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The world of accountancy has undergone huge change since the 2008 financial crisis and despite having stabilised in some areas, a significantly different landscape of skill and competency is now demanded by both the commercial and public sectors.

The big theme in the market for qualified accountants remains the ‘rise of the business partner’, a trend that has continued to build over the last couple of years. Employers seek candidates who can use their interpersonal skills and commercial awareness to relate to the operational and non–technical people within their organisations, helping them to make reasoned decisions based on astute financial evidence and trends analysis. As a result, organisations have tended to add headcount into management accounting and forward–looking finance jobs and business analysis roles, compared with the technical financial accounting area. This trend is common across all UK regions.

Commerce and industry

Overall, the volume of hiring activity in 2012 did not match the increased demand for finance departments to deliver insight into their organisations. There was, however, a significant pick–up in the market during autumn 2012 following a challenging summer for businesses in which they had to ‘carry on as usual’ during the London 2012 Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee. Businesses face immense pressure to improve their efficiency in terms of both process and cost. Off–shoring and shared services have seen their popularity soar and, together with technological advances, they have inevitably affected the types of financial skill–sets that businesses require. It is no surprise, then, that job descriptions for senior management and leadership posts have had an emphasis on the ability to implement and deliver projects such as an off–shored finance function that can service a large business and deliver efficiencies in resources and costs.

 Give yourself an edge by downloading our full Accountancy & Finance Salary Guide for 2013 including in-depth tables of data and analysis.

Finance leader roles within SMEs and larger business have been fairly scarce and their remuneration has hardly shifted. But some businesses have paid out to retain key financial talent or risk losing expert knowledge and skills from already lean accounts departments.

There is increased recognition that finance leaders play a vital role in helping businesses to achieve sustainable, profitable growth. Candidates that stand out to employers can potentially command premium salaries in the market. They typically have a flair for leadership combined with superb interpersonal and communication skills. As a result, they can influence business decision–making and provide insight and strategic advice on engaging with existing and potential markets.

The role of the CFO is as diverse as it has ever been, with finance leaders called on not only to deliver the numbers, but also to take on operational responsibilities for other functions including HR and IT. CEOs and managing directors increasingly value astute working capital and cash flow management skills in the individuals they select to head financial governance within their organisations. The shortage of CFO vacancies means candidates need to have a flexible attitude towards working in another part of the country, or even abroad, to secure the right opportunity.

While the demand for commercial business partner jobs from both employers and employees should remain steady in 2013, organisations may need to boost their technical financial accounting expertise on either a permanent or interim basis. Audit and financial accounting have become even more complex and technical and the next phase of International Financial Reporting Standards implementation must be taken into consideration in 2013. Businesses may prepare for that by recruiting short–term cover specifically for the project.

Overall, basic salaries for qualified accountants have stayed constant with some depression within the SME sector due to cash flow and working capital pressures. Both the SME and blue chip sectors are increasingly moving away from offering company cars as a benefit and offering car allowances instead as businesses challenge whether the car is a perk or travel is really a requirement of the job. Many organisations do still offer discretionary bonus schemes although these now tend to consist of 5%–30% of the overall pay package, rather than up to the 40%–50% rate that qualified finance professionals and finance leaders previously enjoyed. A survey in November 2012 by Incomes Data Services found that basic pay and bonus growth for FTSE 100 directors had slowed almost to a halt, although they had seen a big rise in the value of their vested long–term incentive plans.

An interesting recruitment trend has emerged in London, where the services of financial controllers are in considerable demand within commerce and industry. Businesses hire them to carry out the duties of a finance director while dangling the carrot of the top finance job at a later date. As a result, salaries for financial controllers are now more competitive than they have been over the last few years.

Public sector

The past 12 months have been a difficult time for finance professionals working in the public sector, particularly in local and central government. Demand for entry–level and mid–level management positions for newly and recently qualified accountants has decreased significantly. Some pockets of demand have survived, however. These are most notably in the health, charity and education sectors, where finance leaders and managers are needed for key posts. Salaries have increased as these organisations compete for people with commercial experience who are able to provide useful insights. On the other hand, public–sector finance professionals who look to switch to the private sector often struggle to get on shortlists due to the competitive nature of the commercial market.

War for talent

A competitive salary and an attractive benefits package can make the difference in the war for talent. The best candidates are getting several job offers and they do not make acceptance decisions based on financial factors alone – culture, reputation, training, corporate social responsibility and scope for career progression all come into the equation. In 2013, as jobseeker confidence returns to the marketplace and staffing challenges intensify, we have seen the return of the counter–offer.

Despite the challenges that 2013 will undoubtedly bring, CFOs feel confident about the year ahead and the majority are planning to increase their headcount in finance. Regulation, International Financial Reporting Standards, funding, bank relationships, corporate governance and working capital management will continue to influence job opportunities. Already greater activity is evident in those parts of the UK that have a higher density of blue chip businesses such as the Home Counties, the Midlands and Yorkshire. Within some areas, the SME sector looks set to follow in 2013.
View this year's Accountancy & Finance Salary Guide.