Should the UK accountancy industry be worried about its image? The public perception of accountants often sways towards middle-aged white men in suits. It is also fair to say that it is not a career which many people would perhaps initially describe as exciting, although few jobs or careers could be described as exciting. However, some within the industry are worried that not enough young people are being enticed into accountancy due to its image issue.

A recent report by Hays found that 90% of employers in the financial services sector are struggling to cope with staff vacancies and recruitment woes which suggests a shortage of accountants. This is further substantiated by the findings from another industry report which found that a third of finance professionals are less than fully satisfied with their jobs.

Cheryl Sharp is the CEO and founder of Pink Pig Financials, a forward-thinking accountancy firm with a difference, “We do have an image problem within accountancy which I believe is already affecting recruitment and if it is not addressed could become a significant problem in the future,” Cheryl says that she believes accountancy is perceived as a dull and rigid profession, associated with number crunching and paperwork. “The truth is there is a great deal of number crunching and paperwork. However, there are so many other parts of accountancy to consider which are much more exciting and enticing and HR teams need to think about how they can put that over to candidates and current employees.” Cheryl says helping clients achieve their goals and holistically looking at accountancy is the key to moving it forward and changing its image.

Some accountancy firms say they are finding it difficult to attract and retain top talent. Cheryl says this has a lot to do with not having a strong employer brand or promoting a positive workplace culture. “The working landscape in general has changed, it is no longer as formal and is much more flexible as we see in other industries, specifically the tech industry. We adopt a much flexible and hybrid approach, but because many are not keeping up with this I believe it is putting people off joining our industry. We are also seeing many accountants getting disillusioned with current employers, especially those not embracing technology and flexibility. The resistance to technological change is a problem. For example, we are in a small bracket of approximately 10% of the industry that has fully adopted technology.” Cheryl says that the industry generally has an outside perception of being slow to embrace technological change. With the rise of AI, there is a need for accountants to adapt and acquire new skills. This resistance to change may be contributing to people thinking the industry is outdated.

Recruitment is tough at the moment with one of the reasons being cited is bigger firms outpricing smaller independents by offering bigger pay packages sometimes regardless of ability which is driving salaries up according to Cheryl. “By doing this the industry remains at the mercy of traditional accountancy firms, some of whom are allowing the old-fashioned image of accountancy to remain, putting many people off coming into the industry. Many smaller firms can’t compete with salary but what they can compete with is a work/life balance. It is heartening to see that many independent and smaller firms are enveloping modern working practices like we are. Many of us at smaller practices are embracing change, flexible working, and putting our clients first.  People from outside will look to the bigger firms as an example and see them as reflective of the industry. Some of the bigger accountancy firms still act like men’s clubs, therefore change must come from the top.”

At Pink Pig Financials Cheryl is proud of the fact that there are no suits required and that they promote a happy flexible workforce. Hers is a fully remote practice with employees from across the UK. “One of my employees is a digital nomad and works from whichever country she is in. Another fits her hours around her children and the school day. She knows she will never miss an assembly or harvest festival. As long as the work is done and the clients are happy that’s all that matters to me, there are no set hours or days. I would like to see this model rolled out elsewhere.”

Providing opportunities for professional development and implementing flexible work arrangements are high up on the wishlists of many employees currently. Accommodating a diverse workforce is necessary to move forward as an organisation regardless of industry. Historically, the accountancy profession has faced challenges related to diversity and inclusion. The industry has been criticised for lacking representation of women and minority groups in leadership roles. This lack of diversity can impact the industry’s image and hinder its ability to adapt to a changing global business landscape.

Addressing these challenges in the accountancy industry requires a proactive and strategic approach. By investing in the well-being and professional development of employees, fostering a positive workplace culture, and adapting to industry changes, accountancy firms can navigate these challenges more effectively and change the image of the industry. Cheryl says they are always looking for fresh talent to join their brilliant team of remote professionals and she hopes that more firms adopt a more flexible approach to working. A work-life balance is everything.