Brexit has generally been positive for hiring, especially across public practice recruitment with growth plans in regional areas implemented by the Big 4 and Top Ten firms, with most now open to their employees working across various locations.
2018 was broadly a positive and successful year for the accountancy profession. Jobs registered supported this with a healthy split between replacement and expansion hires, as well as specialist roles within tax especially buoyant anticipating the impact of Brexit. Given the continued candidate scarcity, the job market for experienced fee earners is optimistic for the coming year, with anticipated recruitment across all service lines. In the main, salaries have shown modest increases across compliance teams, with pronounced exceptions within advisory and tax.
Public Practice recruitment experienced a surge as we approached spring 2019, with hiring particularly evident at more senior levels.
Public practice roles and remuneration
The public practice market remained buoyant in terms of job flow throughout 2018 after what proved to be a challenging 2017. The Big 4 and Top Ten firms were seen to be hiring into their teams all over the UK, including London. The buoyancy of recruitment can be put down to firms continuing to build out their strategic growth plans in regional areas, across various major cities, where increased levels of hiring was a subsequent result.
However, this market confidence didn’t result in any significant movement on salaries; the majority of organisations offered inflationary wage increases in annual reviews. Competition for candidates with niche skills and/or in particular locations inevitably could command higher salaries, but these isolated cases did not impact salaries overall.
The most popular roles, skills and qualifications
The continual rising popularity of cloud computing softwares has meant those with high levels of experience or any form of certification in these softwares found themselves in demand. In particular, knowledge of Xero, Quickbooks and Sage Business Cloud put any candidates at an advantage. In line with this, there was also sustained investment in building outsourcing teams and expanding headcount.
Noticeable workplace trends across audit into practice
Workplace flexibility is now commonplace, as firms have to adopt increasingly creative solutions to accommodate for the fluid working patterns of their employees. Offering this is essential if firms want to have access to the full spectrum of talent – 43% of practice professionals who responded to our survey highlighted flexible working as the main thing that would make their work life easier and hiring managers that responded stated how offering a good work-life balance was one of the top ways they retain their best talent.
The flow of international candidates in the UK increased towards the end of 2018; this was mainly due to the relaxation of Home Office restrictions. For Big 4 firms in particular, this was welcomed as it helped them fill a high number of vacancies across London and other regional cities. Despite this evidence, 67% of employers across the profession perceive the employment market as less attractive after Brexit.
A significant trend seen throughout 2018 was the increasing number of firms that have become location agnostic. With the aforementioned focus on regional growth and the increased desire from jobseekers to be able to work remotely, firms are getting used to having their workforce spread out across different locations, in some cases, a considerable distance from the client.
Mandatory audit firm rotation has been given much news coverage in an attempt to increase competition in the market and reduce the stranglehold that Big 4 firms have on FTSE 100 companies. Despite this significant scrutiny, the Big 4 firms continue to dominate the FTSE 100 and have seen an overall increase of 10% in fee revenue.
The audit market came under further scrutiny over 2018 with the CIMA launching an enquiry into the effectiveness of the top firms’ work. Notably, KPMG, PwC and Grant Thornton were all involved in widely publicised shortcomings in the cases of Carillion, BHS and Patisserie Valerie, respectively. Each instance resulted in extensive negative press coverage for the firms. Consequently, the discipline as a whole has been under considerable review and comment. Regulators will continue to look at matters and it is important to find a resolve to this issue that is reducing public trust in audit.
There were some high profile acquisitions, particularly towards the end of the year, with Blick Rothenberg acquiring Hazlems Fenton, the top 100 firm, as well as BDO taking over fellow mid-tier firm, Moore Stephens. The latter resulted in BDO jumping ahead of Grant Thornton into 5th place. This further demonstrates the changing and evolving landscape of the profession, and how firms are adapting and future proofing their businesses.
Employer trends seen across Public Practice at the start of 2019
Hiring of personal tax professionals in Public Practice was slow at the beginning of this year, but it is largely to be expected considering personal tax season. The job market on the personal tax side has recovered as anticipated with no visible impact yet from the Making Tax Digital deadline. The audit and advisory markets have remained steady with an ongoing and significant need for insolvency and turnaround professionals.
The natural uncertainty around Brexit has also meant more hesitancy, as both candidates and clients have held off actively looking for a new role as they are unsure what the future holds. Despite this, there will always be a certain amount of movement within audit, either from those wanting to make the move to industry or into a bigger firm, and firms still needing to replace those leavers.
Flexible working or part time employment are entrenched in many firms’ core benefits; this is a necessity that was highlighted by a top 10 firm who stated that agile working is now the ‘rule’ if a firm wants to attract prospective candidates. Whilst this is nothing particularly new, it is worth noting just how important it is to the hiring process nowadays.
What has influenced Public Practice recruitment this quarter?
Making Tax Digital (MTD) legislation has been the primary influential industry occurrence in Public Practice so far this year. Many General Practices and larger firms have found themselves behind where they should be in terms of meeting the 1st April deadline and ensuring all their relevant accounts are digitally stored. This new legislation will inevitably impact significantly on both working practices and recruitment in the future.
Predictions For Audit Into Practice Recruitment for the rest of the Year
The practice market will remain resilient as Brexit negotiations in relation to the extended Brexit negotiations and economic uncertainty which has followed. Looking forward to 2019, both the compliance and advisory business lines will be busy advising both UK and European based businesses as to how to best navigate this changing market. As a people dominated business, the profession relies on employing high calibre professionals who are looking for challenging and rewarding roles in what is likely to be an eventful year.
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Brexit planning provokes considerable accountancy recruitment