Brexit and beyond

Brexit and beyond

What impact is Brexit having on the accounting sector? Director of Reed Finance Rob Russell has some analysis

As the uncertainty around Brexit continues, planning for 2019 has been halted in many instances, especially in relation to budgets and financing as firms await the nature of the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU).

The uncertainty created has already seen some migrant workers return to their native countries and businesses struggling to make decisions until they know what circumstances they will be dealing with. This will mean UK companies become more dependent on nurturing home grown talent and hiring senior staff who are experienced and capable enough to navigate through this period. Finance firms face a particular challenge, as according to the City of London, 41 per cent of its workforce are from outside of the UK with 18 per cent of that number from EU countries. Yet, there is potential for these challenges to have a positive impact of forcing businesses to implement new strategies that will come to fruition in the longer term, and ultimately enhance their growth and stability.

What is clear though is the short-term impact being caused by Brexit. A survey Reed Finance conducted in 2018 revealed that nearly a third of finance professionals believe their business is ‘not prepared at all’ for the UK’s withdrawal, while research from 2019 found almost three quarters of businesses (71 per cent) support the government’s decision to delay Brexit. This has led to greater requests for financial professionals who can offer clarity amid the uncertainty – in other words, a safe pair of hands. Financial directors, chief financial officers and people who can direct finance will be key.

Recruiting these positions is likely to become more problematic though, with a shrinking pool for employers to choose from as migrant workers return to the EU. Our own research has found a third (32 per cent) of businesses have singled out getting access to EU workers as the biggest issue for their organisation. We’re seeing a lot of counter offers from businesses looking to retain talent, so it’s important that firms offer the right salaries, as well as support and perks, to secure talent in the first instance. This is certainly an issue for a number of companies across the UK that don’t believe they are prioritising training for employees, with more than a third stating they are not investing enough in skills and training, which could have a detrimental effect.

Recruiting the top candidate

By valuing staff and supporting them to grow in their roles, businesses can attract and retain the best talent and be rewarded with a lower employee turnover, creating a more stable platform for the rest of the company.

While many organisations do have a suitable training programme in place, it’s less of an emphasis for SMEs who often experience staff losses to larger businesses. This is reflected with a quarter of those we asked being concerned there is no guarantee employees will stay on after being trained. However, in a competitive field such as accountancy, making the right investment now to develop and update the skills of talented employees is essential to safeguarding the future of a company. Those businesses that make the right investments will reap long-term rewards.

If this commitment to training can be complemented with a desirable salary, staff turnover will decline with a greater guarantee of retaining employees. Currently, our own research shows that only half of UK finance businesses (51 per cent) have increased salaries to attract candidates with the right skills. This would suggest that many companies are risking being left behind their competitors in a battle for top talent.

Our latest Reed Accountancy & Finance Salary Guide data found that the average advertised salaries for accountancy professionals have increased for the third year in a row, despite the ongoing uncertainty in the industry. The data found that the average salary advertised for the accountancy profession increased by 1.8 per cent since the start of 2018, one of the highest rates across the sectors analysed. This highlights the continuing demand for experienced accountancy professionals who can manage processes and lead a team, in the face of a challenging climate.

The individual getting the job

However, that’s not to say it is all down to business. As companies look to be more prudent, employees need to be able to judge which expertise is needed to set them apart. Our State of Skills research found that as AI is increasingly used to enhance the technical and analytical skills of workers, accountancy and finance businesses are prioritising employees with strong communication skillsets. Written and verbal communication is being prized by employers due to the future strategies of companies wishing to see finance executives take on leadership roles which entail not only technical soundness, but also an ability to inspire and work as a leader of teams. These interpersonal skills go hand in hand with the ability to spot and win new business which is vital to growth for both the business and the individual. This commercial nous has always been an advantage, but now it seems it is even more sought after as business leaders search for the candidates that can secure the future of their business and help guide them through Brexit.

Meanwhile, it is important that candidates should always endeavour to keep up with the latest accounting tools on the market as automation continues to sweep across the industry. For candidates, developing the ability to take complex finance information they deal with on a daily basis, and using it to answer the question, ‘what does this mean for the business?’ will set them aside from colleagues.

Although the political landscape is causing issues across the sector, finance and accountancy firms that appropriately adapt to them and change their strategies will reap the long-term benefits. By embracing the nurturing of ambitious professionals, businesses will create a more stable platform for growth, with lower staff turnover and home-grown talent filling senior positions.

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