Just a third of chief finance officers have a recruitment strategy for their function despite being desperately short of new talent, according to new research from accountancy firm Deloitte and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Although more than a third of CFOs agreed their department was barely able to meet current demand for skilled professionals, few had made the need to attract, keep and develop high performers their chief priority, it added.
This complacency in the face of a drought of high-potential individuals meant finance departments risked seriously weakening the position of their businesses, Deloitte warned.
Marcus Boyle, head of finance consulting practice at Deloitte, said many finance departments had simply taken their eye off the "talent ball".
He said: "Demand for high performers in finance is outstripping of supply and few companies are doing what it takes to lure top talent."
The most sought after professionals were those with financial planning and analysis experience (FP&A), who normally help project what is around the corner for a firm.
"If finance is going to help the business make the right strategic choices, it can't be done without data to back up the recommendations. The FP&A individuals are typically where future finance leaders will be found, but these are amongst the hardest people to find," warned Boyle.
Although more than four out of 10 CFOs said they had career development programmes to harness and further the skills of the high performers, a lack of career development was the main reason why talented people left finance functions, Deloitte found.
Sabri Challah, head of human capital consulting at Deloitte, added: "Organisations must focus on what employees care about most. Stretching capabilities, providing roles that engage their heads and hearts, as well as helping them to achieve their professional goals."
It was up to CFOs personally to take charge of the challenge of developing people at all levels, stressed Boyle.
"Some CFOs take an active interest others simply delegate it. You can guess which has the better talent in finance. Real people programmes must be created to take finance people all the way through their career," he added.
Another stumbling block was a lack of opportunities. Strong CFOs needed deep technical finance skills and strong business knowledge, which is often only gained from working in other business departments.
Yet more than a third of finance departments were reluctant to release individuals to other company departments.
Although more than half of CFOs claim current internships contributed to attracting high-potential students, 35 per cent also believed graduates did not see the finance function as a career launcher to begin with.
"Economic factors such as the ageing workforce means talent management was once a 'good to do,' today it's a 'vital need' and driving competitive advantage through people is key. CFOs must lead the charge to re-brand the finance function as a career with great potential for growth and advancement," said Boyle.
The problem was most acute in Asia-Pacific, where more than two thirds of CFOs said their current supply of finance talent was either limited or inadequate.
More than half of those from Eastern and Western Europe agreed, falling to 47 per cent from North America, the survey found.