Investment banks in Australia are scrambling to hire accountants.

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Australian recruiters say investment banks need financial controllers, management accountants, financial accountants, and people with Sarbanes Oxley experience. The shortage is acute.

"To say we need accountants here is an understatement," says Elizabeth Warren, an associate director at Michael Page in Sydney, "We've had candidate shortages before in 2000, but this is definitely worse."

The lack of accountancy talent isn't restricted to investment banks. Tracey Nelson, of Melbourne-based recruiter Barber Bunton, says it's a country-wide phenomenon. "Australia's skilled candidate shortage is the worst it's been for 30 years," she says.

Talent shortages are exerting upwards pressure on pay. James Nicholson, a director at the Sydney branch of recruiter Robert Walters, says a financial accountant with six to ten years' experience working in an Australian bank can earn (AUS) $90,000 (US$69,048) to $130,000 (US$99,737) plus a bonus.

Pay remains lower than on Wall Street however, and Nicholson warns people hoping to pick up an investment banking accountancy position in Australia not to price themselves out of the market. "Often candidates simply translate current salaries and expect the same in Australia," he says, "This is not realistic."

Candidates are also cautioned that demand is mostly for low- level qualified accountants, with two to three years' experience: senior accountants will find it harder to slot themselves into a new role in Oz. "We need a lot of Indians, but not as many chiefs," explains Warren, "If a 20-something accountant comes back today, I'd be surprised if it takes them as long as a week to walk into a new position."

She says jobs are there for more senior staff, but the wait can be quite a bit longer.