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Accountancy sector needs to tackle pre-existing headwinds

Recruiters are urging the accountancy sector to use the recovery from the coronavirus outbreak as a chance to reset values – and tackle long-standing issues and headwinds, writes John Docherty, associate director at Edinburgh-based specialist recruiter Core-Asset Consulting


Prior to the economic shock of Covid-19, a growing shortage of accountants in Scotland was reflected by newly qualified practitioners breaking the £40,000 ($50,100) average salary ceiling for the first time – with six-figure salaries commonplace among experienced operators.

However, on release of our eighth salary guide last month, Core-Asset was already warning the sector of a range of underlying issues – each now with the potential of intensifying over the coming months as a result of the trauma and fall-out from the pandemic. This included succession planning, with a shortage of middle management today resulting, in part, from swingeing cuts to graduate placement opportunities relating to the 2008 recession.

Clearly, the Covid-19 outbreak is devastating so many businesses and livelihoods – and I just hope we can all get through this in the healthiest possible position. That said, accountants in Scotland, on the whole, should find themselves in a better position than many trades. It is hard to think that there will not still be excess demand for roles, such was the prevailing shortfall.

I sincerely hope that firms also think thoroughly before cutting either middle management or graduate schemes off the back of the impending downturn, as happened throughout the last recession – and for which we are paying for today with a reduced pipeline of clear future leaders. It is critically important that we attract more accountancy and finance professionals into the sector for its own future health.

MAJOR HEADWINDS

Like the wider financial sector, accountancy and finance is facing major headwinds, with many of the topics within Core-Asset Consulting’s extensive 53-page Industry Trends and Salary Guide being brought into sharp focus during the current outbreak.

In particular, cultural issues around flexible and home working have been brought to the fore, along with compassionate leave and the importance of supportive workplaces.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, firms talked a lot about their commitment to flexible working and being willing and able to cater for a modern workforce. It could be argued that a lot of this was worn on the sleeves, without many ever truly living it.

We are now being forced to have our entire workforces work from home. The questions are: will this be reflected in major changes to workplace culture once we have the ability to safely return to office environments? And will we even rush back to our offices at all?

So many practitioners are also juggling home-schooling and childcare – and are needing to work at different hours. It is safe to say that, more than ever before, workplaces are going to have to prove to many seeking a career move that they can be an attractive, flexible employer able to cater those wishing to work from home.

Prior to the outbreak, tax remained a key area of demand with the report, now in its eighth year and based on annual research of 4,000 registering candidates, suggesting that professionals in this field continued to be “overfished in a somewhat shallow pond”.

A further trend observed was the number of candidates willing to move to smaller companies, driven by roles with greater technical depth and accelerated responsibility.

The sheer amount of restructuring, redundancies, mergers and acquisitions has meant that big organisations have lost some of their allure. They were always seen as a safe bet, able to offer a clear path to progression. Replacing that has been an interest in start-ups, fintech and the opportunity to be more entrepreneurial. It will be interesting to see whether this trend increases or abates following the Covid-19 fallout. It could well be that scaled financial services firms are better placed to absorb the economic fall-out and regain their lustre accordingly.

To download the salary guide in full, please visit: www.core-asset.co.uk/resource/salary-guide

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