Accountancy MONTH Simon Morris
06 Apr 2021
Simon Morris, Manager - Accounting Practice & Tax at Brightwater is in conversation with Jean O’Donovan, Board Director of the Brightwater Group
JOD: I’m here today with Simon Morris, who is a Manager within our Accountancy division, specialising in Public Practice and Tax. Simon has been with the business for over 4 years now since 2017. Good morning, Simon, how are you?
SM: Morning Jean, how are you?
JOD: I’m good, thank you. Simon, could you give me an overview of what your area entails and the types of roles you recruit for?
SM: I cover really a broad range of roles across accounting practice and tax. I work with firms such as the Big 4 all the way down to the smaller SME firms where I cover roles in audit, tax, corporate finance, restructuring, finance transformation, it’s really broad. I also cover tax roles on the industry side and financial services.
JOD: Fantastic, sounds like a great area.
SM: It’s busy and broad.
JOD: So Simon, has the pandemic affected your area in a positive or negative way? How has the pandemic affected the accountancy profession?
SM: I suppose like every area, we have seen positives and negatives. Accounting practice itself, I suppose could be seen as old-fashioned in certain ways. Smaller firms that have boxes of files and everything is still very paper based. In a way, the pandemic has really forced them to come into the 21st century a little bit and make everything more digital. Some of the larger firms have fared ok with it. The “Working From Home” bit has been working quite seamlessly. I suppose different firms have reacted differently.
JOD: Of course.
SM: A year ago, it would have been relatively unheard of to work from home and even flexi hours would have been quite rare. Now the big shift, I’ve seen now is that the norm is to offer working from home and flexi hours. I’ve placed people who are living in Cork or Galway who are working in Dublin roles now, almost completely remote. Post-Covid, nobody knows what the landscape will look like but they certainly won’t be office-based for five days a week anymore which is a big change since a year ago.
JOD: Absolutely, that’s fantastic. It’s great to see that the area has adapted so well.
JOD: Has the pandemic affected the level of roles or maybe the volume of hires required by accountancy practices? Or has this remained relatively stable throughout 2020 into 2021? Have hiring levels in accountancy and tax practices changed due to the pandemic?
SM: Yes, I mean, March and April last year when the pandemic hit first, absolutely things went very quiet for a couple of months while people reacted. Once things settled a little bit, it began to get busier and busier. Companies got to grips with on-boarding and remote work. Since then, it’s become busier and busier and I would say, now, certainly since January 2021, I would say we’re back to near normal capacity in audit and tax practice. I would say it’s a little bit less busy at the trainee and part-qualified level, I think it’s probably the same as other sectors. I suppose firms are a little bit wary at bringing in junior staff members who might need a little bit more training,
JOD: More help and guidance….
SM: More help and guidance which is always better when you’re there physically in an office. In that space, I’ve seen it a little quieter. But anything from senior upwards, I’d say is pretty much back to normal.
JOD: That’s fantastic Simon, it sounds like it’s business as usual which is great.
JOD: Tell me about the opportunities in the tax market currently. What kind of job opportunities are there in tax?
SM: Tax is as busy as ever I would say, especially on the tax practice side. You know, there are multiple roles from senior level up to director level. They go from the Big 4 firms all the way down to the SME firms and some of the boutique tax practice firms specialising in private clients, high net worth clients. It’s busy in the area and there are multiple role available with a shortage of candidates as would be the norm.
JOD: That’s a good market
SM: That IS a good market. It’s a busy market with multiple roles available and a really broad range. A lot of these roles are now remote. A year ago, a lot of these firms wouldn’t have been willing to look at anybody outside of Dublin but now I’m placing people who live in Galway, Cork, different parts of the country who are now able to work roles in Dublin and more importantly get Dublin wages.
JOD: Fantastic, so you would say firms have adapted to looking at candidates living outside of Dublin so this would increase candidate availability
SM. Absolutely yes, it’s great.
JOD: In terms of in-house tax roles, what sectors are busiest? What sectors are busiest for in-house tax roles?
SM: In terms of in-house tax roles, I would say financial services has been quite busy. I’ve seen multiple roles from Tax Analyst all the way up to Tax Manager. I think that Brexit has caused a little bit of a shift in financial services providers moving to Ireland.
SM: Opportunities have opened up as a result of that without a doubt. There have also been multiple opportunities in healthcare as you can imagine, the pharmaceutical sector. Indirect tax would be quite an important part of what they do so there would often be multiple roles within that area and then there’s tech. There are always some really good roles in tech from tax manager upwards. Lastly aircraft leasing, that’s one of those areas we thought might have fallen off a cliff in the last year or so but that seems to have remained as steady as ever, Ireland being the hub of it and multiple tax roles there from around senior level upwards within aviation.
JOD: Very positive, that’s fantastic and really good to hear.
JOD: What would you say to a tax accountant who has trained in practice and is looking to move into an in-house role – how easy is that jump to make? How easy is it to move from tax practice into an in-house role?
SM: It’s a question I’m asked regularly. I would say that there is a little bit of a preference within industry for candidates coming from the top tier. Big 4 is the normal requirement, especially some of the larger tech firms and the same for aircraft leasing. There is a preference for candidates coming from the Big 4 firms. Failing that, outside the Big 4, you have GT, BDO, Mazars, Crowes, the Top 10 firms.
JOD: What is the market like in practice for newly qualified accountants?
SM: I would say it’s really busy for newly qualified accountants. It’s certainly a candidate driven market. Anyone who is just qualified in their exams, has trained in practice is going to have multiple opportunities available to them. It’s not really for me to talk about the industry side as there is always going to be great opportunities there but certainly on the practice side, there is a range of different opportunities as well. What I see generally is that candidates who have trained in Big 4, perhaps in a specialised area such as audit, who maybe just want to break away from pure audit and get a little bit more exposure to accounts preparation and tax. In order to do that, they’ll need to look at the SME firms which will generally offer a more diverse role and more of an SME client base as well usually rather than the larger multinationals.
Conversely, candidates coming from smaller practices and maybe doing some smaller audit, accounts prep and tax may want to move into a Top Tier or Big 4 firms just to gain that larger exposure for want of a better expression.
JOD: Yes, larger clients.
SM: A larger client base and everything that comes with that. So it’s a bit of a two way street, both being able to offer different exposure. It’s the same as I mentioned in tax, it can be the same for industry. There’s sometimes a little bit of a preference in industry for people coming from the Big 4 or Top 10. Sometimes moving from an SME practice and gaining a couple of years’ experience in one of those firms, it doesn’t do you any harm. That’s an area that I would always find quite busy and quite active.
JOD: That’s really useful information and it just shows how much experience you can gain within practice which is fantastic.
JOD: Simon, your clients always look for qualified accountants. So we have obviously ACA, ACCA, what are the softer skills your clients would look for in a candidate? What are the soft skills employers look for when hiring accountants?
SM: The softer skills I would definitely say it comes down to communication. Accounting practice, by its definition, is a client facing role so they want somebody who can (a) do the job and (b) be able to go out to clients and communicate well, have a bit of craic with them for want of a better word, talk with some of the smaller practices, especially, talk about the GAA at the weekend.
JOD: Be personable
SM: Be personable. With audits, these people can be onsite for weeks at a time. They want somebody representing their office who can go out, somebody they’ll want back the next year ideally.
JOD: That’s a really good way to put it, build a rapport.
SM: Yes, building that rapport, having a bit of craic as well as doing a good job which always helps. Anyone who has a good personality, is presentable and comes across well, those soft skills will absolutely do you no harm in practice, along with the technical side of things.
JOD: Yes, very important, I think in general, obviously the role of the accountant is so key in the organisation about bringing the business forward so it’s very important that they are able to communicate with them and the non- financial individuals as well.
SM: Yes, 100%.
JOD: How are salaries and benefits been in your market? Has there been any change or have they remained static? Have salaries & benefits changed for accountancy and tax professionals?
SM: I’d say on the accounting practice side, at the senior level, there has been a slight increase in base salary. Really, most of the time, benefits kick in at AM level (Assistant Manager) which could be as little as 1 or 2 years after qualifying which is really not that long to wait. Once you get to that Assistant Manager or Manager level, that’s really when the benefits kick in; healthcare, pension, sometimes parking, bonus which is usually around the 10% mark. That’s when you start to see all those benefits kick in which can be different from practice to practice. They can be really attractive and definitely on par with industry.
JOD: That’s very good to hear, that’s great.
JOD: How has your market adjusted to remote working? It’s a year at this point so how has everyone adjusted and do you think it’s something that will be there to stay in the future? Is remote working here to stay for accountancy & tax practices?
SM: I think accounting practices have adjusted really well. I mean, in some practices more than others, some of the smaller ones that are more paper based and have taken longer to transition. Some of the medium sized practices upwards have transitioned extremely well. They’ve on boarded and brought on senior members upwards who have even never set foot in the office and probably won’t do so even this year.
JOD: Yes, that’s amazing, unusual
SM: It’s really unusual when you think about it but I think they’ve transitioned just as well as anyone. It is a new thing for them as it is for anyone. It’s not tech where they’re used to this sort of thing previously. This is new for them and I think they’ve transitioned really well. I do think working from home is here to stay from senior level upwards. I don’t think being in the office 5 days a week from what I can see is going to be the norm and definitely more flexible hours.
JOD: More work-life balance.
SM: And work-life balance, exactly.
JOD: What advice would you give to a graduate looking to get into accountancy? What type of career would you say lies ahead for them?
SM: I mean, it’s just so exciting nowadays. It’s really a great career to have. Instead of looking at it as accountancy, you could look at it more as what type of industries would you like to work in later on? If you’re interested in tech, if you’re interested in beauty, if you’re interested in sport, I mean, accountancy does really kind of open up those doors for you. If you’re going to get into these industries, then you need a skillset. I do think that just qualifying, whether it be in industry or practice, getting those exams under your belt will just give you this brilliant skillset that you’ll have for life. It really will open up doors for you in Ireland, abroad in any industry you like, really. We’ve had some really interesting candidates go through our books who are now working in sectors such as healthcare, tech, aviation leasing. Wherever you really want it to take you, I really do think that it opens those doors.
JOD: Would I be right in saying it’s a qualification you can travel with?
SM: It’s certainly a qualification you can travel with. The ACCA and the ACA are recognised globally, tax is exactly the same. I work with candidates in tax who are now working in places like the Caymans, Dubai, Australia, Canada and exactly the same for accounting. I think it’s one of those things we’ve seen in the last years. A lot of them have upped sticks once qualified and had gone to places like Australia and Canada. A lot of them did come home in the last year due to Covid but I’m starting to see green shoots again, these places are opening back up again and there is a little bit more mobility moving abroad again. Look, it’s a great qualification to have and can certainly take you around the world, working in different countries and different industries.
JOD: Different industries, it all sounds fantastic.
JOD: What part of the role do you enjoy the most, Simon? As an accountancy/tax recruiter, what part of the role do you enjoy most?
SM: I think the part of the role I really enjoy the most is sitting down with a candidate and getting a strong idea of what they want and where they see themselves. Sometimes they don’t know. They might have just qualified, they aren’t really sure of what’s out there, the types of opportunities available so sometimes it’s just really good to sit down with them, almost in a career advisory capacity.
JOD: Of course, yes, you’re the expert.
SM: Sit down with them for 45 minutes to an hour, talk through what they’ve done to date, get a sense of who they are and ask what they’re interested in. Is it tech, is it sport, is it beauty and where can we put you, where can I help you go that will help get you there.
JOD: Guide them along their career.
SM: Sometimes it’s just one step but it might be two and you can guide them in that direction. Some of the Big 4 firms have really good departments in television & film, in sport, in foreign direct investment or tech. It could be going into one of those departments for a year or two and gaining exposure that way and using that as a stepping- stone. Or sometimes it could be a jump straight into it if you’re a little bit luckier. But I do really enjoy that part of the job, just sitting down and talking through that with them.
JOD: The consultative part.
SM: Yes, the consultative part and ultimately helping them go where they want to go.
JOD: Absolutely, it’s great to be involved in someone’s career. You can be involved in one of their career moves or they could come back to you in a couple of years and you can assist with the next. It’s nice to see somebody through and ultimately a lot of our candidates can turn out to be clients when they move into more senior positions within their organisation.
JOD: Simon, thanks so much for your time today, I really appreciate it. You gave us a great insight into your market and I look forward to talking to you again soon.
SM: Thanks Jean.