Is a Talent Pool the Answer for Your Finance Staffing Needs?

By Shifra Kolsky, CPA, Discover Financial Services – January 30, 2023
Is a Talent Pool the Answer for Your Finance Staffing Needs?

Interesting times call for creativity, and today’s post-pandemic workforce is calling for finance leaders to think more creatively about attracting, retaining and developing their talent.

There’s no doubt about it, these are interesting times for companies — and interesting times require renewed attention, effort and hard work to address the challenges that have made our business environment anything but peaceful. In prior times, something like low unemployment would be a welcomed economic indicator, and while it still is to a certain degree, our interesting times of today necessitate managing a post-pandemic workforce that has seen how low unemployment combined with a high demand for finance talent has shifted more bargaining power from employers to current and prospective employees. As such, finance leaders need to think more creatively about the ways in which they attract, retain and develop their finance professionals and work toward building future-ready teams that not only perform core finance functions, but also support their businesses as valued strategic partners.

One of the ways that leaders can be creative with talent development is by finding new ways to apply methods that are tried and true. My colleague Tim Schmidt recently did just that by applying the concept of a talent pool model across his department. As Discover’s treasurer, Schmidt saw three staffing issues emerge — primarily among early career level team members — that led him to this model as a way to better structure their roles and meet his department’s staffing needs: attrition, workload management and talent development.

“With the way the team was structured, we had siloed groups with specialized skills. Whenever someone left the company, it became harder for our teams to support each other while positions were open,” Schmidt notes. “On top of all that, while some of the least experienced folks on the team embraced working from home during the pandemic, we needed to still make sure they weren’t missing anything in terms of development opportunities.”

Schmidt had seen the talent pool model in action through his experience serving as an economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. This model, used similarly by Wall Street firms and public accounting firms, places entry-level employees in a big talent pool, serving a broad range of managers and needs, who get assigned to different projects depending on availability. Because the model provides great experience for folks new to the workforce, Schmidt thought it could also serve his team well by mitigating the workload challenges caused by attrition and by providing more robust training and development opportunities for staff still early in their careers.

Admittedly, the talent pool model is a culture change for most corporate finance teams since it’s far more common for these teams to have specific roles that focus on specific types of transactions or business support, along with a clear reporting hierarchy and a specific set of job expectations and requirements at each level of that hierarchy. Needless to say, shifting to a talent pool model could create transitional challenges since it requires corporate finance teams to address training needs, manager expectations and deployment of resources, among other things, in new ways.

For the talent pool model to work effectively, Schmidt says there are a few steps to consider:

  • Prepare your entry-level employees with proper training. These employees need to be ready to work with any of the teams across the finance function, or perhaps even the organization. In Discover’s case, Schmidt put his analysts through a series of classes that included all the fundamentals of the treasury function, allowing every analyst to get the basic training to be fluent in the skills they needed to communicate when serving various teams.
  • Help your managers see the benefits. Because managers are used to having direct reporting lines with their staff, there may be some uncertainty about how to manage in the pool model. One key to getting buy-in is to help the managers understand that they, too, can benefit, as they’ll learn to become more agile. With more exposure to a wider group of staff with different motivations and interests, managers can learn to be more effective at leading different personalities and styles, thereby growing their managerial capabilities.
  • Determine an effective method for assigning work and managing the schedules of staff within the pool. Schmidt suggests assigning one leader to be responsible for the pool, and for that leader to coordinate with other leaders across the department or company to understand and manage the demand for resources. This way, the talent pool leader can work closely with the rest of the leadership team and hold monthly meetings to discuss projects, priorities and time requirements. These meetings provide a framework for deployment of the talent pool resources. The talent pool leader can assign staff to various teams based on workload prioritization, as well as by skill requirement and learning opportunity. Using shared visual tools can also help the full leadership team see and understand where, how and why resources are deployed in a certain way.

Ultimately, the talent pool model benefits both entry-level employees and the company as a whole. For entry-level staff, the talent pool model provides broader exposure to different areas within the company’s corporate finance function and beyond. For example, even though they’re recruited into the company at an entry-level position, they’re still able to progress through multiple levels of training, development and promotion within the talent pool. They’re also encouraged to train each other to master new skills and technology, and they gain exposure to more managers, which further provides more opportunities for coaching, development and relationship building. More importantly, when they’re ready for the management ranks, they’ll have a broader array of opportunities and more support for their promotion, along with inside knowledge of how the talent pool model performs best.

The benefit to the company is that talent is managed more holistically. For example, Schmidt says when they used their old model where specific roles were assigned to specific analysts, it didn’t allow room for flexibility. He notes that if one staff member was to leave, there would be a void left in a particular niche. With an effective talent pool, however, a leader can reassign a different resource where needed without missing a beat and recruit based on the broader talent pool’s needs.

While Schmidt’s team is still in the early days of using this new model, they’re already starting to see some of its benefits: Measures of success are being realized as they break down the old, siloed lines of reporting, expand the learning opportunities for the people in the talent pool, start filling mid-level positions from talent within the team and can focus on hiring primarily at the entry-level roles in a tough labor market.

As the talent pool model shows us, navigating through today’s interesting times doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be more aggressive with our current staffing or recruiting models that aren’t working. Instead, maybe we can take a page from Schmidt’s book and think more creatively to implement a new model, or even borrow an old one. As Bobby Kennedy said in his Day of Affirmation address at the University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966: “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.”

Reprinted courtesy of Insight, the magazine of the Illinois CPA Society. For the latest issue, visit