The Final Countdown: CFOs Facing the Axe, Instead of Wielding it?

The jobs market has crashed and accountants are being made redundant. But there is movement in some sectors of the jobs market, recruiters reveal. By Nina Hendy.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the jobs market was a buoyant world for finance folks.

What a difference a few months and a global pandemic makes.

Today, accountants are stretched beyond capacity as companies grapple with the economic fall-out of coronavirus. Or, these spreadsheet gurus have been made redundant and are signing up for a government handout.

The grim scenario is playing out in companies that this time last year were probably turning an enviable profit. The statistics paint the full picture.

The Aussie market

Australia’s job advertisements in newspapers and online slumped a whopping 53.1 per cent month-on-month to 63,806 in April 2020. This was the steepest monthly decline on record, amid strict social distancing and business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SEEK analytics reveal that the accounting sector has been one of the largest declines in advertising for roles in this sector, according to the managing director of recruitment agency, people2people, Mark Smith.

The agency recently surveyed employers representing over 160,000 employees, which revealed that financial constraints have seen more than 51 per cent take action during the pandemic. This has included a mix of reducing hours, staff numbers, salaries or a combination of these.

“At people2people, we’ve experienced a 40 per cent decline in vacancies listed. Surprisingly, however, the vacancies listed have been more than proportionate at the more senior end of the market,” Smith reveals.

“Don’t get me wrong, the market for senior accounting professionals (including executive CFO positions) has crashed, but I have been surprised that there is still some demand out there,” Smith says.

No surprises that a lot of the demand has been in supply chain and logistics organisations, aged care and medical devices or related sectors, he says.

The New Zealand Market

It’s a similar story in New Zealand, where government figures reveal that the economy took a huge hit as job ads fell across all regions, industries, occupations and skill levels during the March quarter. Online ads fell by 6.4 per cent during the March 2020 quarter and by 12.5 per cent year-on-year.

Kiwi recruiter Angela Cameron agrees that the jobs market was buoyant before the pandemic was declared, with lots of team growth and a good number of new CFOs joining new teams as business acquisitions and transformations were rolled out.

“Pre-Covid-19, the market was the busiest I have experienced in the last 15 years,” she says.

Now, permanent recruitment has been paused, and businesses are assessing the economic impact before continuing with permanent recruitment, the CEO of recruitment agency Consult says.

“We are, however, still experiencing talent demand in specific areas, particularly for accountants around analytically biased roles, transformation analysts, data analysts, financial analysts and skills that allow businesses to focus on future financial prosperity,” Cameron says.

One Door Closes…

New Zealander Cormac Denton is an experienced accountant. He was employed as a CFO for a hospitality business when the pandemic hit, which caused brutal economic shockwaves through the service industry.

Denton was made redundant during lockdown. “The writing was on the wall. I mean, we weren’t able to trade due to the pandemic,” he explains.

As a jobseeker, he’s noticed that employers are taking their time rehiring talent, and are being meticulous about getting the right fit for the job. “There are always a lot of roles out there that are never advertised, and that’s the case now.”

While the jobs market was buoyant going into lockdown, within a matter of weeks, job ads had completely fallen away, he says.

He’s landed a role with a large multinational, which he starts soon. “I feel really good about the role, and can’t wait to start.”

A Hard Slog

Anecdotally, accountants are working harder than ever, Smith says. “Demands for re-forecasting, cashflow management and the administration of government incentives have placed unexpected demands on finance teams that may have also had staff or hours cut.

“We would normally expect these demands to be met by hired temp staff, but atypically we haven’t seen that yet this downturn.

“We’re speculating that this is the result of the issues around onboarding temp staff remotely or having them work from home,” Smith says.

The downturn could be here to stay for a while, too, Smith predicts. “I would love to say we will see a V-shaped recovery for demand for staff this year. Unfortunately, I’m expecting us to be at the bottom of a U-shaped recovery for the rest of 2020.

Demand for contract and interim finance professionals could perhaps rebound in the first quarter of next year, while demand for permanent staff isn’t likely to return until the September quarter next year, he says.

“Hopefully I’m wrong, but being conservative, that’s what I’m expecting,” he says.

His colleague at People2people Ben Wheeler adds that accounting functions have never been under so much pressure and are running very lean. As the director of the agency, he’s noticed that candidates who are still employed are hesitant to continue to look for a new role.

Cash is of course king, and many CFOs have taken on the role of looking at cash flow functions weekly, if not daily, Wheeler says.

“I’m also finding that CFOs have had to spend a lot more of their time looking at their credit-receivables function, with many of their customers pushing out payments and potentially in distress,” he says.

Standing Out From the Crowd

Jobseekers need to remember that greater competition will result in employers having higher expectations, Cameron says.

During an interview, expand the conversation beyond just the team size and responsibilities within your role, she adds.

“CEOs want to know how you transformed the business, improved the culture, worked through issues, developed new ideas and how you engaged with the team at all levels

“Ensure you communicate the impact that you had in previous roles, such as saving money, time or energy, improving culture, process and leadership,” Cameron adds.

Network among your peers, as informal conversations often lead to formal opportunities.

And don’t engage with multiple recruiters, particularly ones you don’t know and haven’t been recommended, she adds.

“There’s nothing worse than a CFO going around to 10 agencies and before you know it, their profile has been emailed everywhere.”

“There will be opportunities, but you must be patient for them to come around,” Cameron says.