Finance: Jobs boom peters out but accountants stay in credit

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ACCOUNTANTS ARE seeing their pay rise at its highest rate for more than five years, according to the latest survey of the profession by the financial recruitment consultancy Robert Half International.

The average rise last year was 4.5 per cent, but this figure disguises a wide range of increases. The largest rise, 6.1 per cent, was enjoyed by accountants working in the finance sector, while the lowest, 3.6 per cent, was in the public sector and charities. There was a geographical split, with the South seeing larger pay increases than the North.

Jeff Grout, UK managing director of Robert Half, said such figures were for people remaining in the same job; those that changed job in the year saw their pay go up by an average of twice as much. Though the news was encouraging, especially since the survey of more than 600 companies covered a period of economic uncertainty, Mr Grout warned that the figures were unlikely to be repeated this year.

"The jobs boom appears to be over," he said at the launch of the survey last week . Since last September, the froth had gone out of a market that had been looking increasingly hot.

Nevertheless, all is not doom and gloom. Though the proportion of companies looking to increase the number of financial staff that they employ is down from last year's peak of 34 per cent to 22 per cent, the percentage looking to actually shed such employees is unchanged at 10 per cent. And Robert Half expects demand for accountants to remain fairly high. With about 60 per cent of companies still finding it hard to recruit staff, pay rises are expected to average about 3.7 per cent.

Mr Grout said: "The candidate remains king, provided he or she is young, or part or recently qualified."

However, this does not mean that such people should relax. Mr Grout has pointed to "the decline of the technocrat and the rise of the commercial manager", which he sees as connected with increasing emphasis on individuals' performance in the job.

The survey shows that - while the growth in popularity of bonus schemes has levelled off with about 70 per cent of organisations providing bonus payments averaging 12 per cent of salary - nearly half of salary rises included an element of merit pay and performance-related pay was particularly prevalent within the finance sector.

The report also provides further evidence of the trend for temporary financial staff first identified several years ago. Fifty-six per cent of employers now use temps and of those 40 per cent have increased their use of them within the past year, it says.

Companies are also tending to use more qualified temps and are increasingly using them as a means of assessing suitability for permanent employment.

Mr Grout said such employees were typified by an Australian or New Zealander visiting Britain on a working holiday spanning a couple of years. But the "can-do" attitude was increasingly personified by South Africans.