ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

How ESG is shaking up accountants’ careers

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 13 Feb 2024

Environmental, social and governance is opening up a host of new career opportunities for accountants. But how should you best develop the new skill-sets now being demanded of you?

Skills requirements in finance are changing. As environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures go mainstream, the whole notion of a typical professional’s profile is undergoing a major shift. That’s according to PwC.

The firm’s latest Green Jobs Barometer published in December looks at how key roles in major parts of finance – namely banking, insurance and asset management – are evolving in line with the green transition. Across job types, it says, “at least general knowledge is now needed” on sustainability and ESG. Specific roles and work tasks are in flux, too.

Accountancy is also changing, the report notes, spurred on by the requirement for companies to accurately disclose their carbon footprints and sustainability efforts. As such, accountants must be well versed in carbon accounting and reporting to comply with new rules and standards.

However, a skills gap looms. PwC’s research shows that there were almost 17,000 green job vacancies in the UK in 2023. It estimates that graduates with relevant skills would only have filled 900 of them. As such, it is vital for the nation to upskill its existing workforce.

Stories of value

More than half (54%) of accountancy and finance professionals would consider reskilling for sustainability work, according to new research from recruiter Hays.

As to what that work would entail, Karen Young, Hays’ Director of Accountancy and Finance for the UK and Ireland, says that the rise of climate disclosures has boosted demand for more investor-grade assurance on sustainability and ESG reporting.

“Accountants would be well suited to roles that involve making relevant data available for decision-making,” she notes. “They can help ensure that businesses will incorporate sustainability priorities into their processes through budgeting, forecasting, capital allocation, performance assessments and scorecards.”

Skills such as risk management and rigorous financial reporting are transferable to a range of sustainability roles, Young says.

Fellow recruitment expert Chris Goulding, Managing Director of Wade Macdonald, believes that while greenhouse gas reporting is not an emerging role as such, it is likely to evolve over time. “This reporting is mandatory for businesses of a certain size and is well suited to finance professionals.”

On a broader level, finance talents are well placed to set valuable context around sustainability data, for the benefit of colleagues in other professions, Goulding says.

“Storytelling is crucial for gaining wider buy-in,” he says. “Understanding the numbers is only part of the puzzle. Candidates must also be able to weave them into a narrative that helps non-financial stakeholders see their value – and match them to key business goals.”

Candidates who care about rigorous reporting itself, and not just the numbers, will be a huge advantage to employers, Goulding says. “They may be more willing to go above and beyond to assist other areas of the business – or more likely to put forward suggestions and action plans as a result of the understanding they have gained.”

Detective work

Hays National Director, Sustainability, Paul Gosling has advice for accountants who are eager to position themselves for such tasks. “It’s important to move beyond being comfortable just with financial measures, and to be able to navigate types of reporting and other factors that are difficult to put a price on.”

A blend of specialist accountancy skills and the technical grasp of sustainability professionals is a powerful one, Gosling says. He urges finance and ESG teams to work closely together, so each will recognise the value that the other brings – not just to the conversation, but to tangible action, too. That partnership will help accountants pick up the right mindset.

Young, meanwhile, maintains that networking is critical. “A good place to start when it comes to building a strong network is to ‘sense check’ your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it clearly illustrates your personal commitment to sustainability by including relevant examples of your skills, experience and passion in practice.”

Accountants aspiring to sustainability roles should also use LinkedIn and other platforms to discover and contact influential people, groups or organisations in the field, Young says. As well as enabling finance professionals to learn new things and get inspired, that detective work could yield connections who could help with finding the right job.

Goulding agrees. “Much can be gleaned from how a candidate behaves on LinkedIn and how they engage with the wider network. Resharing environmental news stories and interacting with relevant experts’ posts could demonstrate how tuned in a candidate is to industry trends.”

Sparking interest

Young encourages finance professionals to read blogs, listen to podcasts, subscribe to newsletters and follow the social media accounts of sustainability experts to improve their knowledge of, and keep up to date with, the world of sustainability.

“I also suggest looking out for webinars, workshops and conferences – either online or in person – and connecting with speakers, panellists or attendees who spark your interest,” she says. “In time, accountants may be able to harness those contacts to ask for their help with introductions or referrals.”

“There’s a wide range of courses, webinars and seminars available that combine finance and sustainability,” Goulding says. “But don’t avoid resources that focus solely on climate change or the environment. Broadening your understanding of those wider subject areas may help you make informed finance decisions in a future role.”

Such resources, Goulding notes, could come in the form of social media posts, articles, white papers, books, videos and events.

“By soaking up as much information as possible, not only will you as a candidate benefit – so will the organisation you join,” he adds.

Grow your finance team with ICAEW Jobs. Our member-exclusive jobs board connects employers with qualified Chartered Accountants. Enjoy discounts and explore 500+ live jobs at jobs.icaew.com.

Join our sustainability community

Join professionals with a collective ambition to deliver a #sustainable world. Membership of our Sustainability and Climate Change Community is free and open to everyone.

Sustainability & Climate Change polaroid

You may also be interested in

Man with binoculars
Make your next move

Exclusive to ICAEW members, ICAEW Jobs is a vacancies website solely for ACA-qualified chartered accountants. Take the next step in your career with top employers.

Find your ideal role
Young woman in blue shirt
Reach your potential

Continuing professional development (CPD) is designed to develop your expertise within your individual role and help you maintain that edge throughout your career.

Update your skills
ICAEW support
Group of people standing in a line
Support throughout your career

We’re here to offer you support whatever stage you are at in your career, in whichever sector you have chosen to work.

Find out more
Open AddCPD icon

Add Verified CPD Activity

Introducing AddCPD, a new way to record your CPD activities!

Log in to start using the AddCPD tool. Available only to ICAEW members.

Add this page to your CPD activity

Step 1 of 3
Download recorded
Download not recorded

Please download the related document if you wish to add this activity to your record

What time are you claiming for this activity?
Mandatory fields

Add this page to your CPD activity

Step 2 of 3
Mandatory field

Add activity to my record

Step 3 of 3
Mandatory field

Activity added

An error has occurred
Please try again

If the problem persists please contact our helpline on +44 (0)1908 248 250