Fit for the future

April 2024

Gen Z finance professionals want diverse and inclusive work environments where they can develop new skills, says ACCA’s Jamie Lyon.

As an accountancy student, what are you looking for in an employer? The largest global talent survey across the accountancy profession from ACCA suggests that a diverse and inclusive working environment is likely to top your wish list.

ACCA’s Global Talent Trends 2024 report, with almost 10,000 professional accountants participating across 157 countries, found that almost two-thirds (64%) of UK finance professionals rate diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) as a key factor when choosing an organisation to work for. That figure shoots up even higher – to 76% – for Gen Z professionals (those under the age of 26). However, many Gen Z feel organisations are selective about just focusing on certain aspects of EDI, like gender, and feel that broader approaches to diversity are needed.

These findings suggest that finance professionals of all ages, but especially younger finance professionals, believe strongly in the principle of a diverse and inclusive working environment. This belief is probably grounded in a fundamental sense of fairness, as well as a conviction that they themselves are more likely to thrive and advance in a workplace that prioritises DE&I.

Workplace concerns

Given the challenging economic climate and inflationary issues in many markets, it is no surprise that salary and reward is a major issue for Gen Z.

Over half (55%) of Gen Z finance professionals globally are dissatisfied with their pay packet. This helps to explain why 52% are planning to move to their next role within the next 12 months, with that move far more likely to be external than internal.

Another major concern for Gen Z – which reflects today’s fast-moving business landscape – is development. In fact, improved career opportunities are the biggest reason why Gen Z finance professionals are intending to move to an external organisation (33%), closely followed by pay (32%).

Globally, less than half (49%) of Gen Z finance professionals are satisfied with the career opportunities on offer with their current employer. Three of their biggest work- related fears for the future are poor career development opportunities (cited by 37%), not having the relevant skills for the future (28%), and jobs being replaced by technology (27%).

Excited by AI

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that artificial intelligence (AI) will affect almost 40% of jobs around the world, replacing some and complementing others. In the UK, finance professionals are generally optimistic about the technology’s potential, with around two-thirds (66%) believing that AI will enable finance professionals to add more value in their work. Nevertheless, 42% are concerned about the impact of AI on their own role and 22% feel overwhelmed by the rapid rate of technological change.

Significantly, nearly three-quarters (71%) of UK finance professionals would like their employers to provide more training on technology. Accountancy students will therefore want to bear this finding in mind when they apply for roles. For example, when meeting prospective employers, they might want to ask what training the employer provides on using new and disruptive technologies such as AI.

Under pressure

The research underlines that mental health is a major issue for finance professionals, both in the UK and overseas. Globally, three in five Gen Z finance professionals (61%) believe that their mental health is suffering due to workplace pressures while 55% of UK professionals – across all age groups – say the same.

Globally, Gen Z finance professionals appear to be highly mobile, with 60% having plans to move to a different country or location, either in their next career move or later in the future. They are motivated to work overseas by the possibility of a bigger pay packet, getting to seize new opportunities, and boosting their CV with international work experience.

The research suggests that UK-based financial professionals are less likely to work overseas than their peers in other countries, however. Just 15% of UK respondents to the research said they wanted to move internationally in their career at some point, the lowest score across any region. This may reflect the impact of Brexit on finance professionals’ mobility within the EU, as well as the psychological aftermath of the Covid- 19 pandemic, which separated people from friends and family members abroad.

Overall, the research highlights that Gen Z finance professionals are looking to work in a diverse and inclusive environment, where they are well paid and have opportunities to collaborate and develop. They also want that environment to be good for their mental health. These findings should serve as a wake-up call for all employers looking to attract and retain the newest generation of accountancy talent.

  • Jamie Lyon is head of skills, sectors and technologies at ACCA