- In 2019, CAs in Australia had median annual earnings of A$160,490; in New Zealand it was NZ$119,425.
- Median earnings for CAs were about double that of the general population.
- CAs wanting to future-proof their careers should combine superior soft skills with technological competencies.
By Jo McKinnon
Back in 2013, Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, estimated that 94% of the work done by accountants and auditors would be performed by smart technology in the next two decades.
Their study triggered headlines such as “Is a robot coming to take your job?” (Financial Times) and “The jobs robots may eliminate, create, transform” (Wall Street Journal).
In 2020, however, accountants have not been replaced by computers. Sure, smart technology is driving a massive disruption in the accounting profession – but it’s not all doom and gloom.
Machines and artificial intelligence (AI) have automated duller, repetitive tasks, and there’s an increasing demand for accountants’ reporting and business partnering skills.
“What we’ve seen in the profession, in the past five years, is the growing use of AI and automation, which shifts the focus to accountants taking on the role of creative problem solvers,” says Tony Schiffmann FCA, managing partner at mid-tier accounting firm BDO in Brisbane.
Picture: Tony Schiffmann FCA, managing partner at mid-tier accounting firm BDO in Brisbane.
“Data-matching and algorithms can crunch and churn out the numbers – accountants now add value by interpreting the data, layering it with sector knowledge and experience, and coming up with original solutions to help the client.”
Andrew Brushfield, director at Robert Half recruitment in Melbourne, adds: “From a demand-and-supply perspective, qualified accountants are in a great position. The demand for their skills is just getting greater. Even with the robotics and these very intelligent tech tools that exist now, there’s always a need for people to interpret them.”
How a CA qualification brings financial rewards
As we all know, becoming a qualified chartered accountant takes effort. But with that effort comes financial reward.
CA ANZ commissioned Qualtrics to survey CA ANZ members about remuneration in November and December of 2019. The data reported in the 2019 remuneration survey comes from an online survey of 3700 Australian and New Zealand based chartered accountants.
The results show that in 2019, CAs in Australia and New Zealand received about double the income of the general population.
Australian CAs had average total remuneration of A$193,549 (median A$160,490), compared with Australia’s annual average earnings of A$86,268. CAs in New Zealand enjoyed median annual remuneration of NZ$119,425 (average NZ$139,213), compared with the national median wage of NZ$52,823.
It also appears that many CAs are avoiding the sluggish wage growth seen in other areas of the economy. CAs saw a little over a 5% average increase in their earning power from 2018 to 2019 (5.3% in Australia and 5.2% in New Zealand). That compares with a 2.2% wage rise for the nation’s workers in Australia and 2.6% in New Zealand, although those figures do not include bonuses.
Similar to CA ANZ’s 2018 survey, earnings were higher for CAs in the big cities – Sydney and Auckland – than in other locations. And the corporate sector still provided the most lucrative roles, with average annual earnings of A$232,451 (median A$190,000) in Australia and NZ$162,704 (median NZ$139,080) in New Zealand.
The lowest remuneration was for chartered accountants in smaller public practices in Australia (A$148,697 annual average) and CAs in large public practices in New Zealand (NZ$94,912 annual average).
Remuneration by region in Australia
Total remuneration for chartered accountants across Australia increased by about 3% (median) from 2018. Median increases across the regions ranged from 1% to 4%.
Remuneration by region in New Zealand
Total remuneration for chartered accountants across New Zealand increased by about 3% (median) since last year. Median increases across the regions ranged from 2% to 3%.
The gender pay gap grows with seniority
The most interesting insight from the survey was the size and profile of the gender pay gap. The gap between male and female earnings increased the more years a CA had worked.
Among accountants who had been working for 0-4 years, males were paid a little more annually than their female counterparts. But when CAs had been working for 11-15 years, females in full-time roles in Australia earned just 89% of what their male colleagues did (total package A$150,059 for women and A$168,833 for men). In New Zealand, women CAs in that cohort received 82% of the total average remuneration for men (NZ$117,824 for women and NZ$143,067 for men).
The gender pay gap was largest for CAs in the most senior roles, such as CFOs and directors. In 2019, male CFOs in Australia out-earned female CFOs by an average A$49,545 (average total package), while in New Zealand male CFOs collected NZ$53,566 more (average total package) than their CFO sisters.
In the previous CA ANZ survey in 2018, most of the gender pay gap was explained by men holding down more senior roles. Who gets a promotion, and who doesn’t, is at the core of the gender pay gap, explains Lee Whitney, CA ANZ’s group executive account management and strategic planning.
Picture: Lee Whitney, CA ANZ’s group executive account management and strategic planning
“One of the key drivers of the gender pay gap is bias – unconscious or conscious bias. So organisations should look at whether women get promoted at the same rate as their male colleagues. They need to understand if that bias exists within their company, because it’s one way to address the gender pay gap,” he says.
He strongly recommends organisations use the Workplace Gender Equality Agency resource Guide to Gender Pay Equity to analyse if there are pay gaps within their business, and then set out the actions needed to fix them. There are New Zealand-specific resources on the State Services Commission website.
But putting matters of money aside, would businesses perform better if they had an equal number of women and men in senior positions? The answer, says Whitney, is ‘yes’.He says organisations should be prepared to modify jobs to better suit women juggling parenting and caring for elderly relatives. If they don’t, they risk missing out on the right talent for their business.
“If we’re actually excluding people on the basis that they want to work part-time or job share, we’re potentially missing out on an enormous talent base and skill-set that exists out there,” Whitney points out. “At the same time, you hear conversations around the profession about not being able to access the right type of talent!”
“If we’re actually excluding people on the basis that they want to work part-time or job share, we’re potentially missing out on an enormous talent base.”
More flexible working is not a one-way benefit, he emphasises. It is good for employers, too.
Permanent full-time remuneration by gender
Permanent full-time remuneration by gender and number of years working
How to future-proof your earning potential
The shift in accounting away from pure compliance work to business partnering and advisory is well recognised. But what sort of skills will propel CAs into their best careers for the future?
“A good accountant is someone who can analyse complex data and financial information; a great accountant is someone who combines this with a range of complementary soft skills – creative problem solving, communication, negotiation and persuasion,” says BDO’s Schiffmann.
He adds that there’s an increasing requirement for deep, industry-specific knowledge, and advanced skills in data analysis and cloud technology.
Brushfield says CAs aiming for senior finance roles should know their way around enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools and business intelligence software.
“Companies almost see their competitive advantage lying in systems and technology,” he says. “If you’re a senior finance person and you’re very savvy from a technical perspective... that sort of well-used, big data experience is very, very important.”
David Cawley, regional director of Hays Accountancy & Finance in Sydney, backs that up. “You must be able to step in after the automation of data processing to review and interpret data and use it to provide deeper insights for your business or clients.”
Being great at data analysis must be paired with superior soft skills.
“You need both; one isn’t more valuable than the other,” Cawley says. “The most highly sought after soft skills are communication, business acumen and business partnering.
“Rapport building is also important. After all, we’re yet to hear of a robot that can motivate a workforce, bank goodwill, return a favour or build a relationship.
“These are qualities that enable a business to run smoothly and get things done. It’s these meaningful personal relationships and interactions that see employees go the extra mile for a client or each other.”
“We’re yet to hear of a robot that can motivate a workforce, bank goodwill, return a favour or build a relationship.”
CA ANZ offers complimentary access to LinkedIn Learning for full and provisional members to help them develop soft skills.Get your LinkedIn Learning advantage
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