2018 Public Practice Salary Guide

Kathryn Swan 04.01.2018

The 2018 salary guide for public practice, looking back at a tough previous year with a significantly candidate short market.

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Commentary on Public Practice Roles and Remuneration in UK for 2018 


The last 18 months have been an uncertain time for the practice market. The Big 4 firms recruited heavily across service lines in 2015 and Q1 of 2016 but slowed significantly reducing numbers from Q2 onwards, opting instead to cover any additional needs internally where possible. The market further contracted following the referendum and the subsequent general election, although these significant events are no longer impacting the need to hire as much. However, throughout this time and certainly in Q4 2017,  the market was buoyant at manager and senior manager across all service lines from compliance through to advisory. The trend for increasing headcount at all levels across regional offices across the UK also continued as the profession continues to invest in growing regional centres.

The outlook for the job market is cautiously optimistic for the coming year across the UK with firms investing in key hires as well as replacing leavers.

Positive and negative news

Brexit uncertainty within the financial services sector has created uncertainty, and talk of head office moves to the continent continues to unsettle candidates which is likely to disrupt the market across all sectors. This could lead to further candidate shortages as job seekers become inevitably more cautious. 

The vacancy profile in the profession has changed throughout 2017, with a rise in the number of corporate finance roles registered across both London and regional centres to levels not seen since 2015. This includes requirements on both the M&A and TS side which bodes well for the year ahead. Formal insolvency remains very quiet, but there has been an increase in demand for restructuring and turnaround professionals, particularly at the senior level. 

Qualities and skills in demand

The profession broadly remains a candidate short market. Due to the technical nature of the work, most firms continue to favour a strong academic background although a definite trend, from larger firms especially, has been to remove academic barriers and operate a much more inclusive recruitment policy. 

In line with this, firms are broadening out their requirements beyond the parameters of the job. Candidates are being questioned about their hard skills on their CV (i.e. project work, systems work) as well as their softer skills such as mentoring, training and commercialism. Firms are looking much more towards what their employees could become in the future in the longer term.

Organisations are searching for individuals with necessary skills that are needed to achieve strategic long term goals and not just what they can do now. Candidates at all levels are required to convincingly articulate and demonstrate commercial awareness and how they are adding value to clients’ businesses.

Outside of work

One of the most common reasons cited by job seekers as to why they are looking for a new job is that they have not been set clear objectives about what they need to do in order to be promoted. People who feel as if they are on track and that their employer is aware of what their career goals are, the they would be much more likely to stay. Hand in hand with this goes the provision of training and support to help them achieve their objectives. 

Job seekers are encouraged to volunteer to get involved in whatever they can outside of their day to day; be that ad hoc training sessions or putting their hand up for project work. It's essential to make themselves as valuable as possible to their current firm, whether it's seeking a pay rise in their current firm or outside - these extra strings to their bow will enhance their worth and increase their earning potential. 

It's not enough to simply expect a salary increase based purely on market rate. It's important to show why you are worth it. Millennials are perceived to be changing the expectation of the workforce with a definite increase in the number of candidates asking questions around  their employer having a defined CSR policy, and recognising that they have a life outside of work. They value an employer with a more fluid approach to their working hours and values contribution in terms of output.

Notable trends 

Diversity and inclusion remains high on all firms’ agendas. 

Both ethically and commercially, firms are actively utilising return to work initiatives, candidates from different ethnic and social backgrounds, and varying work patterns (including part time and job shares) , as well as increasing the number of contractors. Some firms are already adapting well to their future workforce, and the changes in technology that allow it, with one working on the philosophy that 'work is not a building' giving employees as much flexibility as possible to complete their work within an agreed set of parameters. 

As the cost of both living and of having a large workforce based in London rises, the larger firms may find that attracting candidates to regional offices will become easier. London and the South East has traditionally been the 'go to' destination for careers, however this is changing and will continue to do so over time. As the cost of renting shows no sign of a slowdown, over time the other large centres such as Birmingham and Manchester will close that gap and be able to attract higher numbers of employees seeking a better and less expensive quality of life with no sacrifice on the quality of work or career progression. 

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will certainly have an impact. It’s big news for the accountancy profession, and planning is well underway in firms for the legislative change which will take place in May 2018.

Kathryn Swan's picture
Associate Director