Our finance experts in Scotland – Laura Buchanan, Graeme Bruce, Marsha Ford, Cameron Brown and Erin Boyle – examine the current situation in the Scottish market for finance talent, across both public practice and commerce and industry.
Whether looking at the market for permanent and interim qualified accountant roles, the biggest challenge for organisations is a shortage of candidates across the board. Individuals aren’t moving and those who do decide to take the plunge are being snapped up quickly, so speed and engagement in the recruitment process is of the essence.
A candidate led market characterised by a scarcity of talent has resulted in finance professionals holding the upper hand, often juggling several job offers. They can also afford to be more bullish when it comes to their salary demands and employers have realised that what was acceptable 12/24 months ago won’t secure their services today. Flexibility on salary is a must.
Accountants and finance professionals are now seen as pivotal for their part in adding value, driving process improvements, carrying out competitor analysis and generating efficiencies for their organisations. To succeed, they must be commercially minded, proactive self-starters who are team oriented with excellent communication and presentation skills. The importance of interpersonal skills cannot be understated, particularly for some roles such as finance business partners.
In the east of Scotland, which covers cities like Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen, demand remains buoyant in both the private and public sectors. This is the case as much for junior roles such as accounts and finance assistants as it does for part qualified financial accountants, financial and planning managers, systems accountants and tax and treasury systems accountants.
Recruitment activity in west central Scotland, primarily in the greater Glasgow area, has picked up in the last quarter. There are more fixed term contracts following IR35, with temps moving away from contracting to perm. We’re starting to see some salary increases for permanent qualified accountant roles, such as FDs, financial controllers, management and cost accountants in both financial services and commerce and industry.
There is a shortage of commercial cost accountants with manufacturing experience as roles have been offshored to cheaper locations. Those with model building experience to help businesses with their forecasting are also in scarce supply. There has also been a greater move towards more regulation and controls in financial services, so a greater focus on internal audit.
There are plenty of opportunities for newly qualifieds coming out practice, especially for financial and management accountant roles and those looking to take that next step into team management. The most difficult areas to source skills are for technical tax and financial systems roles. Demand has been steady across the private sector across companies of all sizes in industries such as manufacturing, IT, insurance, FMCG and professional services but also in the public sector.
Whether part qualified, newly qualified or senior manager level, the Big 4, mid-tier and small accountancy firms are looking for candidates from a public practice background. The requirement for auditors at NQ level has never wavered. It is not uncommon for those who have moved to industry to return to practice. Salaries can vary depending on different factors, such as the stage of the training contract and the number of exams that the individual has taken.
In-demand skills for accountants
Technical finance skills are a given with companies looking for a solid academic background. Those who have qualified first time round– with any of the major bodies such as ICAS, CIMA, ACA, ACCA, AAT, ATT, CTA, CAA and CIPFA are at an advantage.
- A high degree of Excel proficiency, to VBA level, is a requirement as companies are looking for people with mastery of financial modelling used for pricing and which has a direct impact on profitability. Data is hugely important in shaping business decisions.
- Language skills, especially fluency in German, French, Italian and Spanish is also sought after. Knowledge of one of the large finance software systems such as SAP, Oracle or Agresso is essential as is keeping up to date with IFRS and reporting standards changes.
- For public practice, the focus on audit, tax and accounts and business advisory continues to be in high demand. More recently, we’re also seeing a rise in the demand for tax expertise, especially indirect tax, deals tax, restructuring tax, transfer pricing, corporate tax and private client, as well as corporate tax compliance and advisory.
- For permanent candidates in particular, culture fit and personality skills are now crucial for accountants who are expected to have excellent communication skills to partner with senior stakeholders and managers across other business units. Prior industry experience helps but often you can switch and pick up knowledge of a new sector.
Employers – attracting top finance talent
The message is move quickly as it’s an incredibly competitive market. If you’re a hiring manager, make sure the job is signed off, have a serious timeline and make sure you get those offers out quickly to secure the best candidates (who often accept the first offer).
- Hiring managers must sell their business and make the environment attractive. We’re seeing a big increase in counter offers but often the candidate will leave within 12 months. Managers must also be more effective people managers, engage with their teams, offer pastoral care, check in on mental health etc.
- Keep an open mind and don’t have preconceived notions. There are very good candidates who are qualified by experience (often with more experience) and have all the right skills but aren’t interviewed because they don’t have a formal accountancy qualification.
- Development and training will help boost retention – not enough is being done around talent management. Organisations can be creative in terms of how they can engage their staff. They must also make sure that their remote onboarding processes runs smoothly. Companies must also recognise and reward their people; HR has a role to play as talent manager.
- As well as salary and flexible working, a good pension above the employer’s statutory contribution amount can help during the offer process. Allowing the individual to take holidays when they want to is also desirable.
- Companies are not tapping into the pool of highly productive part-time workers enough; working mums are still at a disadvantage.
Candidates – securing the top finance jobs
To stand out, candidates must show their passion for the job and employer as well as what they bring to the role, why their skills and experience can make a difference.
- They must do their homework, show a good knowledge and appreciation of the business, therefore preparation is key. There is lots of material online on corporate websites and industry portals. There is nothing quite like poor preparation to put a hiring manager off.
- Accountants are not always the best at selling themselves – we’re not just talking about skills but the value of those skills and experience, so adding value in previous roles is critical. They need to quantify achievements and articulate why they want the role. Having some questions ready will also show that they are engaged and invested in the process.
- A CV is a sales document so it should be easy for hiring manager to find the info they need. It’s important to present the best versions of themselves so this might mean more than two pages, which is often the advice you’ll hear. Evidence of career progression too is a major plus. LI profiles must also be kept up to date with recommendations added.
Knowing what your organisation's hybrid working model is going to be is key in today’s market.
- The most popular questions from candidates is ‘How many days do I have to be in the office?’ Flexibility is vitally important and the vast majority of candidates do not want to be in the office the majority of the time – one or two days a week is the preferred choice. Employees will push back on this if they don’t get the flexibility they want.
- Candidates are holding tight as they want to see what their company’s policy will be on flexible working before contemplating a move. A number of firms have already introduced 4-day weeks following a Scottish government pilot that will help companies explore the benefits of a shorter working week.
- The only exception to this is for more junior hires, who tend to want to be in the office more as they don’t have that corporate experience, so for them it’s about learning through osmosis, working in a team.
Contact our Scottish finance experts
Why should you talk to our finance experts in Scotland?
- Highly experienced/unrivalled market insight
- Extensive candidate networks
- Ability to source talent for hard to fill jobs
- Honest and upfront with you from the outset
Laura Buchanan, Director
Specialist focus: contract and permanent (part-qualified and transactional finance)
Geographic area: Glasgow and the west of Scotland
E: email@example.com/T: 07590 462177
Graeme Bruce, Managing Consultant
Specialist focus: permanent and interim qualified
Geographic area: east of Scotland
E: firstname.lastname@example.org/T: 07814 976878
Marsha Ford, Talent Manager
Specialist focus: permanent and interim qualified accountants/financial services
Geographic area: west and central Scotland
E: email@example.com/T: 0141 2279110
Cameron Brown, Consultant
Specialist focus: permanent qualified
Geographic area: Glasgow and the west of Scotland
E: firstname.lastname@example.org/T: 0141 2279103
Erin Boyle, Consultant
Specialist focus: public practice (audit, tax and accounts, business advisory)
Geographic area: Scotland wide
E: email@example.com/T: 07971 402991