Neil Johnson, ACCA Careers editor

Economic uncertainty aside, accountancy and finance (A&F) hiring in Europe and North America is, broadly speaking, expected to remain strong, though back to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic levels from the heady peaks of the last few years.

This will be characterised, as in many parts of the world, by a talent shortage, making it difficult for organisations to meet their increasingly specific requirements in a rapidly changing and volatile business environment.

‘In Canada, 88% of A&F managers report challenges in hiring skilled talent, with more than half (54%) citing finding available candidates with the required skillsets as their biggest hiring challenge for 2024,’ says Cal Jungwirth, director of permanent placement services, finance and accounting, Robert Half Canada.

Active industries

According to Robert Half’s salary guide, the most active industries hiring for A&F roles in Canada are financial services, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing and real estate. ‘Businesses are specifically increasing staff in areas such as financial planning and analysis (FP&A), general accounting and financial reporting,’ adds Jungwirth.

‘Furthermore, hot jobs include accounts receivable/accounts payable clerks, corporate accounting controllers, financial analysts, payroll administrators and senior accountants, to name a few.’

‘There will be an increasing demand for candidates with specific transfer pricing knowledge’

Over in Hungary, accounting services companies will be hiring amid growth in clients and projects. ‘This suggests there will be more opportunities for experts in accounting, taxation and IFRS in professional services firms, while the corporate side will be looking to optimise and retain staff in the first half of 2024 and will be taking a wait-and-see approach,’ say Hays Poland’s Justyna Chmielewska and Martyna Baur-Gadzinowska.

‘More specifically, in an ever-changing legal environment, there will be an increasing demand for candidates with specific transfer pricing knowledge in addition to experienced tax advisers. The strong interest in rare transfer pricing skills will also have a positive impact on salaries. Despite transfer pricing experts earning higher salaries than their general tax colleagues, they have unfortunately proved to be particularly passive in the labour market.’

In Poland over the coming months, the pair expect finance and accounting departments to focus on process optimisation, innovation, and the implementation of new technology systems and tools. ‘Some organisations will choose to centralise their finance functions within regional business service centres,’ they say.

Technology skills

Across Europe and North America, businesses will be looking for people with strong technology-related skills, particularly in digital transformation, ERP and CRM, A&F process software, data analysis and interpretation, and automation, increasingly involving AI and machine.

‘The use of specific technology will be increasingly in demand; for example, Power BI, reporting tools, and advanced Excel abilities,’ says Alistair Houghton, vice president, accounting and finance, Hays Canada. ‘Competence with tools that manage large amounts of data and allow finance professionals to tell the story behind the numbers will be in high demand,’ he says.

‘AI is affecting CFOs to the greatest extent’

Similarly in the US, Elio Recchia, vice president, accounting and finance, Hays US, sees a growing emphasis on business performance and an increase in demand for analytical positions to help businesses navigate an uncertain economic landscape. ‘Improvements in technology, such as digitalisation and AI, are requiring finance professionals to provide more high-quality analysis,’ he says.

Indeed, it is not possible to talk about technology without mentioning AI. ‘I see 2024 being a year of discovery for how AI is applied in the A&F field and what it will mean with regards to future skillsets, as well as what impact it will have on the future structure of teams,’ says Houghton.

And while AI will sooner or later affect finance staff at every level, it’s currently affecting CFOs to the greatest extent, say Chmielewska and Baur-Gadzinowska. ‘It requires that they have the ability to learn quickly, to be flexible, and to analyse potential investments to plan accordingly.’

Salary movements

Salary growth might be cooling from the peaks of the past few years, but it will remain elevated, especially for those with hard-to-find skills and experience.

‘Our research shows that 44% of A&F hiring managers in Canada are planning to increase starting salaries to attract top talent. However, given the macroeconomic uncertainty, higher interest rates and inflation concerns, these gains may be smaller than we’ve seen in the last few years,’ says Jungwirth.

In Poland and Hungary, A&F salaries will see flat to moderate growth in 2024

Houghton notes that the mellowing from the lofty heights of 5-10% salary increases at all levels seen in Canada in 2022 will continue in 2024. ‘I would expect modest salary growth over the next 12 months of 3-5% at all levels,’ he says.

In the US, finance professionals at all levels are still commanding double-digit increases, says Recchia. ‘And while this may not last throughout 2024, companies must still be competitive on salary and total compensation to hire the right talent.’

In Poland and Hungary, A&F salaries will see flat to moderate growth in 2024. ‘At the junior level in Hungary, as in previous years, we expect a slightly lower than average increase, while at the mid-level we expect an increase of at least 15%,’ says Chmielewska and Baur-Gadzinowska.

Going into 2024, rates in Poland are expected to remain stable. ‘Rates in 2023 increased by an average of 8-10%, with the largest increases in the range of 10-20% for expert roles, particularly in the areas of controlling, financial analysis, tax and audit,’ says the Hays pair.

Benefits packages

Given both regions have tight A&F talent markets, retention is increasingly becoming the name of the game. ‘Robert Half’s recent Job Optimism survey revealed that nearly four in 10 (38%) of A&F professionals had either started or planned to start looking for a new role before the end of the year,’ says Jungwirth.

‘Wanting a higher salary was the main factor, followed by looking for better perks and benefits. In addition to raising starting salaries, 41% of managers are offering fully remote and hybrid work options, and 40% plan to add new perks and benefits for this purpose,’ he adds.

Other retention strategies include accelerating promotions and job title changes, retention bonuses, expanding professional development, increasing paid time off, loosening job requirements and increasing recognition.

In demand skills

  • technology skills, especially CRM, ERP, human resource information systems (HRIS), Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Power BI
  • AI, automation and machine learning
  • communication
  • leadership
  • digital transformation
  • commercial acumen
  • financial reporting
  • financial modelling
  • IFRS
  • transfer pricing.