Accountancy salaries and benefits for graduates

The salary and benefits you can expect to receive as a graduate working in accounting

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Most accountancy employers are likely to say that their graduate starting salaries are ‘highly competitive’ rather than to publish an exact figure. While the public sector is a notable exception to this – the National Audit Office pays £24,000 in Newcastle and £29,000 in London, and the Civil Service Fast Stream (finance) offers £27,000–£28,000 – generally you have to turn to anonymised salary surveys to benchmark your potential earnings.

The Institute of Student Employers’ 2021 survey of its members reports that the average graduate salary at finance and professional services firms is £35,540. Although it is worth noting that its membership typically comprises the largest employers, it does seem to be more or less in line with anecdotal reports of graduate salaries at the Big 4 (EY, KPMG, PwC and Deloitte), at least in London.

However, the 2021 recruitment trends and salary survey from the recruitment agency Hays UK, which examined the salaries of all of the vacancies it had placed in the previous 12 months, finds that:

  • the typical salaries of trainee ACCA accountants range from £18,500 to £25,000 (with the lowest figures in Wales and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of trainee CIMA accountants range from £20,000 to £25,000 (with the lowest figures in Wales and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of trainee CIPFA accountants range from £17,500 to £23,500 (with the lowest figures in Northern Ireland and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of trainee ACA accountants range from £17,500 to £28,000 (with the lowest figures in Northern Ireland and the highest in London).

The wider variety in figures there reflect not only the remuneration variations across different locations, but that recruitment agencies typically work with employers of all sizes.

Similarly, a 2020 survey by the ICAEW reported that starting salaries for graduates working in accountancy in commerce and industry ranged from £22,000–£27,000 in London and £22,000–£28,000 in the home counties.

On top of these sorts of salary, employees can generally enjoy a decent work/life balance, with fairly regular hours. There can be exceptions to this, of course – there are busier times of year such as financial quarterly and year-ends where the pressure will pile on.

Benefits packages for graduate accountants

Base salary is not everything, of course. Graduates are likely to also receive benefits on top of their salary as extra incentives. We’ve taken a look at the key recruiters in this sector, including the Big 4, to come up with a list of the typical benefits you can expect when you join an accountancy firm. Bear in mind that not all firms will offer all of these, but you can expect most of these standard employment benefits:

  • a graduate loan (larger firms may offer up to £8,000 interest-free) – this can be a big help when it comes to paying a deposit on rent or buying a work wardrobe
  • holiday allowance – usually between 20–27 days per year
  • interest-free season ticket loan
  • personal accident insurance
  • life assurance
  • pension scheme with company contribution
  • maternity and paternity leave.

Most firms, especially the larger ones, also offer further optional benefits, which employees can choose to suit them personally. Here’s a sample of what may be available:

  • health checks
  • lunch allowance
  • staff discounts (eg on retail brands, gym membership, travel, computer hardware and software)
  • extra holidays, or you can also sell some back in return for other benefits
  • annual travel insurance
  • bikes for work
  • free eyesight testing
  • carbon offsetting
  • private healthcare
  • mental health and well-being support
  • dental insurance
  • childcare vouchers.

Salary during and after qualification

Qualifying with a professional body usually takes about three to four years and comprises a number of exams, practical work experience (usually 36 months’ worth) and usually the completion of a professional ethics module or course. Most accountancy employers will pay for your exam fees and give you time off to study.

Part-qualified pay

Your salary will often increase as you move towards qualification as you will be gaining valuable experience. The 2021 Hays UK Salary and Recruitment Trends salary reports that:

  • the typical salaries of part-qualified/semi-senior ACCA accountants range from £26,000–£36,000 (with the lowest figures offered in Wales and the north east of England and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of part-qualified/semi-senior CIMA accountants range from £28,000–£36,000 (with the lowest figured offered in Wales, East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, north-east England and Northern Ireland and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of part-qualified/semi-senior CIPFA accountants range from £22,000–£29,000 (with the lowest figures offered in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of part-qualified/semi-senior ACA accountants range from £22,000–£35,000 (with the lowest figures offered in Northern Ireland, and the highest in London).

The ICAEW's survey, meanwhile, indicated that the average salary for a part-qualified accountant was £27,962.

Qualified pay

Expect a big increase in salary once you qualify. The 2020 ICAEW survey reported that you can expect to be making £40,238 on qualification, and that the average salary of ICAEW chartered accountants in business is £134,000.

The 2021 Hays survey, meanwhile, finds that post-qualification salaries rise significantly, most highly in London. Newly qualified accountants at large and SME (small-to-medium-sized) London firms typically earn £50,000. Accountants with five years and more post-qualified experience typically command £80,000 at large firms and £70,000 at SMEs in London; by the time you reach finance director status, the typical London salary is £160,000 at a large firms and £125,000 at SMEs.

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