Skills, jobs and salary trends in 2019

There are few things we can rely upon in these uncertain times, but one thing that remains a constant is the high demand for accountancy and finance professionals worldwide

Unshaken by the onset of the 'fourth industrial revolution', Brexit, political changes, more regulations and trade wars, such forces – if anything – only appear to be fuelling the need for accounting and finance (A&F) talent.

As governments, businesses and markets drive technological innovation globally, the fourth industrial revolution will mean A&F professionals will have a lot of adapting to do to meet the skills required along this new frontier. Thirty-eight percent of UK businesses believe that digitalisation is the biggest factor set to influence the future workplace, while 49% of organisations in the UAE found it challenging to find appropriately skilled professionals, according to the Robert Half 2019 Salary Guide.

Meanwhile, the ongoing skills shortage will only be exacerbated as Brexit approaches.

‘Although there is still uncertainty about the impact Brexit will have on the market in 2019, we do know that employers are broadly optimistic about their business activity and the majority of A&F employers are planning to hire in the year ahead, according to the Hays UK Salary and Recruiting Trends 2019 Guide,’ says Lee Owens, director at Hays Accountancy and Finance.

Furthermore, Brexit’s impact on the A&F profession will be felt beyond the UK’s borders, as many organisations – particularly financial services firms – set up offices and outsource functions across a number of different European locations, including Amsterdam, Ireland and Frankfurt, says Marcus Williams, associate director, financial services, finance and marketing at Morgan McKinley.

Meanwhile, the high-paced regulatory environment will continue apace.

‘2018/2019 has had many regulatory changes to reporting standards, specifically IFRS 15 and IFRS 16,’ says Andy Young, associate director, accountancy and finance at Investigo. ‘This has caused businesses to change how they report to the market, hence they have needed support both in terms of the change management perspective, but also in running the business-as-usual function.’

Also to impact financial reporting will be the momentum behind integrated reporting and the growing trend around environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Given accountants’ adherence to a strict code of ethics, their curiosity and their insight into organisational performance, they are well placed to be at the forefront of driving the change to a lower carbon economy, to ensure ethical supply chains, to steward corporate governance and to improve performance in long-term sustainable ways.

Tax will be another key area of recruitment activity for A&F professionals. Owens points out that tax managers are in great demand and have seen a high average salary rise of 6.7% in 2018. ‘This is a result of increased focus on compliance in London’s financial district and the first phase of the UK government’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme, which is set to begin in 2019. In addition, the impact that Brexit will have on the UK tax system, especially for indirect taxes and tariffs, is still unknown and the advice of tax professionals will be crucial.’

The fourth industrial revolution – a skills and roles game changer

Technology is likely to be the biggest factor impacting the A&F profession in the years ahead. But in what ways exactly?

Sambhav Rakyan, data services practice leader, Asia Pacific, Willis Towers Watson, says that while India continues to show high salary increments (10%) compared to countries in Asia Pacific, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are expected to reshape a new combination of work, talent, skills requirements and work relationships.

‘Organisations, therefore, should re-examine not just their talent strategies but also how they will remunerate and reward the workforce of the future.’

From an A&F perspective this will mean more data to interpret and more ways to support organisations.

’Digitisation, AI and automation will play a much larger role in meeting with operational financial objectives, and professionals will be relied on to use their digital skills to analyse and leverage the insights these tools provide to support the business,’ says Matt Weston, MD for Robert Half UK.

‘The rise of automation is increasing talent shortages as advancements in technology rapidly change the skills required,’ says Owens. ‘One example would be where larger organisations are introducing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) into workflow systems, turning to contractors to project manage the integration of new software. Automation projects like these have seen the need for operations and technological skills increase from 27% in 2017 to 40% last year and will likely increase again in the year ahead.’

So professionals with a portfolio of skills that include an accounting qualification plus IT, analysis, project management and strong soft skills will be in high demand and hard to find. ‘Candidates with demonstrable knowledge of data, information security and general controls are highly attractive to employers and it is these professionals that are likely to see salaries reflect the high demand for their skills,’ says Owens.

‘With AI taking over manual tasks susceptible to human error, more time is available for strategic, innovative and customer-focused tasks, to add value and drive the digitalisation of business,’ says Weston. ‘Consequently, skills such as strategic planning, problem-solving and interpersonal and communication skills are now cited as crucial for success.

‘Similarly, the introduction of automation and AI into work processes has impacted how hiring managers consider soft skills in future hires, with CFOs believing finance professionals need to demonstrate an openness to change. In 2019, skills such as such as data analysis and financial modelling, as well as softer skills such as resilience, adaptability to change and time management, will become invaluable as employees navigate an increasingly digitalised business landscape.’

Trainees and newly qualified remain in high demand

Trainee and newly qualified accountants should expect a prosperous outlook if they are looking to change jobs in 2019, says Owens. ‘There is a high demand for trainees and newly qualifieds and a shortage is felt across the sector, as 30% of employers who hire trainees say they lack the talent needed to achieve their current business objectives. We are seeing increased demand for candidates skilled within the fields of payroll, tax, credit control and audit, risk and compliance.’

Roles revolution

‘In the next few years, areas such as financial management and financial planning will continue to grow,’ says Weston. ‘Two-fifths (40%) of CFOs consider it significantly challenging to find qualified professionals, with financial management and planning considered the hardest areas to fill.’

‘We expect to see a rise in the demand for experienced regulatory reporting candidates as changes are introduced with regards to trading laws and new FCA requirements,’ says Williams. ‘Organisations will require strong technical accountants to help produce more in-depth reporting requested by shareholders as the demand for further transparency increases.

‘Finally, financial business partnering, with the choice of offshoring, is becoming increasingly popular as a cost saving exercise, European hubs will require a strong team of commercial accountants that can work closely with the business in budgeting and forecasting.’

Owens adds that ongoing legislation and regulatory changes, such as GDPR, gender pay gap reporting, auto enrolment and off-payroll working, means that payroll professionals will also still be highly sought after in the year ahead.

Meanwhile, Young notes the two-sided impact of outsourcing and offshoring: a growth of transactional accounting opportunities in the country hosting the shared service functions, and the need for business partners and process implementors in the HQ country.

’As companies look for lower-cost locations to support transactional finance (such as Poland, India and the Philippines), trainee candidates have needed to adapt to work closer with the business and non-financial stakeholders,’ says Young. ‘Skills around financial modelling, business partnering, and systems transformations are therefore in high demand.’

Young also points out that tech start-ups will be highly sought after by candidates due to them being viewed as a ‘sexy sector’. ‘The potential of these firms to IPO or gear up for a sale (and, hence, offer equity) in the next few years appeals to a lot of ambitious candidates.’

Playing the recruitment game

‘Attracting, securing and retaining the right talent in these conditions will rely on faster hiring times, flexible recruitment strategies and competitive remuneration packages, with salary being a key consideration,’ says Weston.

In such an environment, good quality candidates can be in the driving seat and expect multiple offers. With this in mind, there are several things to consider when job-hunting in 2019:

  • Culture fit and values: as companies fight for top talent, they’re advertising their values and culture. So think about your values – do they align with protective employers? Do you like their workplace culture? Do you fit with it and it with you?
  • Candidate experience: this is of growing importance to employers, so it’s good to be aware as a candidate that you deserve to be treated with respect and treated well.
  • Social media: employers may look at your social media profiles, so make sure there’s nothing there you don’t want them to see and adjust your privacy settings too. Also, employers are using social media to attract candidates, so use it as a way to engage with them.
  • Hiring times: top candidates expect to be contacted within one to two weeks and will take a better offer if it comes quicker – again, use this to your advantage if you believe in your value.
  • Flexible working and other benefits: remuneration packages are more than just salaries these days, so think about the work-life balance, pension, and benefits that can make you happier and more productive.
  • Qualifications gaining in importance: organisations refer to qualifications much more than they used to five years ago, says Williams. ‘Achieving first-time passes in your professional qualifications is now essential to make you stand out.’
  • Temporary roles: ‘The temporary jobs market is heating up, with business leaders using it to plug gaps caused by a shortage in digital skills in the finance department,’ says Weston. ‘CFOs are most likely to be found allocating budget to hire temporary staff in financial management (32%), followed by accounting (28%) and credit management (27%) in the coming year.’
  • Salary: know your value – it’s a candidate’s market, so you may be able to search around for the best salaries, but take into consideration all the previous points too when you’re deciding on a new role. This about what’s important to you beyond money.

"Candidates with demonstrable knowledge of data, information security and general controls are highly attractive to employers and it is these professionals that are likely to see salaries reflect the high demand for their skills"