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Accountancy recruitment outlook buoyant as recession beckons

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 31 Jan 2023

How concerned should professionals be about opportunities and pay in the next 12 months? Two finance recruiters provide a broadly encouraging overview.

Accountancy employers are continuing to recruit for in-demand skills despite the economic uncertainty that has engulfed the UK – that’s the assessment of Lorraine Twist, a Director at Hays specialising in senior finance roles. “Our UK 2023 Salary and Recruiting Trends Guide revealed that 62% of those in charge of recruiting accountancy and finance professionals intend hiring staff in the year ahead, which is a positive,” Twist explains.

Despite the economic doom and gloom, there’s not much evidence of widespread redundancies across the accountancy and finance sector, says Chris Goulding, Managing Director at specialist recruiter Wade Macdonald. “From our client interactions, it seems that many organisations still have the necessary funds to survive – but as prices rise and government support potentially lessens, we may see smaller firms struggle.”

While Goulding notes that there is no way of knowing how the recession widely forecast for this year will land, he points out: “There are certain hallmarks that we anticipate the market will experience, such as a higher demand for more senior roles and an explosion of the interim and contract market – a trend we are already beginning to encounter.”

Desirable skills

According to Hays’ analysis, the five most sought-after workplace attributes at the moment are communication and interpersonal skills (63%), an ability to adopt change (52%), an ability to learn (47%), flexibility and adaptability (47%) and coordinating with others (40%).

At least three of those qualities have direct links to the more nuts-and-bolts skills that Goulding identifies as critical to firms looking for an edge. With automation replacing many data-entry roles, but unable to fully replicate human intelligence, Goulding says the intersection between humans and computers is where the largest talent gap lies. 

“It’s all very well having large volumes of data – but without people to interpret and analyse its implications and provide it with a business context, it doesn’t have much of a point,” Goulding says.

With that in mind, Goulding highlights a growing demand for analytical accountancy roles and a greater crossover between accounting skills and those more traditionally found in data-focused roles. “For example,” he says, “We’re seeing accountancy job adverts listing experience with Tableau as a requirement.”

That is unlikely to be the year’s only big shift – so finance and accountancy professionals must be constantly looking ahead, forecasting future needs and evolving their skillsets accordingly, Goulding urges. Employers too are increasingly open minded to developing in the skills they need: 70% of finance employers would consider hiring someone who doesn’t have the full suite of desirable skills, with the aim of upskilling them, the Hays study found.

Salary surges

Any fears accountants may have that pre-recessional concerns would put salary levels in a precarious state appear unfounded. Hays’ research shows that 89% of employers increased salaries for accountancy and finance staff last year – a higher figure than the previous year. 

Salaries across accountancy and finance roles saw an average hike of 6.5% in the last 12 months, above the UK average of 5.4%, Twist says. More granular analysis shows that employers are increasing pay for specific roles – especially where skills shortages are acute. In 2022, the top salary increases in the sector were for financial directors, plus finance managers and financial planning and analysis manager roles.

Twist says professionals will be pleased to know that 86% of employers are likely to increase their workforces’ salaries this year. It’s an upbeat prognosis corroborated by Goulding: “Many areas of finance have experienced exponential surges in salaries,” he says. “For example, in the transactional finance market, salaries have increased hugely over the past 12 months – with 50% of people in this area moving roles for more than 15% increases.”

At the same time, demand for newly qualified professionals is the highest it has been in the past 10 years, Goulding adds. “As a result, the starting salary for those moving for the first time since qualifying has never been higher. At times, we are seeing people change jobs for salary increases of more than 25%.”

Talent contest

Hays found that a whopping 90% of finance employers experienced skills shortages last year, and more than 80% anticipate a dearth of suitable candidates in the coming 12 months. Competition for good candidates is expected to remain fierce over the coming months. “Employers who take into account what professionals really value are more likely to attract and retain the top talent in the industry,” Twist says.

Currently, three quarters of employers offer hybrid working – the lynchpin of work-life balance. Hays’ research also highlighted the importance of sustainability, organisational purpose and a diverse and inclusive culture for influencing accountants’ decisions on which jobs to apply for.

Goulding agrees that organisations must focus on attracting diverse and wide talent pools by keeping avenues open for those coming through apprenticeships, courses and other, less traditional pathways. “Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can be a huge lure for potential candidates, and organisations are clearly listening – in a recent survey, we found that 81% of organisations are providing access to EAPs,” Goulding adds.

Employers are also striving to remain competitive via employee wellbeing and development schemes. “There is an obvious recognition across the board of the benefits of supporting staff and the dangers of allowing their needs to go unnoticed,” Goulding says.

Fair deal

So, how does the bargaining position of accounting and finance professionals look right now?

As the cost-of-living crisis grinds on, Goulding takes the view that accountants can’t be blamed for wanting to ensure they are receiving a fair wage. “Many companies are ahead of the curve and combating rising costs with pay rises. Those that haven’t should at least review salaries to ensure that they are up to scratch. We found that 48% of people who’ve moved jobs have received at least a 15% pay rise. Money talks.”

For employers who would have difficulties providing pay rises, Goulding advises them to make the most of their alternative offerings in flexibility, wellbeing and development.

Even if a recession kicks in over the next six months or so, neither Twist nor Goulding expect the demand for finance professionals to wane.

As for whether the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ will continue to be a factor, they are at slight variance. Twist says that plenty of opportunities are out there for those who want to shop around. “And according to our data,” she says, “more than half (53%) of finance professionals are looking to move jobs in the next 12 months.”

Goulding is still seeing normal levels of candidates entering the market, however he warns: “In this economic climate, they’re likely to be more thoughtful and cautious about moving and may need more convincing to take the plunge.”

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