PracticeAccounting FirmsThere’s more to life than money

There's more to life than money

The ultimate winners of the 'war for talent', it would seem, are accountants' bank balances. Accountants will have £2,210 extra in their pockets at the end of the pay year compared with six months ago, after average salaries leapt an inflation-busting 5.3% in just six months, up from £42,030 in April to £44,240.

Fewer and fewer respondents took home less than £25,000 ð indeed the proportion fell by over a third in the last six months from 16% to 10%. The number of women in the lowest bracket dropped to 17%, compared to 25% in April, although it is still 10% higher than the number of men in the same salary bracket.

The proportion of under-25s in the category dropped from 80% to just over two thirds, perhaps reflecting firms’ increasing desperation to lure best young talent.

Spare a thought, though, for the quarter of over 65s who are stuck in this bracket while 30% of their peers take home over £60,000.

In fact it was a good year to be a partner.


Six months ago a surprising one in five took home less than £30,000 but, this time round, that dropped to just 7%. And partners at the higher end of the pay spectrum were also faring better, almost one third (29%) taking home over £81,000, up from 21% in April.

Wages rose across the board this year ð almost. Winners included partners and those in payroll, who took home an extra £7,000 extra and auditors with £4,000 more. The only category that was forced to tighten its collective belt was credit control, which saw an average fall of £1,500 in the last six months.

Shockingly, the cause of equality appears to have taken a step backwards over the past year. Women accountants will be discouraged to know that the average gender pay gap actually rose, from £8,800 in April to £10,750.

Perhaps bizarrely, given that statistic, a majority of women (51%) declared themselves ‘satisfied’ with their current salary and benefit package, not far short of men’s satisfaction levels (58%). Don’t expect the glass ceiling to be shattered by shockwaves of female accountants’ wrath at this rate.

Women are less likely to appear in the boardroom than any other type of finance function, accounting for less than one in five finance directors (18%), though they fare a bit better at making partner (21%). Men, meanwhile, are scarcest in payroll, where three-quarters of respondents were women.

But women account for the majority of young blood entering the profession, comprising 52% of under 25-year-olds. That figure fell to 49% for the 25-35 age bracket before plummeting to 9% of those above 56-years-old. A glass ceiling or a fundamental shift making just glacial progress through the profession? Perhaps only time will tell.

Geographically, the Midlands is the most male-dominated part of the country (67%) while Basingstoke is the clear capital of female accountancy ð the only place where the survey found women to be in the majority (55%).

Overall, the profession remains a male dominated one, with just under two thirds (63%) men and just over one third (35%) women ð 2% didn’t specify.


The most common benefits remain unchanged. Top of the pile is pensions. There has been much talk of saving for retirement of late, which may help explain why the proportion who counted this as a benefit was actually up from 63% in April to 68%. Next up was healthcare (49% compared to 46% in April) and bonuses (unchanged at 43%).

Men scored more heavily on most benefits as well as salaries. For example, 47% received a bonus compared to just 37% of women.

The only exceptions were leisure facilities, flexitime, discounts or free products and study support, which women were more likely to receive than men. Only 25% of partners said they received pensions. Perhaps they invest in property instead, as Deloitte’s John Connolly recently revealed he does. Partners were also under half as likely to receive a bonus as the average respondent.

Despite this year’s grim summer weather, few accountants ranked the chance to spend more time sunning themselves on holiday as a the benefit they would most like to receive (4%), though perhaps that was because 16% were pinning their hopes on a sabbatical.


A challenging work environment, a nice little earner, a penchant for pinstriped suits ð there are countless motivations for choosing to work in the accountancy profession. But an easy life is probably not one.

If you work in accountancy, whether in practice or in industry, for most people long hours are practically a given. Work/life balance may be the mantra of the noughties, but for most accountants a nine-to-five working day is little more than a pipe dream.

Respondents, on average, work a 49 hours a week, although there is huge disparity between different regions, not to mention age groups. That is a significant increase on our last survey, when the average was nearer 41. At that time, one in five accounting professionals said they worked between 46 and 55 hours a week ð today that figure has increased slightly to 23%.

And while overall 5% of respondents say they put in more than 55 hours a week, among women that figure drops to 2% compared to 7% of their male counterparts. Perhaps not surprisingly, there seems to be a direct correlation between seniority and the amount of time our respondents spend behind their desks. Once again it’s the finance directors who work the longest hours, clocking in almost 46 hours a week on average, 10 hours more per week than those working in credit control.

Interestingly, 58% of those aged 25 or younger say they adhere to the EU working time directive, compared to 21% across ages. At the other end of the scale, more than twice as many staff aged 65+ work at least 55 hours a week compared to the overall average.


Regionally the differences are less marked. Perhaps contrary to popular belief, those working in the city are no more likely to burn the office candle at both ends than those working in other parts of the country.

Could it be that those accountants working in practice are given a harder time about their perceived commitment to the cause than their colleagues working in industry? Across the board, 27% of respondents said they did feel guilty if they didn’t put in extra hours. Among partners, the figure is even higher, with one third on a guilt trip about the hours dedicated to the cause. But only 15% of those working in credit control said they were made to feel bad.


Admittedly, most of this guilt is self imposed. The reality of the situation is that on average only 7% of respondents said anyone had actually complained about them not putting in enough hours.

Could it be that work/life balance is no longer a meaningless clich‚, but that employers across the profession are starting to put their money where their mouth is and realise that there is no obvious correlation between productivity and the number of hours spent in the office.

But as family-friendly working shifts from a nice-to-have to a legal requirement, employers across the profession, it would seem, are struggling to keep pace.

The Employment Rights Act, which came into force on 6 April last year, offers parents of children aged under six or disabled children aged under 18 the right to apply to work flexibly. It means that their employers have a duty to consider these requests seriously.

But with one in three respondents believing that their workplace is not family friendly, the accountancy profession could be missing a trick. As the economy shows strong signs of an upward turn, and the war for talent picks up pace, being regarded as the employer of choice is no longer a nice-to-have but a question of competitive advantage.

And while ‘salary’ will always rank high in the job wish list of prospective employees, increasingly it’s the softer issues, including flexible working hours and the ability to work from home, that staff deem important.

And while men are slightly more likely than their female colleagues to deem their working environment ‘family unfriendly’ (34% compared to 31% for female respondents), the fact is that women, statistically speaking at least, are still more likely than their male counterparts to be the ones that take time out to raise a family. What is more worrying is that a third of all respondents feel that working mothers are discriminated against by the accountancy profession.


But this figure hides a huge mismatch in perception between the genders ð almost half of female respondents believe that discrimination against working women is a problem, but only 28% of their male colleagues.

Their sentiments are shared by 41% of respondents in the 25 to 35 age group, who think discrimination against working mothers is an issue plaguing the accountancy profession. Those working in tax are also far more likely than those in other roles to highlight the issue; 41%, compared with a national average of 34%.

Geographically, there are some interesting variations between the regions, with respondents in the north and the City more likely than others to feel that discrimination against working mothers is an issue. In Ireland, a staggering 50% of respondents expressed concern that working mums were losing out.


Until this issue is tackled at the most senior levels, true equality on the basis of gender will never be a reality. Debates about glass ceilings aside, the male/female divide prevails, particularly at the higher echelons of the profession. At the top end, the finance director job title remains the preserve of men. A gender breakdown of respondents, although not necessarily an accurate snapshot of the industry, paints an all too familiar picture of the profession as a whole ð just 35% of respondents are female.

Political leaning aside, 41% of respondents support the government’s proposed increase in paid maternity leave from six months to a year.

But a closer look reveals a huge difference in opinion between the genders ð although a third of male respondents support the proposal, a staggering 57% of women would support the increase in paid maternity leave.

Partners and finance directors are those most opposed to the suggestion. And younger respondents ð those aged 35 or under ð are most likely to be in support of the proposed change to the legislation.

Those opposed to an increase in paid maternity leave seem to have their companies’ interests at heart. The overwhelming objection hinges on the cost to business ð 65% said they objected because companies can’t afford it.

Interestingly more than half of all respondents, and 67% of women, said extending paid maternity leave would actually encourage discrimination against women. A further 59% said a year was too long to be away from the workplace. If the accountancy profession is struggling with the issue of flexibility for working parents, it is perhaps not surprising that company-wide flexible working policies are far from a given across the UK.

Although 30% of respondents said their company offered flexible working to everyone, just over a third of respondents (36%) said the opportunity to work flexibly was granted on an ad hoc basis.

Despite being high on the list of priorities for staff, 11% of respondents said flexible working was not an option in their company. And 4% of respondents said they did not know.

The war for talent is a reality for many businesses ð to the extent that almost two in five companies say they are finding it difficult to recruit people with the right skills. That figure rises to 54% among those working in audit, and 42% of tax professionals, although it’s difficult to say whether those figures equate to a dearth of skills across those areas.

Interestingly, those least likely to bemoan a lack of suitably qualified candidates tend to be in the sub 25 age group ð it seems that the older you are, the more likely you are to see skills issues as a problem for your company. That could of course be because younger staff on the whole are not as heavily involved in the recruitment process.

Regionally, the variations continue ð for example, although a third of London-based respondents see skills shortages as an issue, colleagues in the southwest or the Midlands appear to have more of a battle on their hands as recruitment activity picks up.

Accountants with IT experience, it seems, are the hardest to find, although IAS skills are also hot in demand, according to 15% of respondents. And one in ten companies said finding candidates with relevant skills to deal with Sarbanes-Oxley is no mean feat.

But CPD points aside, it’s good old personality that makes the biggest difference to employers when they look to take on new staff. Communications skills and attitude also rate highly, highlighted by 10% and 7% respectively as the most important attributes to take into consideration when recruiting. But don’t worry too much about being a team player ð only 2% said it mattered to them.

But with half of all respondents admitting that they are seeking a job ð 16% actively and 34% passively ð being the employer of choice is no longer simply a nice-to-have.

Although only one in ten finance directors have booked an appointment with the headhunter and are actively looking for their next opportunity, half of credit-control staff are actively looking to move jobs.

There is little to support the clich‚ that younger staff are more likely to move jobs than their older colleagues though. If you want to hang on to them, it’s still the two P’s’ that count ð career potential and a good old-fashion payrise.

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