Accountants in demand as salary expectations increase, but flexibility may be the answer for SMEs

Years of historically low real wage growth are coming home to roost, according to new research, which suggests the vast majority of small-business job candidates are demanding more money.

Recruitment consultancy Robert Half has today released its 2019 Salary Guide and its good news for accountants, many of whom are expected to cash in over the next 12-24 months as demand for highly qualified financial wizards increases.

But for employers things look a little less positive, with the survey of 460 hiring managers revealing 71% of small businesses are finding candidates have become more demanding about their pay packets.

More than half (58%) of small businesses hiring managers said candidates are expecting higher base salaries than those offered, while 56% said higher bonuses are also on the agenda.

Nicole Gorton, Asia Pacific director of strategic accounts for Robert Half, says a strengthening economy and skill shortages, partly driven by skilled visa changes, are driving the trend.

“We have a good economy and companies are investing to grow,” Gorton tells SmartCompany.

Wages have emerged as a key issue ahead of the federal election next month, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten pledging an increase to the minimum wage and restoration of cut penalty rates.

That’s sparked concern from small-business advocates that employers might not be able to keep up with increased costs.

“You can’t afford to just pay more”

Businesses, particularly SMEs, are responding to the increase in expectations by “making the invisible visible”, Gorton says.

“If you’re looking at salary in isolation, money does talk, but so does opportunity,” she says.

“Companies are asking what they can offer outside remuneration that can attract and retain talent.

“Those things come in all sorts of forms: remote working, flexible working hours, maternity/paternity leave and charity work, additional to leave.”

While 50% of office workers surveyed said remuneration was their most important consideration when accepting a job offer, 49% said flexibility and work-life balance is at the top of their list.

A further 35% said career progression and professional development is their priority, while 25% said corporate culture is the most important factor.

“You can’t afford to just pay more salary,” Gorton says.

Flexibility an opportunity for small business

HR and recruitment professionals Victoria Stuart and Stephanie Reuss, founders of Beam Australia, say the figures show there’s a clear disconnect between the expectations of workers and employers.

While hiring managers took the view remuneration was far and away the most important factor for candidates, employees surveyed offered a more balanced view, giving higher preference to flexibility and work-life balance.

“They’ve basically overestimated the remuneration desire and underestimated flexibility,” Reuss tells SmartCompany.

Stephanie Reuss and Victoria Stuart of Beam Australia.

Reuss says offering compelling flexibility to workers can be the edge SME employers need to attract world-class talent from bigger businesses without overpaying.

Stuart says while workers have been shifting their preferences for years, employers have found it difficult to get their head around flexible working arrangements.

“If you’re a small-business owner, a lot of the time you don’t need a full-time worker in your business, it’s fit to scale,” Stuart says.

“Do you need a five-day-a-week chief financial officer? No.

“But you could attract someone to your business two or three days a week and match, or come closer, to a salary of a larger corporate.”

“It means small businesses can start to compete for that talent.”

What’s in demand

Jobs in finance and accounting and information technology are expected to experience the strongest demand over the next 12 months.

For accountants, those with high-level qualifications and commercial experience will be able to fetch the most money, with top-tier tax specialists expected to hit a national average annual salary of $160,000.

Meanwhile, the myriad of cyber security breaches in recent years is fueling strong demand for IT security managers, with experienced and highly qualified candidates expected to hit a national average annual salary in excess of $198,000.

Top five permanent roles

  • Financial accountants
  • Financial/business analyst
  • Finance manager
  • Tax specialist
  • Strategic planning specialists

Top five contract roles

  • Accounts payable officer
  • Accounts receivable officer
  • Payroll officer
  • Assistant accountants
  • Credit controller

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