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For what it's worth

1 Dec 08

It’s not the root of all evil, nor is it the source of guaranteed happiness. Robert Outram reports on what CAs can expect to earn

by Robert Outram

In association with prg - Specialist professional recruitment

One of the questions we asked in the CA Magazine/PRG online survey was about the best and worst career advice ICAS members had received. A recurring theme was: “It’s not all about money.”

In many ways that’s very good advice. Money is not a good enough reason for sticking with a soul-destroying job, or one with no prospects despite paying well in the short term. None the less, in surveys like ours the salary tables tend to be the first thing to which readers are drawn. You may have perused the tables in detail before starting here!

Money is important, but in some ways it is not a very good motivator and salary issues are more of a potential de-motivator. Salary is what the human resources experts call a “hygiene” factor. It may not have much positive effect when it’s going right, but when someone is not happy with pay, it is a major grievance.

It seems that CAs are reasonably happy with their pay. One in ten CAs are “very satisfied” and only just over 25 per cent are “unsatisfied” or “extremely unsatisfied”.

Despite renewed interest in equality issues over the past few months, there seems to be no significant difference between men and women as far as this is concerned – female CAs are slightly more likely to be “extremely satisfied” with what they earn.

Very few admit to actively seeking another job, just 6 per cent or so (see table overleaf), which implies that 19 per cent of disgruntled CAs either put up with what they have or hope something will turn up.

What the tables show is a median (not an average) salary, which is probably the best way to depict a range of remuneration levels from £20k or so up to £300k-plus. Even the same job title, such as “finance director” spans everything from a small charitable body to a FTSE 100 plc. The main lesson is that, for a CA, pretty much anything is possible. For what it’s worth, the median salary for all those in our survey lies in the range £51k-£60k.

One thing that came strongly out of the survey is that size does not always matter, at least in terms of size of organisation. Posts like “financial controller” and “accountant” are ranged around the same median level for small and large companies alike, though at either end of that range the variation is much greater. “Small” companies in terms of the number of employees can be great wealth creators, especially in fields such as technology, financial services or professional services. It is also likely that a survey including accountants with a wider range of qualifications would find a greater variation. The kind of small company that attracts and retains a CA as its financial controller is clearly successful and wealth-generating.

For finance directors/chief financial officers there is more of a link between organisation size and salary. In professional practice, if you ever doubted that partnership in the Big 4 brings in a different order of remuneration, just look at the table left.

Where you are also matters. While the median salary for manager in a small to medium sized accountancy practice was in the £31k-£40k range overall, for those based in London or the south east of England it was at the next level, £41k-£50k.

That should be no surprise, nor should the fact that working in the not-for-profit sector is consistently rewarded at a lower level.

We asked whether respondents were looking for another job, hunkering down in the downturn or happy where they are. About a third are not actively looking but “would pursue a new job if the right one came along” and around 15 per cent prefer to stay out “in current conditions”.

That implies that when things pick up, the “war for talent” is set to resume, to the despair of staff partners everywhere.

Finally, we asked for some examples of good and bad career advice that you have received over the years. A lot of the “bad” advice boiled down to people attempting to put you off a career in accountancy, including the readers who were told “become a librarian”, “join the police” or even “you are just not cut out to be an accountant”.

There are clearly some personal career histories encapsulated in the “bad advice” examples, such as:

• “Give us a presentation and tell us what you really think’; I did but they did not actually want to hear it.”

• “Go on this secondment – we will still be here for you when you get back.”

• “‘People’s perceptions don’t matter as long as you do a good job.’ How far from the truth is that?”

• “Being a woman makes no difference.”

• “It’s Friday, come to the pub and don’t worry about that pending work.” (Are you sure that was bad advice?)

• “From a recruitment consultant: ‘Trying to negotiate a better package can result in a withdrawn offer!’”

• “Join a bank – it’s a job for life.”

A lot of the good advice had to do with remembering that personal goals and happiness are what is important in the long term:

• “Your income will never exceed your personal growth.”

• “No one should wish they spent more time in the office.”

• “Do a job that you enjoy waking up to do.”

• “Don’t be short-termist regarding salary.”

Many CAs in the survey also took to heart the lesson that how people perceive you is vitally important and that a good reputation is hard to win.

One thing the survey underlines is just how many doors the CA qualification opens and, after all, it’s your choice.

Thanks to recruitment specialists PRG for their support of the salary survey.

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