Salary outlook favours talented accounting and finance professionals

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The broad outlook for salaries in the accounting and finance profession is for only modest pay rises in 2016, but employers are prepared to pay considerably more for people with sought-after skills.

At the start of 2015, the economic outlook was more positive than it is now and this was reflected in some salary rises, says Andrew Hanson, director at the Sydney office of recruitment consultancy Robert Walters.

But as 2016 unfolds, the outlook is less certain.

“It’s a slightly less positive story,” says Hanson. “There are some more pressing concerns, such as the commodity market and our biggest trade partner in China.”

He says that, generally, salaries are not expected to dip very much, “other than in Western Australia, where we’re looking at salaries to come off as much as 5 per cent in the accounting and finance industry”.

Hanson adds that “at the very most” increases will, on average, be limited to the consumer price index inflation.

“For all of the major markets in Australia, we’re looking at it being steady,” he says.

“Broadly, we’re definitely seeing businesses control the purse strings and really look at maintaining their cost base as they move forward into a less confident economic cycle.”

Further impacting the potential for strong pay rises is the ongoing trend of offshoring, says Hanson. Instead of filling vacancies with a local hire, some businesses – particularly multinational corporations – are opting to offshore roles that don’t need to be either client-facing or business-facing to a lower-cost location.

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At the senior end of the market, for roles such as chief financial officer, financial controller and finance director, there is an oversupply of candidates, which could see salaries drop for new hires.

Hanson says it is possible that candidates will need “to be willing to accept less for a decent role”.

Outperform with superior skills

Hanson adds there are “pockets” where candidates with the right skills or experience can outperform the general market salary rises.

Businesses, particularly small to medium enterprises, are looking for candidates who can perform more than one role. For instance, candidates who are experienced in financial planning and analysis as well as financial control are in high demand as organisations look to reduce headcount.

Hanson points to one private client organisation that has merged its financial planning and analysis division with its accounting and reporting division, resulting in their accountants needing to be skilled in both areas and a headcount cut from eight to three.

“This trend is likely to continue driving demand for accounting all-rounders rather than specialists in one area of finance,” he says.

David Cawley, regional director at recruitment specialist Hays, says there is strong demand for financial and commercial analysts, management accountants and financial accountants, and financial controllers.

Businesses, particularly small to medium enterprises, are looking for candidates who can perform more than one role. 

Hays recently advertised a senior financial accountant role for a multinational manufacturer. A year ago, the client was paying about A$85,000 for the role but is now prepared to pay up to A$100,000 for the right candidate.

This role involved reviewing the business and advising where it could make improvements.

“They’ll pay the money for the right candidate who they really feel has got the right track record,” says Cawley.

“Since Christmas, we’ve definitely seen an attitude from clients where they realise there’s a real war for talent.

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“There is not an issue with the volume of accountants in the market, [the issue is finding] the right candidate that they’re looking for to add value and grow their business.

“For that right person, clients are more flexible on salary.”

Cawley says these sorts of candidates are attracting salaries about 10 per cent higher than they would have a year ago.

Clients are looking for analytical skills. There has been an increased push for business partnering – that is, an ability to work with different facets of the business, especially sales and supply chain, to help the business eke out better margins and profits.

It’s the ability to make a difference and add to the bottom line, and that’s what is commanding those salary increases.

At the more senior end, there is a strong desire for candidates with change management experience, from introducing a new ERP system, to offshoring, to looking at where a business can rationalise and save costs.

Professional practice salaries steady

In professional practice, there are a lot of jobs, candidates are sometimes hard to find and there is strong demand in audit and business services – yet this isn’t translating to higher salaries, says Cawley.

“Salary increases are less forthcoming in that industry, purely because of budgets and the ability for those organisations to be able to offer those kinds of increases,” he says. “There is increased price pressure.”

Pay rises are generally limited to the CPI.

Those candidates who can work well with businesses and have good communication skills are in demand.

In fact, Hays’ latest report on the professional practice employment market says quality candidates are receiving multiple offers.

“Many firms are transitioning in order to become all things to their clients and, as such, now offer accounting services, financial planning, mortgage broking and self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) specialised services,” the report states. “They are therefore hiring accordingly.”

As with roles in industry, those candidates with sought-after skills are earning more, the report says.

“Quality candidates are … leveraging their market position to secure a higher salary.”

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