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Regional Outlook - North East of England

May 2014

A wide range of opportunities exists for finance professionals in the North East who are looking to make a career move – whether that’s in commerce and industry, practice or the public sector.

Commerce and industry

Finance professionals in the North East have been noticeably sought after since September 2013 and the market continues to strengthen. ACA-qualified accountants are in the highest demand to fill cost benefit analysis, financial modelling, treasury and other niche roles as well as business partner positions. Employers are expanding the headcount of their finance teams again as they look to support their sales forces and kick off projects that were on hold during the downturn.

Recruitment is taking place across a wide range of industry sectors including fast-moving consumer goods, food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and general services. Also, the presence of a number of shared service centres in the region is driving hiring of finance professionals. As exporters continue to grow their presence in the North East, and more trade routes open up, employers are increasingly looking for accountants with experience of trade as well as a sound knowledge of other European markets. These professionals are in short supply, however.

Professionals who can engage with the business that they work in while being able to interpret financial and management information are sought after. So employers prize individuals who have commercial knowledge and an understanding of financial software and systems, including enterprise resource planning systems. They also want finance professionals who have appropriate qualifications and aim to stay technically up to date. When hiring, employers look for individuals who are able to display strong leadership and mentoring abilities when managing both financial and non-financial staff.

Accountants who have recently qualified with a Big 4 accountancy firm are in particularly high demand. Those who have spent a year or two in industry following qualification are the most marketable of all since they combine the best of both worlds by having technical expertise alongside commercial understanding. The level of competition for newly qualified ACAs from a Big 4 background has pushed up salaries for newly qualifieds from around £30,000 to close to £40,000 over the past year. Most finance professionals do not usually secure large pay rises when moving jobs, however.

Some financial controller roles are coming up although there is less movement at FD level. This may be due to more senior finance staff being inclined to stay in their posts while they gauge the true strength of the economic recovery. We may see more movement at that level over the next six months, however.

While the market for temporary financial professionals has not taken off at the same speed as the permanent market, there is a steady stream of roles to cover maternity leave and projects such as system implementations. But there is a shortage of candidates to fill temporary assignments because so many good permanent opportunities exist in the market at present.

Looking ahead, demand for the services of finance professionals is set to stay strong within commerce and industry in 2014 as the recovery strengthens and businesses focus on growth.

Practice

Increased need from clients for the services of the Big 4 accountancy firms is stretching their resources. So they are recruiting from each other and smaller firms, which is creating movement right across the profession. Accountancy firms are hiring into all their service lines with audit seniors being particularly sought after. Firms are competing fiercely to secure the best staff and it’s not unknown for a strong candidate to have three or four job offers on the table within a week.

Firms have identified cloud-based accounting as a growth area and many are looking for individuals with relevant experience who can come into the practice and develop this service for them. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of candidates with relevant expertise.

Positions are coming up at all levels beneath partner, creating interesting opportunities for those who see this as a good time to develop their careers in practice. Professionals with niche expertise – for example, in a particular area of taxation – and strong interpersonal skills can have their pick of roles. There is less movement at partner level due to firms working hard to retain their leadership, but this may change as the year unfolds.

Some interim positions are arising, but the vast majority of positions in practice in the North East are permanent.

Public sector and not-for-profit

The public and not-for-profit sectors are hiring more finance professionals compared with this time in 2013. Among the most active recruiters are employers in the NHS, housing and education sectors.

Within the NHS, hiring is still being driven by last year’s reorganisation, which has resulted in the creation of new clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and commissioning support units. The North of England Commissioning Support Unit has been employing both temporary and permanent finance staff to help it address skills shortages and meet demand from the CCGs.

Mergers and acquisitions continue to reign in the housing sector so employers there seek accountants with financial modelling, project and restructuring experience. The nature of housing associations – they are big organisations with large funding requirements – means they tend to be very interested in finance professionals with a private-sector background.

Employers in the education sector are looking for accountants with business-partnering experience, who can help them to apply for grants and funding and to secure better services and terms from their suppliers. There is some hiring into central government roles as employers look to fill significant gaps, but recruitment into finance positions within local government is still limited.

Many charities held back on hiring during the downturn but now they are looking at ways to improve their income streams so they are recruiting finance staff. Charities tend to be small organisations so they seek adaptable professionals who have both business management and general accounting skills.

In general, there is constant demand for the skills of interim finance professionals in the public sector and contractors are particularly sought after by charities and housing associations to provide project support.


To find out more about opportunities in the North East of England, visit our website or contact Lisa Comerford on 07734 740496