A six-figure job that companies are scrambling to recruit for

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At the senior end, roles can pay up to £350k and if you happen to become an expert in an emerging area, you can name your own price tag. So why are banks, Big Four accounting firms and large-cap companies alike struggling to recruit tax accountants?

Accountancy doesn’t exactly scream excitement, but add in the niche of tax and it remains a vocation that few going into the sector choose to take. However, job opportunities have been accelerating over the past few months, and firms are finding the talent pool increasingly shallow.

“The amount of work for tax advisory functions has increased dramatically over the past two years, but there simply too few people around,” says Chris Sanger, global head of tax policy at EY. “We tend to recruit externally, but if we can’t find enough people we often have to train internally.”

Tax accountants working in either financial services organisations or FTSE 100 companies can earn between £45-60k, according to figures from recruiters Robert Walters. This rises to £65-85k for a UK tax manager, £80-120k for those looking after international operations and anything between £120-350k for head of tax functions.

Rory MacSween, manager of the tax division at Robert Walters, suggests that the Big Four accounting firms are not training enough tax accountants, which has created a shortfall as demand has picked up. What’s more, the tendency to shift these functions to lower-cost destinations has meant that fewer people are opting to specialise in tax, he says.

“The problem is not finding the generalist skill-sets, it’s the knowledge of new rules and regulations that’s proving problematic,” he says. “Those with knowledge of Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) or financial transaction tax have been able to name their own price-tag in the financial services sector, for example, while finding people with knowledge of the Standard of Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information is like fishing from a paddling pool.”

Sanger says it’s not necessarily the hard accountancy skills that are the differentiator of the candidates they want to hire, but the softer skills of being able to articulate complex concepts to people with limited technical knowledge.

Meanwhile, MacSween suggests that the recruitment focus for companies has switched from strategic thinkers advising at a board level on tax issues, to those who can roll up their sleeves and provide tax transparency and compliance with new rules.

Despite the demand, most companies are unwilling to hand out dramatic pay rises to tax accountants, says MacSween, instead often favouring newly-qualified candidates in a bid to keep a costs down.

“If you’re a newly-qualified tax accountant from the Big Four going into a FTSE 100 company or financial services organisation, you can expect to add between £5-8k on your salary,” he says.

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