Morristown, N.J. – November 13, 2023 – The Financial Education & Research Foundation (FERF)—the independent non-profit research affiliate of Financial Executives International (FEI)— today released the findings of its newest report entitled, The Sustainability Talent Gap in Finance. The report outlines the sources of strain sustainability reporting represents for finance teams and the efforts to address the talent gap. This is the second report in an ongoing joint effort with Persefoni, leading Climate Management & Accounting Platform (CMAP), to help finance teams benchmark their sustainability approaches and efforts relative to their peers and help establish best practices for finance function involvement in sustainability reporting.
The survey revealed that finance professionals are approaching sustainability reporting through a financial reporting lens, thereby placing focus on understanding the scope of sustainability reporting requirements to develop a controlled, repeatable system of processes through which sustainability data will flow and be transformed into reportable metrics and disclosures. The survey results, coupled with insights obtained from interviews with finance executives, unveiled three key findings:
- 70 percent of responding companies are already disclosing scopes I & II in preparation for new SEC regulations
- 50 percent of responding companies are staffed up and ready for the future with finance professionals in full-time sustainability reporting roles
- 70 percent of responding companies cited the immediate need for internal controls talent
“Our members have been long tasked with translating business events into meaningful information by way of financial reporting,” said Andrej Suskavcevic, CAE, President and CEO of Financial Executives International and Financial Education & Research Foundation. “It is no different for sustainability reporting where our members are again working to establish themselves as trusted business partners in strategy development and planning for the future.”
External and Internal Reporting: Companies Are Experiencing A Critical Sustainability Transition
To date, respondents have identified the lack of a clear reporting mandate as a distinct challenge to their efforts to scale external and internal reporting efforts. However, various regulatory bodies are set to make climate information a mandatory component of companies' annual filings. And companies are increasingly keen to incorporate key sustainability metrics into their strategic decision-making processes. As they scale their efforts, finance professionals are looking to deliver more streamlined reporting processes that prioritize accuracy, traceability, and completeness.
The Talent Solution: How Companies Are Addressing Talent and Headcount
In recent years the finance function has evolved with business needs, and the cadence of change has intensified, causing a need for increasingly diverse roles and responsibilities among finance professionals. There is considerable overlap in the skill requirements for sustainability and financial reporting, but the need for technical acumen represents a considerable barrier to career entry which many finance-ESG professionals are working to overcome.
The survey revealed a spectrum of approaches to finance function headcount for sustainability reporting. There is a continuing theme of higher finance professional specialization, with 50 percent of respondents working solely to support sustainability reporting efforts compared with the minority of companies whose finance professionals have limited or no interaction with sustainability reporting professionals (9 percent). Forty-two percent of respondents stated the degree of involvement their finance function has with sustainability reporting efforts range from hybrid finance-ESG roles to more ad hoc participation.
Many finance teams have been dealing with hiring freezes and less headcount and the effort to address headcount needs to be addressed and focused.
Other Key findings include:
- 48 percent planned to hire full-time employees and external consultants to support climate reporting over the next 12 months
- 53 percent are already upskilling members of the finance team to support climate reporting and 25 percent have plans to
- 58 percent cited ESG Controller as the most commonly identified role on their finance team.
- 68 percent named internal controls for ESG reporting as the top skill in demand followed by sustainability disclosure preparation at 53 percent, and regulatory landscape knowledge at 50 percent
As the regulatory landscape evolves, there could be a greater need for finance professionals to develop their carbon accounting, carbon data management, and climate risk management skill sets. For now, less than 30 percent cited those as skills their team is looking to address. For now, finance teams are content with those skills residing outside of their teams, whether they are outsourced to technology or are owned by the sustainability team or the respective data owners. Relatedly, climate data management (51 percent), climate data analytics (43 percent) and climate disclosure management (43 percent) were all listed among the technology features finance leaders were most commonly looking for to supplement their finance teams with.
“A large and growing percentage of Persefoni customers are executives or members of company Finance teams, and there is perhaps no better organization in the world to partner with around education and research here than FEI,” said Persefoni CEO and co-founder Kentaro Kawamori. “Together, FEI and Persefoni have made great strides over the years to both share market knowledge with, and collect industry needs from, FEI members, and this recent survey is just the latest testament of that beneficial collaboration.”
Methodology and Sources
The Financial Education & Research Foundation (FERF) and Persefoni collaborated to develop the survey and interview questions designed to uncover the key sustainability reporting challenges companies are facing and how they are looking to talent as a solution. The report and its findings are based on a survey distributed to finance professionals from US-headquartered, publicly traded companies. In total, more than 50 chief accounting officers and controllers from some of the largest US companies participated in the survey. A subset of those participating in the survey (5) participated in qualitative research interviews.
The full report can be viewed at
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About Financial Education & Research Foundation, Inc.
Financial Education & Research Foundation (FERF) is the non-profit 501(c)(3) research affiliate of Financial Executives International (FEI). FERF researchers identify key financial issues and develop impartial, timely research reports for FEI members and nonmembers alike, in a variety of publication formats. FERF relies primarily on voluntary tax-deductible contributions from corporations and individuals, and publications can be accessed at https://www.financialexecutives.org/Research.aspx.
Financial Executives International (FEI) is the leading association and advocate for the views of corporate financial management. Its members hold policy-making positions as chief financial officers, chief accounting officers, controllers, treasurers, and tax executives at companies in every major industry. FEI enhances Member professional development through peer networking, career management services, conferences, research, and publications. Members participate in the activities of local Chapters in the U.S. FEI is located in Morristown, NJ. Visit www.financialexecutives.org for more information.
Persefoni AI Inc. provides businesses, financial institutions, and governmental agencies the software fabric for managing their organization’s climate-related data, disclosures, and performance with the same level of rigor and confidence as their financial reporting systems. The company’s software enables users to simplify the calculation of their carbon footprint, identify decarbonization strategies and perform climate trajectory modeling aligned to temperature rise scenarios set forth by the Paris Agreement, and benchmark their impact by region, sector, and/or peer groups.
For more information about Persefoni, please visit https://persefoni.com/.