Opportunities rise for staff in finance sector

Demand is now exceeding supply for people with linguistic and financial skills, writes Roger Trapp
Brandon Gough, the former senior partner of Coopers & Lybrand who has emerged from the crisis at SG Warburg as the merchant bank's deputy chairman, is not the only accountant making waves in the City. Leading financial recruitment specialists agreethat increasing economic confidence is creating a range of opportunities in the financial services industry for those with the right background.

Terry Benson, chief executive of Michael Page, says: "In financial services demand exceeds supply, particularly for people with good qualifications who have worked on financial services audits."

While many of the openings for those successful in the PEII examinations, due to be announced this week, are in traditional accounting areas, such as audit and product accounting, people with accountancy training are increasingly given the chance to work in the "sexier" areas, such as corporate finance and investment analysis.

This demand is also helping to push up salaries. Top-rank newly qualifieds with special skills are being lured into banks and other financial institutions with salaries amounting to as much as £35,000 as well as the usual benefits, including subsidised mortgages and company cars. What Mr Benson calls "second-tier" candidates - those with good academic qualifications but no specialist skills - are being offered about £27,000 a year to leave public practice.

At the same time, the large firms, which cut back sharply on recruitment and almost unprecedentedly axed staff during the recession, are seeking to stem the exodus by raising salaries and offering some newly qualifieds similar perks.

Denis Waxman, managing director of Accountancy Personnel, says: "There is renewed confidence in the recruitment market, with skills shortages emerging. Demand for finance staff is going to continue to outstrip supply."

The report published last week by his organisation, part of the Hays business services group, identified four trends.

First, recruitment of trainees has grown sharply, with first years able to command 8-9 per cent higher salaries than a year ago. Second, experienced - but unqualified - staff whose studies lapsed during the recession are losing out to those who kept up their training. Third, languages and overseas experience are in greater demand than ever before as a reflection of Britain's success in exporting financial know-how around the world. Finally, the recession has taught employers the value of dynamic, adaptable financial managers as accountants break away from their "bean counter" image and play a growing role in steering their companies.

"We all now accept that accountants are playing a central role in the management of our manufacturing and trading base," says Mr Waxman, who adds that the growth of markets in Eastern Europe and the increasing globalisation of business is expanding the need for accountants who combine linguistic with financial skills.

Mr Benson says that his firm is finding such a demand not just in the large companies based in London, but also in the regions. Cantonese and Mandarin are particularly favoured languages.

This growing internationalisation is reflected in the in-creasing demand for the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants qualification. The organisation's record 25,661 students recruited in 1994 prompted the chief executive, Anthea Rose, to say, "even though qualifying as a certified accountant is not easy, more and more students are becoming aware of the value of obtaining the qualification for its international recognition and for the mobility and career development it offers".

Mr Benson is buoyed by the increased activity to talk of a prosperous year or two ahead - even if he is reluctant to suggest a return to the heady days of the mid- to late Eighties.

However, James Wheeler, managing director of temporary market specialists Hewitson-Walker, sounds a note of caution. Pointing out that those recruited for permanent posts are generally replacing people who have gone elsewhere, he suggests that the temporary market is a better indicator of confidence. "I've got a sneaking suspicion another recession is coming," he says. "I don't see the exponential growth we were hoping for in 1995."