49 (144) 2021


Gen Z and the future of finance and accountancy

By Vikas Aggarwal, regional head of policy – Eurasia and New Market Development, ACCA
Header pi report gen z v2 screenshot

Much has been written about Gen Z, about their behaviours and habits, their preferences, and their worries, but it’s worth looking at this generation in the context of the accounting and finance profession. Who they are and what motivates them is fundamentally changing the workplace for one of history’s oldest professions? Our study into Gen Z attracted over 9,000 responses from more than 130 countries, and surveyed a wide spectrum of Gen Z: those studying and those in employment; those interested and uninterested in accountancy and finance; those in small/large corporates, those in practice, and those in the public/third/charity sector. Our findings vary by geography, sector, gender etc., but there are some quite distinct trends which I’ll try to draw out.

Gen Z-ers are those born between 1995 and 2010 – aged 12-27 – the oldest of which have been in the workforce for about 10 years now.  They total about 1.8 billion of the worlds’ population, so roughly 24%, but the proportion can vary country to country. In Nigeria, almost half of the population are under the age of 14, and in Japan it’s less than 10%. Though there are similarities in behaviours, these population curves have distinct implications for businesses.

Gen Z is a population born on technology and digital services. Sure, previous generations have seen technological changes and have had to adapt, but today’s youths are mobile and touch-screen ready, globally connected; they digest and create social media content at an alarming rate.

That has huge implications with how they engage with businesses as consumers and employees. Brand loyalty is all but gone; an online presence is essential; they want choice; next-day delivery, short-term credit; instant gratification; the latest trends; and to top it off, they expect businesses to be socially and environmentally considerate. If they aren’t, Gen Z-ers will make their feelings known on social media. This has huge implications – positive and negative – for business models, risk management, logistics, supply chain, cash flow.

“You don’t know how lucky you are”

It’s almost a rite of passage for older generations to criticise younger generations for how easy their lives are. They say the youth have more choice than ever, more freedoms than ever, are less committed, and don’t want to work as hard (a point I’ll come back to). It’s difficult to argue with those views, and actually our data reflects that. But that doesn’t mean they have it easy. I was unfortunate enough to join the workforce in the peak of the global financial crisis, but even that pales in comparison to today’s exceptional conditions.

Keeping me up at night

Covid has wiped off trillions from the global economy. Millions of jobs gone. It is no wonder then that two of the biggest concerns of Gen Z are job security and the global economy. In the face of a loss of income, young people are more likely to fall into poverty, as they have fewer savings to fall back on, thereby delaying their path to financial independence. House prices have risen faster than incomes, and rent as a proportion of income has increased, which further increases inequality between Gen Z and Baby Boomers (who often own rental properties as a source of retirement income).

It isn’t just about money. Shocking to see for the older readers among us is the concern around personal well-being and mental health. Gen Z is a much more self-aware group, and much more willing to talk about their feelings. They also care about wider social issues, such as data privacy, climate change, and the impact of technology. You might be saying to yourself that you care about all those things too. But Gen Z bring those concerns to the workplace, and that affects attraction and retention of talent.

Gen Z-ers recognise the impact it will have on entry-level jobs and are to a degree worried about how it might impact their job opportunities in the future. But they see it as a way of focusing on more meaningful and value-added work. They want to learn and adapt, and they’ll do it quickly. That should be viewed as an opportunity.

Look to your left, look to your right

Every generation wants to get ahead quickly. It goes hand-in-hand with prestige and higher pay. However, only 79% of Gen Z are willing to work as hard as previous generations to achieve it. More prefer a better work-life balance and want a job with meaning and purpose. When you think back to the concerns about mental health, wellbeing, climate change, and society, it’s hardly surprising they feel this way. You might think this points to them being lazy or having too high expectations. But think about it this way, wouldn’t you rather have prioritised your mental and physical health earlier on in your career? Perhaps Gen Z are the smart ones, or rather the brave ones for pushing back on what they see as unreasonable working conditions.

What do you want from me?

The perception of business amongst Gen Z tells some interesting stories. They see the roll-out of technology as a good thing, and they believe businesses have a positive impact on society. But the results show there’s a perceived hierarchy of who businesses care about, namely investors, customers, employees – and then the environment.


Please don’t go!

Gen Z don’t demonstrate consumer brand loyalty to the same degree as previous generations. The same holds true for Gen Z as employees. They are far more willing to move externally than previous generations, and want to do it quickly, often in search of a promotion, and their next move may not make logical sense to you. This makes retaining talent much more challenging.

When asked what the barriers are, pay comes up. But so does internal promotion opportunities, work-life balance, learning and development, and a lack of transparency around career paths. What does this mean? If your employees cannot see their path upwards, they will leave. If they are being worked long hours at the expense of their wellbeing, they will leave. And if you are not investing enough in their personal development, they will leave. With more and more start-ups being created every day, they present an attractive offer to a well-trained strategically minded accounting and finance professional that wants seniority quickly, less rigid work structures, and benefits such as learning credits. That’s who you’re competing with.

It’s not all bad

Our research shows that the accounting and finance profession remains broadly attractive. There are perception issues. Many Gen Z-ers mistake the work accountants do as boring and repetitive, not realising that much of the data entry work is now done by software. They also don’t see the range of sectors and types of roles professionals play in social enterprise, sustainability, and wider public-value adding roles.

There are still a number of attractive elements to the profession. When we asked those that weren’t currently working what attracted them to accountancy and finance, they rated opportunity to learn, professional accreditation, and portability as some of the most attractive elements. Take heed of this. Invest in your staff’s learning! I hear too often “why would I invest in them if they don’t want to stay”, to which I respond, “do you really want to keep the people that don’t want to learn?”

Top tips for finding love

You’re probably asking, “so what?”. I promise it isn’t all bad. We ran dozens of roundtables with employers, Gen Z-ers, academics, and professionals to understand what they can do to attract and retain the best talent. We came out with ten strategies for success, which you can read more about in our work. I want to highlight a few of them. Gen Z are digital masters. Tap into that talent. It might not be their main role, but they will see things that you don’t. Break down silos between functions and age groups. We now have three/four generations in the workplace. There’s so much knowledge and experience that can be shared between them. Invest in their learning and show you care about their wellbeing. They will love you for it. Give them opportunities to try something new. This might mean a secondment to a client or overseas, or experimenting with a development idea. And lastly, rethink your purpose. This affects your talent management, and your customer engagement. Businesses with meaningful purpose will outlast those without.


Tap into their digital mastery


Marry purpose with need


Think “intrapreneurship”


Create collaboration opportunities


Use social to recruit


Reward on outcomes not inputs


Be authentic and listen


Give continual feedback


Focus on well being


Rethink learning: short & visual




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