In the face of finance systems automation and offshoring and outsourcing trends, demand is rising for quality finance and accounting workers who can provide value-added services to finance teams and direct finance transformation in Australia, according to a recent report by recruitment firm Michael Page.
The Australia Salary Benchmark 2019 revealed that the past year has seen a 21% increase in the number of finance and accounting jobs posted. Average salaries for these positions increased between 5% and 10% for workers who switch to a similar job. The top industries hiring for finance and accounting roles include fast-moving consumer goods and retail; healthcare and pharmaceutical; industrial and manufacturing; property and construction; and the public sector.
“Since the global financial crisis, there’s been a push for cost savings in Australia. We saw a number of finance teams move their finance functions — usually the more transactional teams — to different parts of Asia,” said Sung Ho Lee, director of finance, legal, and sales at Michael Page Australia.
To support the transformation of finance functions, roles such as finance project manager and head of transformation are in high demand, with an average salary of AUD 160,000 and AUD 205,000 ($113,000 and $145,000), respectively, according to the report.
“There’s a lot of transformation, to be honest, and it’s very different. It’s all the way from reducing the amount of management reporting, making month-end quick and efficient, to creating a data environment that the executive team can pull insights from,” Lee said.
Automation and offshoring are also changing employers’ expectations. Companies in Australia now expect finance workers to perform higher-level work than before, such as providing decision-making analysis in addition to traditional financial reporting tasks. Trending skills in job descriptions reflect this. Buzzwords include business partnering, big data, and analytics skills.
“The biggest challenge for finance professionals is the growing need for digital and technical skills, and the need for swift adaptation to the rapidly changing finance roles,” said Devika Mohotti, FCMA, CGMA, national sales operations manager at Schneider Electric in Sydney. “While some roles disappear, new roles continue to emerge and evolve. Unlearning is also an essential skill to adapt to [the] changing environment.”
Mohotti added that maths and statistics skills play a key role. There is a great need for finance workers who can dive into large volumes of data and extract meaningful insights with ease, she said.
In addition to technical skills, ideal candidates are those who understand industries and can talk to different teams within the business. These new expectations highlight a greater need for communication and interpersonal skills, particularly influencing skills and storytelling, the report said.
“There is a certain type of personality trait that works well with sales and marketing, those who deal with procurement, supply chain, operations as well as working with executives. Soft skills are what they’re looking for, with a balance of IQ and EQ,” Lee said.
For finance professionals considering a switch to another job or industry, Mohotti cautions that employers in Australia seek candidates with experience within the industry. But a change is not unachievable. She focuses on a crucial skill — networking. “Networking is essential to gain insights to a new industry,” she said. “How effective are you in networking?”
Lee advises finance workers looking for a job switch to stand out by focusing on their storytelling ability. “You can tell from their résumé, instead of talking about their skills, like their job description, they’re telling more of a story of what their past is, who they partnered with, what sort of outcomes they’ve driven that are commercially viable and that show the kind of influence they’ve had,” he said. “For transformational roles, I’d say it’s task-orientated — what task are you transforming, what have you done, and what’s the benefit to the business.”
Overall, Australia’s job market is a lot more positive this year, Lee said. Where last year’s report showed little change in job vacancies and salaries, “what we’ve seen now is definitely an increase in the amount of work and also the amount of confidence in candidates moving jobs as well,” he said.
He conceded that although there is job growth, many of these accounting and finance jobs are difficult to fill. “People are looking for higher calibre candidates,” he said. This hiring trend raises the question — are employers’ higher expectations for finance workers’ skills realistic?
Mohotti takes the line that such demands will be met by those who accept the challenge. “Are employers unrealistic? Employers demand what they need to run their organisation [and] be competitive within the industry or sector. While the demands will seem unrealistic, it is most likely what you need for sustainable career growth,” said Mohotti. “So embrace the demands.”
— Alexis See Tho (Alexis.SeeTho@aicpa-cima.com) is an FM magazine associate editor.