Global prospects for skilled finance professionals are still strong, and talent wars continue in most regions despite economic challenges such as trade wars, emerging market crises, and Brexit, say recruiters.
The US job market is still robust, supported by factors such as tax law changes and heightened merger activity, although some warn that trade wars may affect the market for finance talent in the future. Australia is strong thanks to a resurgent mining sector. Asia is buoyed by a technology boom and rising economies competing for junior roles.
The UK is perhaps the most challenged, due to Brexit-related uncertainty. But even there, recruiters report an ongoing skills shortage while relocation projects create a need for talented accountants who can support strategic moves.
Strong job prospects in the US
In the US, 91% of finance leaders report challenges in finding skilled professionals, according to the Robert Half 2019 Accounting and Finance Salary Guide. Consequently, top candidates often receive multiple job offers. A recent survey of US finance decision-makers, the quarterly Business & Industry Economic Outlook Survey from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, shows that the top challenge for companies for six consecutive quarters has been availability of skilled personnel.
Finance professionals are in demand across sectors, from manufacturing and real estate to construction and health care, the Robert Half report said. US tax changes, system implementations, new accounting standards, and heightened M&A activity are all driving companies to seek staff and senior accountants, financial analysts, and payroll professionals.
Companies are looking for candidates with industry-specific technical skills and strong communication and presentation abilities, the report said. These are hard to find, so organisations are willing to hire individuals who are less experienced but have potential and can learn quickly. Some firms are also looking at candidates from outside their market and providing relocation assistance as part of a job offer.
Patrick Blakeney, an associate director at employment agency Michael Page, said the US market is as buoyant as ever thanks to technological advances.
"Growing businesses continue to struggle with managing their data," he said. "The business intelligence [BI] market is growing rapidly with a surge in organisations implementing smarter BI tools because of the proliferation of data available to analyse. As businesses implement accounting software, they reduce the number of traditional accountants who focus on month-end duties and increase the number of analysts and management accountants.
"Locally and overseas, the term management accountant has evolved. Job titles are now more angled towards 'business planning analysis' or 'strategy planning and analysis', rather than just financial planning and analysis [FP&A]. That means they're looking for people who can partner the business and close the gap between finance and operations with the focus on collaboration. Separately, you'll also see corporate development, which is more involved in areas such as merger and acquisitions."
Talent war grows in South and East Asia
Employers are increasingly seeking qualified management accountants in South and East Asia, and their prospects compare well to other professionals, according to Singapore-based Akansha Agarwal, principal consultant, commerce finance at Robert Walters.
"This is likely to continue over the next 12 months," she said. "In a small talent pool, you need something to distinguish the better candidates."
The most popular positions are in FP&A, business partnering, strategy, and risk consulting — local companies need these positions in abundance. But such candidates will also be highly in demand for more senior positions, Agarwal said.
Newly qualified accountants tend to move into analyst or junior analyst roles in this region. However, some more junior roles are moving out of Singapore as talent pools in neighbouring countries with cheaper labour markets have advanced significantly in the last five years, she said.
"Many junior and finance support roles are relocating from Singapore to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines," said Agarwal. "Competition in Singapore is increasing. But there is still demand for senior finance candidates, especially those with regional experience and business partnering experience."
She said that the Singaporean government has introduced policies to encourage companies to hire more locals first. This has led to a change in the ratio of locals to foreigners in senior and mid-level positions.
Agarwal said that a wave of new technology companies in the region has created demand for positions such as strategy analyst and financial analyst.
"Candidates need to up their game in this field to stand out," she said. "They need top qualifications, but they also need extra courses and reading in areas such as data analysis and business intelligence."
Australia market heats up
2018 has been one of the busiest times for recruiting management accountants because of the strength of the Australian economy, said David Jones, senior managing director for Robert Half Asia Pacific. The mining rebound, technology boom, and buoyant property sector have all helped fuel demand for skilled professionals.
However, specific industry experience is important for many regions and sectors in the country, Jones said.
"Demand is high for management accountants who understand their industry, rather than just what the financial report looks like, and can articulate clearly to stakeholders at all levels the successes and challenges that the organisation faces," he said. "This will continue, as will the shift towards hiring management accountants with exceptional soft skills as well as technical aptitude.
"Crucial for management accountants now are business and commercial savvy; playing a role in growth generation; and understanding thoroughly how departments impact the bottom line."
UK riding challenges
Marcus Williams, an associate director at Morgan McKinley, said hiring in the financial services sector has increased for good accountants despite Brexit-related uncertainty.
Financial services firms are setting up European offices in preparation for leaving the EU, and they need strong management accountants who can work closely with the business to manage the strategic and financial aspects of these moves. A second language is an advantage and increasingly important, Williams said.
Unlike some financial services staff, most management accountants will not need to relocate to other cities such as Dublin and Luxembourg, he said.
"The most important finance people will remain in London, though other functions across their business will move," Williams said.
There are pockets of nervousness around Brexit, especially as some smaller companies put hiring on hold. But bigger companies, such as banks, already have plans in place and are still hiring.
"Recruitment might slow at the start of 2019, as firms consider their position," Williams said. "But after the March Brexit deadline, it might surge again. So, I expect next year to be sporadic."
Carmine Scalzo, a senior manager at Marks Sattin, said that in the commerce and industry sectors, demand for qualified management accountants has increased 10% to 15% this year. Candidates with zero to two years of post-qualified experience have been particularly in demand.
"For those with previous commercial FP&A experience, there are opportunities regardless of the economic climate," he said. "The first six months of this year were extremely busy; however, that has slowed. If Brexit causes an economic slowdown, companies may pause recruitment. But the newly qualified market tends to remain constant, whatever the economic forces at play."
Scalzo said online retail, technology, media, and entertainment have been busy sectors for finance recruitment. However, retail is more cautious, with fewer roles available compared to 2017.
Harvey Allan, manager at Marks Sattin, said Brexit has had a negative effect on recruitment of temporary and interim accountants compared to last year. This will continue until there is some clarity.
However, Allan said that newly qualified management accountants are still in high demand, especially those with practical experience. "Salaries are rising for these candidates, and they can earn on average between £45,000 [$56,000] and £50,000 [$63,000]," he said. "The pharmaceutical [and] oil and gas sectors pay well."
— Tim Cooper is a freelance writer based in the UK. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.