Blue skies visible in the accountancy & finance profession’s 2021 salary outlook

content blue sky salary outlook

With 59% of employers predicting no change in salaries in 2021 and 16% a decrease, it could be argued that the outlook for remuneration in the accounting & finance profession — in a year still reeling amid the economic fall out from the Covid-19 pandemic — is pretty uninspiring.

However, to remain competitive in the talent market and to accommodate working trends brought about by the pandemic, 46% of employers are bolstering their benefits and reward packages.

According to Robert Half, 51% of organisations surveyed in its 2021 salary survey will add mental health resources or assistance, be it in-office or remotely, while 47% will provide wellness programmes. 

Directly related to the normalisation of home or remote working kicked off by Covid-19-related restrictions, employers will provide several incentives to their renumeration packages: 47% will provide allowance for work-at-home equipment; 40% will offer additional paid family leave; and 38% will provide outside office-based childcare assistance.

Mobile profession

This isn’t to say that salary increases are off the table entirely, with 33% of businesses giving pay rises in 2021, mirrored by 34% of professionals expecting one, according to the Robert Walters 2021 salary survey

This, unsurprisingly, also tallies with 34% of professionals saying they will seek a new role in 2021 and half of them are confident they will succeed.

Supportive of their chances is that all surveys find the accounting & finance profession to be one in which demand is high for the right professionals, but that recruiting them is tough. The Hays salary survey found that 77% off employers experienced skills shortages in 2020, with 70% seeking to recruit staff in 2021 (up from 68% in 2020).

This points to any stagnation in pay rises or strong starter salaries as being short lived. Nevertheless, according to Robert Walters’ survey, there will be little movement in salaries in 2021 across the board — junior to senior — and especially in areas desired in times of uncertainty.

In demand roles

For example, professionals working in practice and audit, from ACCA trainees to part-qualified to senior management and partner can expect little change in 2021. Based on results for the South East of the UK, trainees will stay in a £20,000-24,000 range, while partners will stay at £60,000-100,000.

For those working in commerce, there is some improvement in salary ranges on 2020. For example, at the senior level, finance directors at large organisations of 250+ staff can expect to see an increase at the top of the range from £114,000 in 2020 to £121,000 in 2021, while the lower end of the range will remain £80,000.


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It’s a similar story for finance directors in medium firms (with headcount of 50-250), where they can expect an increase in range, from £68,000-90,000 in 2020 to £70,400-95,000 in 2021. This translates into a 5.5% increase at the top end and 3.5% at the bottom end of the scale, pointing to the high demand for senior professionals with the right skillsets in not only a tight job market, but a difficult economic outlook.

One of the most in demand roles is financial analyst, given how vital this has become amid the economic and market challenges brought about by the pandemic. Financial analysts can expect a salary range increase of 13.5% at the top end of the scale and 7.7% at the base end, or £26,000-37,000 in 2020 to £28,000-42,000 in 2021, according to the Robert Walters survey.

Also in demand are roles in accounts payable, credit control and payroll. As noted by Robert Half, such roles, which are key to cash flow management, see unprecedented levels of demand during times of crisis and uncertainty, they’re also some the difficult professionals to find.

Team leaders and supervisors in these functions can expect fairly sizeable range increases in 2021, according to the Robert Walters survey. For example, the range for an accounts payable leader in a medium-size company will shift from £19,000-25,000 to £24,000-35,000 in 2021, a 40% increase at the top end and 26% at the base. 

Meanwhile, accounts receivable supervisors at medium-size companies can expect a top end increase of 46% to £35,000 in 2021; payroll supervisors a 50% increase to £33,000; and credit controllers at larger businesses can expect a 4.7% rise to £45,000.

Industries demanding finance professionals

Unsurprisingly, industries that have seen unprecedented levels of consumer and business demand during the pandemic are hiring finance professionals. These include many related to retail, such as food and food processing, mass grocery retail, ecommerce, fast moving consumer goods, logistics and manufacturing.

Another strong area has been technology companies, especially those benefitting from the work-from-home trend, so think video meeting platforms, data centres and cloud computing. Additionally, online entertainment, streaming and gaming have seen highly elevated demand, which is expected to remain high even once Covid-19 related restrictions are lifted.

From a job seeker’s perspective, it’s also worth considering the sectors that struggled amid the pandemic, those related to the hospitality, tourism, culture and recreation sectors. Once these sectors are allowed to freely operate again, there will be huge demand for them and, likewise, companies will be seeking to recover quickly and capitalise on this resurgence in demand.

Technical skills

  • ACCA newly qualified (up to five-years experience)
  • ERP/SAP expertise
  • Data analysis/forecasting
  • Process and control implementation experience
  • Cloud-based software expertise (eg Xero, Sage, QuickBooks)
  • Financial modelling

Soft skills

  • Commercial awareness and business acumen
  • Business partnering
  • Negotiation
  • Communication
  • IT

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