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Regional Outlook: South Coast of England

April 2014

The skills of finance professionals are in demand on the South Coast as businesses focus on growth and accountancy practices look to boost their service lines

Commerce and industry
As businesses on the South Coast switch from survival to growth mode, demand for finance professionals is increasing significantly. This is particularly noticeable in the large centres of Basingstoke, Bournemouth and Southampton where many commercial enterprises are based. Businesses are looking to expand, so they are hiring finance professionals with business partnering and financial planning and analysis skills to support them as they grow. Financial controllers with commercial expertise are also sought after.

Some SMEs in sectors such as construction, engineering and financial services are creating finance positions for the first time, which is an important indicator of health returning to the economy. They are looking for finance professionals who are both able to manage the numbers and help to set high-level strategy. At Hays, we expect this trend to continue throughout 2014.
Employers want to hire finance professionals with commercial experience who can communicate effectively with non-financial people and senior stakeholders and make recommendations that have a strong business impact. New positions are being created across the board, from newly qualified through to senior director levels. Newly qualified and part qualified accountants are in short supply, however, due to accountancy firms cutting back on training during the downturn. Payroll professionals are still in demand as a result of the Real Time Information Initiative and the roll-out of the pension auto enrolment scheme. As their focus is on the long term, employers predominantly want to hire staff into permanent jobs rather than temporary roles.

The improved market outlook has fuelled candidate optimism, creating movement in the job market as finance professionals actively seek out new opportunities. In this climate, businesses need to have a compelling proposition in order to attract the best people including a competitive remuneration package, a clear career path, an appealing company culture and inspirational leadership. They also need to be willing to sell themselves during the selection process. Finance professionals often look for roles where they will work for someone who can act as a career mentor as well as a manager.
Finance professionals who switch jobs may move simply for career progression; others can secure pay rises of up to 20% if their skills are in demand and their previous employer underpaid them. At Hays, we expect to see salaries climb during the course of 2014 as more roles come up and competition for the best finance talent on the South Coast intensifies.

The Big 4 accountancy firms are driving hiring within practice on the South Coast. They are actively recruiting to boost their own expanding service lines and also because they need to replace qualified staff who have moved into commerce and industry. In particular, there is a shortfall of auditors but there is also demand for individuals to fill tax and corporate finance roles. This is prompting the Big 4 to make more counter-offers to retain their best people, offering higher remuneration and interesting career opportunities.

Movement at the top levels of practice is inevitably sparking hiring among smaller firms that have to replace finance professionals who have taken roles with their larger rivals. Accountancy firms are also noticeably investing in graduate recruitment again. Although the practice market is largely focused on permanent employees, accountancy firms are increasingly making use of interim staff to cover busy periods.
At Hays, we predict that 2014 will be a challenging year for accountancy practices in terms of staff retention because they will have to work hard to retain their auditors as other interesting opportunities arise elsewhere.

Public Sector
At Hays, we have seen more hiring of finance professionals into roles in local government, the NHS and charities on the South Coast over the past six months. This is because the improved economic climate is encouraging finance professionals to change jobs. While some finance professionals with a public-sector background are tempted to move across into the private sector, the public sector is redressing that balance by actively recruiting from the private sector. Candidates often find the prospect of working in the public sector appealing because it pays competitively while offering interesting work and the chance to make a difference as well as leadership opportunities that may not be readily available in the private sector.

To find out more about opportunities on the South Coast of England, visit our website or contact Barney Ely on 07736 828924