If you’re on the market for a new accountancy job or preparing to leverage your experience for a raise, your timing is spot on. Although Japan and much of Europe seem to be in danger of sinking back into a recession, the U.S. and UK are continuing their economic recovery, and employers are increasing their efforts to recruit and retain specialised finance talent to grow their enterprises and ease the heavy workloads of their present teams.
But with the positive economic forecast comes a related challenge: Demand for accountancy talent is strong, and there aren’t enough highly skilled candidates to go around. The vast majority (92 per cent) of surveyed UK CFOs said there’s a skills shortage, according to the 2015 Salary Guide from Robert Half.
In order to secure the crème de la crème of accountancy talent, employers are offering competitive salaries, sign-on bonuses and raises. What qualifications and skills do you need to join the ranks of the in-demand elite? And what salary trends can you expect in 2015?
Education and certifications are critical. Employers seek candidates with ACA, ACCA or CIMA qualifications. All three are rigorous programmes; your career interests will help determine which qualification you pursue. In general:
- The ACA, conferred by the ICAWE, is more practice/tax focused.
- The ACCA’s global and broader approach to accountancy allows you to work in many sectors and countries.
- CIMA’s focus is on management accounting in a business setting.
Some employers seek applicants with a business-related degree, but not all. With the shortage of accountants, there are over 6,000 ACA training vacancies each year all over the world for school students, leavers and others, according to the ICAEW. Studiers receive employer support as well a competitive salary. Our 2015 Salary Guide shows that in many financial services categories, the salaries of accountants with no qualification (NQ) to 3 years of post-qualification experience (PQE) are rising faster than those with four to seven years’ PQE.
A London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) study found that for entry-level candidates, surveyed managers look most for A-levels (59 per cent), followed by a relevant degree (like a BA in Accounting) and professional qualification. Intermediate qualifications, such as the AAT and CAT, conferred some advantages, but the study found that they “don’t seem to be a crucial factor in the recruitment process.”
Skills in demand
One reason a relevant university degree is not frequently a prerequisite for accounting positions is that UK employers prize an “application of technique over theoretical learning,” reports the LSBF. This skill set includes:
- Accountancy and IT competency
- Business acumen
- Critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills
- Knowledge of ERP systems and accountancy software (SAP, Oracle)
Other soft skills like communication, presentation, flexibility, diversity and international experience
Not all regions are equal when it comes to demand, shortages and salary trends. In a Robert Half survey of 200 UK CFOs, 100 per cent of respondents in the Southwest and Wales said it’s challenging to find skilled finance professionals. About 9 in 10 CFOs in Scotland (93 per cent), the North (93 per cent) and the Midlands (90 per cent), had difficulties recruiting. CFOs in London/South East reported the fewest challenges — though still high at 85 per cent.
There is a correlation between the skills shortage and salary trends. When one averages national wages and sets that at 100 per cent, London accountants can expect to earn 29 per cent more, and finance professionals in South East 6 per cent more. But in Wales, the salary range is 10.5 percent less than the national average.
Rising accountancy salaries
Overall, base wages for corporate accountants are projected to increase about 2 per cent from 2014. In financial services, the surge is sharper, especially for regulatory accounting. Below is a sampling of accountant salary ranges, as well the percentage they’ve increased since 2014.
Large company: £49,750–£72,750 (2.3%)
Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME): £41,500–£69,750 (2.1%)
Senior qualified management/financial accountant
Large company: £54,000–£67,500 (2.7%)
SME: £46,250–£55,750 (2.5%)
Qualified management/financial accountant
Large company: £44,000–£56,750 (3.3%)
SME: £34,750–£45,250 (3.6%)
Large company: £48,250–£58,250 (2.2%)
SME: £37,500–£51,250 (2.3%)
Manager: £83,250–£119,750 (5.9%)
Accountant (4–7 years’ PQE): £65,500–£93,250 (2.6%)
Accountant (NQ–3 years’ PQE): £54,000–£78,750 (3.1%)
Manager: £79,750–£104,000 (5.8%)
Accountant (4–7 years’ PQE): £62,000–£85,250 (3.3%)
Accountant (NQ–3 years’ PQE): £47,500–£69,250 (2.2%)
What should a good accountant make? The short answer: Probably 2 to 5 per cent more than what you take home now. Prepare for your job search or salary negotiation by knowing what hot jobs employers are looking to fill, and how much more you could be earning.