Business, consumer and investor confidence is high. The Sydney and Melbourne economies are booming and there’s been a seismic shift in financial practices; specifically speaking, the SME markets are on fire.

Powering the noise are cashed up investors raining money on smaller, tech enabled groups in search of the next unicorn. Indeed, it is a great time to be in finance.

Unsurprisingly, candidate confidence is following suit and we’re seeing a lot of experienced talent forging a path to the thriving SME end of town.

What’s changed

Post GFC the financial markets underwent a tightening of regulations across the board. More recently, NSW and Victoria’s pro-business governments have been light-handed with regulations on new entities, resulting in a proliferation of opportunities for SMEs. (To clarify, we’re talking businesses with $50-500mil turnover).

Without doubt the most consequential disruption to finance has been technology (as with everything). Whether it’s the ability to outsource or offshore transactional finance, or the surge in FinTechs and other startups, the shift has been both epic and revolutionary.

A new proposition

From funds to FMCG to online to tech to energy, the larger institutions are still the dominant proving grounds, consuming most finance grads and more ‘typical’ candidates with specialist skill sets. Without question there are still great careers to be had at the top end of town.

But, in the face of the 21st century’s new business practices, to some, these companies’ strengths are also their weaknesses. The structure becomes rigidity; largess precedes anonymity, and security begets predictability. Especially for the entrepreneurially inclined.  

What has become increasingly appealing over the past few years are the agile startups: The now established, high-growth SMEs doubling in size year on year. Companies with values, purpose and inspiring, resonant, brand propositions. Clever companies that have commercially leveraged the celebrity (and/or mythologies) of the Musks, Jobs, and Zuckerbergs of the world for consumer and private investor buy-in.

Companies whose existences rely upon technology, innovation, and their tenacity to raise funds through private equity. To many, it’s this commercial mindset that makes them so appealing.  

Candidates: Idealism Vs reality

Broadly speaking, it is partly about the hype of the agile SME but also the opportunities they offer that simply didn’t exist five years ago.

The trend is most prominent within Gen X and Y demographics. These 35 to 50 year-olds highly value what the smaller values-based companies can offer and conversely, are experienced enough to be highly valued by these companies. The predisposition is because these generations view their careers – their time, skills and efforts – as an investment in that company. It’s about more than remuneration, title, and security. It’s personal.

The challenge is that this age group is typically at crucial life junctures; growing families, mortgages and all manner of ‘adulting’ come into play. Idealism and reality can clash when considering the risk and reward involved.

Yes, they want cultural synergy and are willing to forgo more immediate rewards around salary expectations and bonuses for a slice of equity and to be a part of a future success story, unicorn-based or otherwise. But as desirable as it sounds, the move isn’t feasible for everyone.

Companies: Wants-slash-needs

Basic competencies notwithstanding, they want individuals with hunger and drive. They want people in charge of their careers who are willing – and able – to function in a blended role; who want end to end functionality and who can bring to bear their experiences with a more hands-on approach.

The better finance roles within the SME market are going to candidates who demonstrate strong leadership and an expertise in change management. They’re going to those who offer strategic and commercial insight that will impact the business.

These companies realise it’s a tall order to fill so we’re also seeing a trend to hire for potential. Candidates don’t need to tick all boxes but they do need to demonstrate a passion to succeed, to roll up their sleeves and get their hands a little dirty.

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