Accounting skills are almost always in relatively strong demand, such is the nature of the profession. During economic downturns, organisations often turn to accountants to help steer them through the tough financial climate. And when the outlook is more positive, enabling firms to focus on growth, employers recognise the value they can add to the strategic planning process.
Regardless of the strength of the markets, accountants fulfil a variety of essential roles within the business. For starters, it is their job to monitor cashflow - assessing profits or losses - create and analyse reports, prepare statements and ensure the accuracy of financial information. Unless organisations hire professionals with the right skills, qualifications and experience, they can quickly run into difficulty in these areas.
Accounting and finance hiring
With the UK economy growing at the fastest rate since the credit crunch and ensuing recession, employers appear increasingly eager to build their finance teams. More than one in three (36 per cent) chief financial officers (CFOs) surveyed by Robert Half is expecting to increase permanent finance headcount in the first six months of 2014 and another 55 per cent will be filling vacated roles.
When questioned about their motivation for hiring accountants, CFOs said rising workloads (71 per cent) was the key motivator. The desire to penetrate new markets (55 per cent) and expand the range of products and services available (38 per cent) were other common reasons for taking on - or intending to hire - new staff members.
More than eight in 10 (83 per cent) CFOs said they are confident about growth prospects in the UK, up from the 70 per cent who expressed positivity this time last year. An even higher proportion - 86 per cent - are confident about their own organisation's growth prospects in the current market, up from 84 per cent in 2013.
What can accountants expect to earn?
In a competitive market, skilled accountants have the opportunity to secure attractive rates of pay - a war for talent is continuing to inflate average earnings. Salaries can be expected to rise by up to four per cent this year, depending on the role individuals are working in, the organisation that employs them and their geographic location. The Robert Half Salary Guide for Finance & Accounting makes earnings projections for the coming year, offering insight into likely rates of pay for people seeking accounting jobs.
What skills do accountants need?
The types of skills sought-after by employers may vary from organisation to organisation, specific to the demands of each individual job. But there are a number of common competences accounting professionals should possess if they are to secure the most attractive roles with the best employers. These include:
- Commercial acumen - in a Robert Half study, 41 per cent of employers surveyed said general business skills, knowledge and understanding are the most important attributes for accountancy jobs applicants. The role played by accountants during the economic downturn - where many applied their experience to strategic decision making - has demonstrated their potential to do much more than simply manage the finances.
- Numeracy - given that the primary function of accountants is to manage organisations' accounts, it is taken as given that they are well-skilled with numbers. As well as having strong mental arithmetic, and an ability to complete sums quickly and accurately, they should understand how to deliver insight from statistics using different formulae.
- Technology - IT has moved to the centre of most large companies, and many smaller ones as well. Organisations are using technology to automate processes that were traditionally conducted manually, and this is speeding up operations. Accountants are expected to be computer-literate, and know how to maximise the return on investment made in finance software and other management tools.
- Collaboration - the rapid pace of business means accountants must be good communicators who are capable of bringing people together from various departments and encouraging buy-in to financial best practice. They need to demonstrate a high level of competence to earn the trust and respect of their colleagues. For accountants involved in high-level decision making, an ability to work alongside executives spanning the various departments within an organisation is key.
- Integrity - the reputation of finance professionals has taken something of a battering in recent years, and as such, greater emphasis is being placed on ethical practice and transparent dealing. Accountants are expected to honour strict codes of conduct, and set a positive example for others working within their teams and across organisations.