home policies they've enacted into their existing infrastructure for the long term. Since Generation Z is graduating into a workforce that they can participate in from the cities, countries and housing markets they prefer. They're unlikely to give that kind of flexibility up very easily, even after "the new normal" becomes "back to normal"

Focus On Ways To Keep Zoomers In Accounting Once You Have Them

The earlier data point that says U.S.-based Zoomer students and grads plan to prioritize meaningful work over salary figures provides a valuable lesson for finance leaders that are more than ready to welcome an infusion of educated, dedicated and no-nonsense young professionals into the accounting talent pool:

Provide meaningful work.

That may be work that enables social responsibility within the broader community, which might require an intentional audit – and perhaps realignment – of company culture. It's just as possible, and perhaps even more likely, that they expect to see that the work that they do has a demonstrable impact on the organization itself. They won't stay long in positions that feel stagnant or peripheral to the company's mission statement.

The good news here is that is precisely the kind of worker that the accountancy industry and finance departments everywhere will need in the coming years. Allowing Zoomers to get their hands dirty with data, tech and strategy will prove to be a one of the smartest, and most mutually beneficial moves finance leaders can make in the decade to come.

Finance Professionals Should Start Tapping Global Gen Z Talent Pools Now

While the days of recruiting a handful of freshly minted accounting graduates to take on transactional work for an entry-level salary may be on the way out, that doesn't mean that the talent available for that same work has to take a further hit. In fact, the opposite is true.

Accountancy is just as attractive – if not more so – to Gen Z no matter where they live, as the IFAC study demonstrates. As a global workforce, we're more equipped than at any other point in history to leverage a vast supply of human capital without resorting to the "churn-and-burn" model of the past. Where stateside Zoomers may want to know that they're contributing directly to financial strategy, Gen Z accountants located elsewhere are drawn to the field for its competitive wages on the local salary market and its reputation as an upwardly mobile profession.

With remote work infrastructure already in place, employers and finance leaders will want to take action as soon as possible, leveraging internationally located young accountants with a knack for transactional bookkeeping to supplement in-house hires that are hungry to make a difference within their role by contributing directly to organizational growth.

Best of all, there is no need to suddenly develop a working expertise in global human resources – leaders do not need to suddenly memorize visa laws or policy, open up shop overseas or even translate a job posting for accounts payable for international distribution. They simply need the right partner.

Personiv is based in the U.S. and has been attracting, training and retaining compatible professionals to support back office operations for companies all over the country and the world for over 35 years, including finance and accounting. The teams we build start as small as one and grow from there, easily scaling to meet the needs of organizations as small as startups and as large as enterprise operations. We specialize in finding, recruiting and – crucially – investing in the long-term retention of top-quality accounting talent ready to work virtually alongside your own team, for as much as 75 percent of your current operational costs.

We only hire the best, whether we're hiring for a top-of-their-class Accounts Payable whiz or a Six-Sigma certified Financial Controller with Big Four experience. Generation Z is ready for a career in finance both here and abroad. Is finance ready for them? Are you? With our help, you can be. Just give us a call.

 

Download the Virtual Accounting Talent Toolkit now for more information about the virtual talent market and calculate how much money you can expect to save by partnering with Personiv to leverage the growing Philippine finance and accounting talent market.

 

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