Most university graduates, when considering what career path to take, are unlikely to give supply chain finance jobs much thought. SCF is a relatively niche area of business and usually something you might come across when working in the broader fields of banking, finance, logistics or treasury.
This could be about to change. With the current level of technological innovation and rising number of fintechs offering new SCF products, the market urgently needs bright new talent that can get to grips with the fast-changing technology and have the skillsets to set up new SCF platforms.
“If you go into any treasury department of any semi-large firm or a trade finance department of a bank, you will find they lack people and they all lack young people,” says Viktor Elliot, senior lecturer and director of the business IT Lab at the University of Gothenburg.
“You find that a small group of individuals move between these departments. They are craving new talent. It you look at treasury and trade finance and SCF departments, there is a huge need for competence,” he tells SCF Briefing.
Yet how can companies attract a new generation of talent? Do these young recruits even have the right training or skills needed to succeed in this area?
While there is evidence of a widening range of career opportunities in SCF, there remains much work to be done to both enthuse and adequately prepare students for the demands of the industry.
Gaps in education
For some on the look-out for new talent, the current education system isn’t fully preparing graduates for the workplace. Thomas Dunn, chairman of Orbian tells SCF Briefing he often finds some applicants lacking in key areas.
“…the essential skills of attention to detail, curiosity as to what drives commercial relationships, and ability to communicate effectively (via both spoken and written media) should be a core part of every curricula; too often candidates are lacking in the basics of one or more of these attributes,” he says.
“Too often candidates do not have an adequate set of fundamental skills; to understand an issue, research aspects around which their detailed understanding is deficient, prepare and communicate a persuasive response,” he says.
He puts greater importance on these core skills rather than the subject matter studied.
“Orbian recruits talented individuals…regardless of the narrow subject that they might have studied – a Philosophy or Literature graduate can be as strong as a Business Studies graduate,” he says.
The UK-based Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) has also observed a need for the next generation of treasurers to have strong project management skills. Such skills would be useful for anyone tasked with setting up an SCF programme.
“The ability to project-manage is increasingly of interest, whether restructuring a business or implementing a payment factory or a new piece of software,” says Naresh Aggarwal, associate director, policy & technical at The Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT).”The ability to work effectively with others across the business is key, as are the influencing skills to communicate to key stakeholders.”
At Taulia, CEO Cedric Bru is seeing that some graduates lack awareness of how both financial and logistical issues affect complex global supply chains.
“A great deal of what we see from the recent crop of graduates are passionate skilled people. However, we still see an emphasis on physical supply chains and logistics as opposed to the connection between the physical and financial, “ he says. “In a complex global environment with currency and trade considerations, a sound understanding of financial aspects would help candidates exponentially,” he adds.
At Gothenburg, Viktor Elliot is hoping his work will equip graduates with those missing skills as well as encourage them to consider supply chain finance jobs.
“SCF is somewhat multi-disciplinary, making is a difficult subject to study in isolation. Typically, students will be studying logistics or finance,” he notes, explaining how over the past four years he has tried to bring in more SCF-related activities for students.
He brings together students specialising in logistics with those with a more finance focus to work on joint projects. This, he says, is how graduates will have to operate once they leave university.
“Students have found it extremely interesting. On a monthly basis, I’ve offered students potential thesis topics on SCF as well as additional reading material. Students seem quick to realise that this could be a vibrant and interesting space to work. SCF’s association with innovation and fintechs has also helped increase its appeal,” he says.
“I think the students can really see the viability of pursuing a career in SCF, but we do not offer any specific track to pursue that right now,” he says.
SCF has been a great way of illustrating some of the ‘real-world’ challenges that graduates might face in business, he adds.
“The topic is quite useful in terms of showing how theories we teach in university are applied in practice. By bringing together both operations management and finance in the same product, you must consider both the finance risks and the operational risks and must price both and strategize around both. This has been something useful for students and makes the theories come alive,” he says.
The Netherlands-based InChainge has been working with universities to encourage an interest in supply chain finance jobs and the related career opportunities they present.
It offers simulated training programmes for businesses and educational establishments such as The Cool Connection and Fresh Connection that emulate real-life corporate scenarios. Students can use these virtual reality games to see how their business decisions have a knock-on effect within their businesses and supply chain network.
It runs the Global Student Challenge in partnership with the SCF Community which invites students from around the world to form teams to run their own virtual company using one of the simulation programmes. The aim of the competition – which is now in its fifth year – is to help students showcase their abilities to global corporates that need supply chain talent. There are also cash prizes on offer to help ramp up the competition.
While there is always more the SCF industry can do to attract talented graduates, there are already several rising stars in the market.
Alex Diamantopoulos was still completing his second master’s degree in the management of information technology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands when he joined healthcare technology firm Philips in 2015.
He is now procurement finance business partner at the firm and helped spearhead the company’s new dynamic discounting platform. The programme was so successful it won in the telecoms and technology category of the 2018 SCF Awards.
He tells SCF Briefing that his university experiences were instrumental in helping him develop the SCF platform.
“I gained not only a solid foundation in the practice of finance but also an internationally-oriented mindset. Using these two critical elements as stepping stones and in conjunction with the learnings I acquired during my internship at Philips, I managed to cut through complex situations, get at the facts and unite multiple teams of different scope in order to make the implementation of the new dynamic discounting program at Philips a great success,” he says.
There is a real need for the education system to reflect the changing dynamics of the business world, he argues, with new graduates requiring a deeper understanding of the way international complex supply chains work and how they can be more efficiently financed.
“Young graduates need to build value-chain competencies and understand they are part and parcel of a worldwide financial ecosystem. I expect universities to double down on their interdisciplinary teaching efforts and set future generations of students up for success,” he says.
Elliot agrees that the education system needs to evolve. “If you go back 10 years ago, there was a focus on specialisation. There is more need for a generalist approach now. Finance people will need to talk to the IT guys. I don’t think all universities have adjusted to that new reality. Digitisation is requiring us to become more generalist without losing our expertise.”
“In order for a company to maintain its innovation skills it is tremendously important for them to maintain open dialogue between different units of the company. We need to be specialists in our fields but be able to communicate and understand what others are saying,” he says.
The SCF industry is starting to offer new innovative career opportunities, but for young graduates to fully benefit they’ll need to be equipped with the right skills – and have a far broader perspective on the complexities of today’s international supply chains than perhaps their predecessors had.