Digital talent in the finance function is in high demand and hard to retain, so CFOs must build a strong sense of belonging for these associates or risk losing them, says Gartner.

Digital talent has very distinct priorities from core finance talent and often feels alienated – and is therefore more likely to be looking for other roles as a result.

Gartner defines digital talent as the individuals with the experiences and competencies required to drive digital finance transformation and operate in a digital environment. This group generally includes dedicated systems and technology specialists, as well as analysts who modify or adapt existing digital capabilities to enhance their own work or the work of their immediate team.

“Finance functions can ill-afford high rates of attrition in their digital talent, especially while many are on a journey towards autonomous finance,” says Marco Steecker, director, research in the Gartner Finance practice. “Understanding that digital talent has different motivators will help finance leaders to reduce churn.”

Talent is the top challenge facing CFOs through 2023. However, despite acknowledgement of the challenge at the highest levels in the finance function, attrition of digital talent in finance is high. Finance leaders typically try to address this by providing employees with the authority, confidence, and resources for digital finance talent to overcome their frustrations, an approach Gartner describes as “empowerment.”

Yet a May 2022 survey of 202 digital finance staff suggests that an empowerment strategy only goes so far, and leaders should also be thinking about how to create a sense of belonging among their digital workers.

“Finance leaders who try to build a sense of empowerment for their digital talent tend to offer things such as increased managerial support and greater freedom to execute on digital projects and new initiatives,” says Steecker. “This does reduce the frustrations experienced by digital talent, but it can also create a sense of alienation from the rest of the finance department.”

While moving a digital finance employee from a low to a high sense of empowerment does have a very significant impact on retention, going further than that does not have a significant impact as the retention benefits of empowerment are offset by increased feelings of alienation.

“Empowerment is still an important factor in retaining digital talent and getting the best from them,” says Steecker. “But leaders should be aware that once they have empowered their digital employees they also need to watch out and manage for the possibility that those employees may begin to feel alienated and distant from the department as a whole.”

To help finance leaders with this, Gartner experts have identified three key principles that strengthen digital finance talent’s sense of belonging:

1. Alignment with purpose: It’s important that digital finance talent sees their values and priorities reflected in finance’s digital strategy.

2. Clarify long-term possibilities: Help digital finance talent to see how there is a place for them in the future finance organisation.

3. Connect with people: Create opportunities for digital finance talent to feel kinship with their colleagues in the finance organisation.