In periods of crisis, there is a lot of uncertainty on the labour market. Yet there are certain positions where the impact of the crisis is barely noticeable, like for Accounting Managers for example.
These business-critical professionals remain in highly sought after, and we even see an increase in demand from, among others, the IT, fintech, real estate and healthcare sectors.
We asked Marie Parmentier, Managing Consultant at Robert Walters and specialist in the recruitment of Accounting Managers, why the demand remains high and what the key trends are for the coming year.
What exactly does a Senior Accountant or Accounting Manager do?
Marie: "A Senior Accountant is responsible for the entire accounting process, from A to Z. He or she is responsible for the daily operational accounting tasks and manages the monthly, quarterly and annual closings, VAT returns, etc. An Accounting Manager does more than the purely operational side. He is responsible for the final check of the figures and interpreting them. In addition, an Accounting Manager acts as the financial point of contact within the organisation, but also for external parties like external auditors for example.
Because the Accounting Manager is less actively involved in the day-to-day operational accounting tasks, he can focus more on ongoing and planned projects within the organisation, like for example the implementation of new tools or process improvement projects. Finally, the Accounting Manager supervises the team of Accountants, keeps them motivated and ensures that each individual receives the necessary training."
What skills should an Accounting Manager have?
"Just like a Senior Accountant, it is important for an Accounting Manager to be able to work autonomously and in a structured way, while respecting deadlines. The Accounting Manager is expected to be able to analyse, understand and explain the numbers thoroughly. After all, his insight and conclusions form the basis for the controlling team's recommendations to the management team when having to take important decisions. Hence, it's also vital to demonstrate strong communication skills and to speak fluent Dutch and French, particularly when the team is bilingual. If the organisation operates on an international level, a good knowledge of English is also a must.”
And let’s not forget the technical expertise: accounting tools such as SAP, JD Edwards and accounting standards like IAS/IFRS and US/UK GAAP should hold no secrets for Accounting Managers. A successful Accounting Manager is able to handle stress very well and knows how to guide the team smoothly through busy periods. "This constant work pressure means that Accounting Managers often have difficulty finding the right balance between their strong technical skills and at the same time being able to lead, motivate and encourage each individual in their team to let them grow in their role."
How does someone become an Accounting Manager and what is the next career step?
Marie: "Generally speaking, we can say that an Accountant will progress to Senior Accountant and then to Accounting Manager. But there are different growth paths possible. A Senior Accountant in an SME will be responsible for A-Z accounting. As a Senior Accountant in a large company, you can either have A-Z responsibility, for example for an entity, or you can choose to immerse yourself further in a particular aspect of accounting, such as VAT for example. The next step in your career can then be that you become responsible for multiple entities or that you broaden your job content and focus, as a true specialist, on multiple aspects within accounting.
The logical next step for an ambitious Accounting Manager is the role of Head of Accounting. As an experienced expert, he or she is expected to advise and assist the management team in important decisions, while ensuring that the team is managed well. And of course, the involvement in company-wide projects is even more intense in the role of Head of Accounting."
What is the impact of the Corona pandemic on the demand for Accounting Managers?
"Overall, we can say that the demand for finance professionals was not much affected by the Corona pandemic. A hiring freeze was introduced in some organisations in recent months, but crisis or not, the need for business-critical roles like accounting ensures that demand remains high." Jobfeed statistics show that demand for Accounting Managers is the highest in Antwerp, followed by Brussels and West Flanders. And here we see a slight shift compared to a year ago. Back then, Brussels was only in fourth place. "That's right," says Marie. "We have noticed that in recent months the demand in Brussels has mainly been from organisations active in IT, fintech, real estate and the healthcare sector. Brussels, for example, is a real innovation city in terms of fintech, so that partly explains the increasing demand for specialists, also within accounting."
What impact does the Corona pandemic have on the Accounting Manager himself?
Marie: "Digitalisation does not stop, crisis or not. Some organisations temporarily paused their digitisation processes last year, but everything is returning back to normal now. Even within the accounting department, organisations are constantly looking at how processes can be simplified and improved. By scanning invoices or outsourcing this manual process abroad for example, more time becomes available for the accounting team to focus on other things. And in times like these, that means an Accounting Manager will spend more time on accurately mapping costs, in close cooperation with the controlling department."
In terms of mobility on the labour market, we notice that accounting professionals have also become more cautious. "In recent months, we have indeed seen many experienced Accountants being reluctant to take the step to a new job. Majority is still working from home at the moment. Commuting is no longer an issue and there is more free time."
I think that, as soon as we go back to the office and be in traffic jams every morning and evening, a lot of employees will reflect about the time they lose being on the road to do their job and if it’s worth doing every day. If, at that point, their employer no longer offers them the possibility of working (partly) from home, many professionals will consider looking for a similar job closer to home.
Can Accounting Managers expect a salary increase this year?
An Accounting Manager with 7 to 15 years of experience can expect a gross annual salary of EUR 75-100k. Those with more than 15 years' experience may expect a gross annual salary of EUR 100-143k, according to the Robert Walters Salary Survey. "Of course, the salary also depends on the sector and the size of the organisation where the Accounting Manager is employed. If the Accounting Manager is responsible for a small team in an SME, the salary will obviously be lower than when he or she supervises a team of 20 people in a large international company." An insurance package and luncheon vouchers are also part of the salary package, and in some organisations an Accounting Manager receives a company car with a fuel card.
"The past year has not been easy for many organisations. Costs were closely monitored, and the pressure on salaries is high. But people are showing solidarity: our recent survey showed that barely one in three accounting professionals expects a salary increase this year. They attach much more importance to team spirit, the company culture and having autonomy in their work. Salaries will thus remain relatively stable in 2021, but we do expect employers to be more inclined to offer other benefits such as flexible working hours, working (partially) from home and more training opportunities for their employees. And these are valuable benefits as well, aren’t they?” concludes Marie.
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