Accounting employment trends to watch in 2021

By Matt Weston on 25th January 2021

This past year has undoubtedly been one of major change in every sense of the word, not least with regards to the fundamental shifts we have seen in how businesses have been operating during such unprecedented times.

COVID-19 has proven a catalyst for digital and technological transformation – and this is undeniably a trend that is here to stay.

While the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many companies having to reduce their overheads or streamline their headcount, there are still glimmers of hope in the accounting jobs market.

Amidst such uncertainty, major UK industries – including fintech, IT, energy and utilities, investment management, insurance, distribution and logistics – are all looking for highly-skilled accounting professionals to help navigate this changing environment.

Digital transformation opportunities

As we look ahead to 2021, companies are pivoting their business priorities to determine the most effective recovery strategies, putting technical and analytical accounting skills more in demand than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, technology has proven to be instrumental for businesses in navigating the impact of COVID-19 thus far. Digital infrastructure has been the lynchpin holding together and supporting businesses during lockdowns, both by enabling remote working and now by playing a key role in recovery.

Technology is also informing new financial, analytical and reporting functions at a faster speed than ever seen before. Over a third of hiring managers say their business is pursuing new digital transformation opportunities as a result of the pandemic and it is likely that this will only continue and at a faster pace moving into 2021.

Amidst these changes, accounting professionals with the right tech capabilities have been thrust to the very centre of the workforce and play a key role in partnering with business owners to use their skills to analyse the current and future impacts of pandemic-related disruption.

Companies pivot towards data-led strategies

In addition to building their tech capabilities, businesses are also increasingly seeking to best determine how they can remain resilient to future uncertainties following the shock of 2020.

Many are anxious to develop flexible and nuanced business goals which are responsive to the new and heightened business risks associated with the evolving COVID-19 crisis which has led to greater demand in the jobs market for accounting professionals who can meet these needs.

In a rapidly changing economy, data has proven one of the most concrete indications available to companies to best understand how and where their business has been impacted by the pandemic. This spans a range of areas, from understanding supply chain disruption issues to consumer behaviour changes and impacts on budgets.

As such, we are seeing a sustained need for data-focused professionals who can quickly gather and process business intelligence from a range of sources and communicate findings and strategic planning insights to key stakeholders.

As companies pivot their strategies towards recovery, data and analytics-focused accounting professionals will be essential to this process. It is likely that there will be significant demand in this area of the jobs market.

Already this is becoming the case with almost a third of C-suite executives recently highlighting increased data analytics as a priority focus area for their company going into 2021.

Other areas of jobs growth

While demand for data and technical skillsets are on the rise, other areas are also seeing greater demand within the field of accounting and finance.

For example, during such periods of uncertainty, cash management often arises as an essential growth area. As such, Directors of Credit Management, Credit Managers and Credit Analysts, will all be in high demand as we head into the New Year.

Similarly, COVID-19 has sparked a tremendous influx in processing needs for individual businesses. Many accounts payable teams are under immense pressure to manage finances, while some data entry and processing services that were traditionally off-shored have been disrupted due to widespread lockdowns across the globe. This has essentially created an urgent need for local data processors.

More widely, with accurate reporting perceived as the backbone of business contingency planning and used to inform many key decisions in a crisis, this has quickly become a mission critical service in this uncertain climate.

Finally, with COVID-19 exposing businesses to more risks than ever before, risk management professionals will continue to play an integral role in helping manage responses and recoveries effectively. Equipped to objectively audit business risks, provide an auditory perspective on the impact of the risks and identify appropriate management and mitigation responses – demand for such roles is on the rise.

Adopting an agile approach

With the pandemic catalysing businesses’ digital transformations and shifts to remote working at a record speed, accounting professionals who can respond best to these changes will be in high demand for 2021.

As companies pivot their strategies towards the recovery, those with strong data-focused skills will be in a good position in a challenging market.

These technical skills combined with ‘soft skills’ – namely business acumen, resilience, tenacity and emotional intelligence to both identify commercial opportunities and successfully collaborate with others in the implementation of these new business strategies – will be best placed to leverage the opportunities available over the months ahead and beyond.

Matt Weston is the UK Managing Director of specialist recruiter Robert Half. Having worked for Robert Half for over 21 years, Matt began his career as a recruitment consultant quickly excelling into leadership roles within the business including Regional Director for professional staffing in the UK South region before taking on the UK Managing Director role in 2018. A familiar industry figure who is an active member of many leading industry organisations, Matt is a valuable spokesperson on current trends affecting the market and most recently was included by Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) in the list of Europe's 100 most influential leaders in the staffing industry. When not focused on helping clients build effective teams and attract and retain the best talent in the market Matt enjoys spending time with his family, is a keen sportsman – both watching and playing – and an avid film fan.

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