Birmingham’s audit talent war.

Don’t get caught in the cross fire!

As a specialist financial recruiter working at Churchill Howard, covering the Birmingham and wider Midlands market, I am seeing a number of my clients struggle to source and recruit auditors for their respective teams. For those that remember the pre-recession (2006/7) audit recruitment market I would personally say that it is as tough as or tougher than those times.

There is also a fear of retaining valued staff in audit teams reflected in the fact that attrition rates are on the rise. Things have clearly changed – so why is this the case after recent years when there were part-time hours and redundancies on mass within the same audit departments? And how can we affect this now and in the future so that things don’t reach breaking point across audit teams in accountancy practices.

The key factors:

  • There are only 10 top 20 firms in or close to Birmingham that have audit functions of 7+ staff – limiting talent pools.
  • Outside of that there are only 3 other practices in the top 100 firms in or near to Birmingham with audit service lines – so potential candidates are in short supply!
  • There are also only a handful of decent sized independent firms (close to Birmingham city centre) that have audit departments or at least seniors covering 40%+ audit (to 60% accounts preparation and or tax) within their roles.
  • The audit exemption threshold potentially increasing.
  • Drop-off in graduate recruitment in the past 4-8 years across the top 20 in Birmingham and the wider regions.
  • Commerce and Industry and PLC attraction to top 20 first time movers as business’ look to recruit and grow in improving economic conditions.
  • Salary increases for top 10 practice candidates (I hear that £41k is now being paid for audit seniors at a top 10 firm in Birmingham – beating a recent £40k from a big 4 firm).
  • Pick up in the work load of most firms.

Solutions:

Not great news here – there are no easy answers. However there needs to be a more open minded approach when considering candidates. This is where some of my clients are becoming more creative in their thinking to solve the audit recruitment puzzle:

  • Think long term and take on more graduates with a view to the pipe-line increasing on the average 3 year ACA/ICAS/ACCA (or equivalent) qualification time-scale.
  • Consider candidates with little to no audit experience who are coming from accountancy practices that do not cover much audit. It is tough to gain audit experience in most practices – they are sometimes fantastically trained and capable individuals who with some support and training can become excellent auditors and are often more affordable and have the right motives to move to a larger firm.
  • Take on contractors.
  • Consider overseas candidates.
  • Make your interview process smoother and more compelling and tailored to each individual.
  • Pay overtime / time off in lieu.
  • Work in partnership with your trusted recruitment contacts.
  • Get involved in the recruitment process if you are a line manager / audit partner – this will increase your success rate.
  • Offering roles that are a step up for auditor’s – such as an assistant manager’s role for an audit executive and so on.
  • Recognise, reward and incentivise.

Solutions that may not work (short or longer term):

  • Higher and higher salaries.
  • Aggressive counter offers.
  • Taking the same old recruitment approach.
  • Outsourcing recruitment.
  • Poaching staff from rival firms.
  • Ignoring the problem and piling on the work to your auditors.

These are just some of the issues and a good recruitment partner can offer you the edge that you may need in a challenging period. On the flip side this also presents an opportunity for those in audit who are prepared to stick with it. Career progression will be much more attainable for you and you will have more options in your current firm and across the wider market both in practice and across commerce and industry. And don’t forget – some of the best Finance Directors, Partners and CFO’s cut their teeth and progressed to a managerial level in external and internal audit departments – audit is not all bad!

Whilst we would love it to be easier I might add that Churchill Howard is, despite this, continuing to deliver good quality people to both internal and external audit teams across Birmingham and the Midlands. Good old persistence and hard work as well as working in partnership and a consultative approach are at the heart of what we do.

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