Accountancy salaries and benefits for graduates

21 Jun 2023, 15:37

Find out the salaries and benefits that accounting firms are offering graduates in 2022 and 2023.

Money, money, money: what do graduate accountants earn?

What salary does a graduate accountant get?

Most accountancy employers are likely to say that their graduate starting salaries are ‘highly competitive’ rather than publish an exact figure. The public sector is an exception to this – for example, the National Audit Office provides a starting point for graduate salaries (over £25,000 in Newcastle and over £30,000 in London); the Civil Service Fast Stream (finance), when open for applications, offers £28,000; and the finance stream of the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme (GMTS) pays £26,382. However, generally you have to turn to anonymised salary surveys to research your potential earnings.

The Institute of Student Employers’ (ISE) Student Recruitment Survey is one of these surveys and its 2022 data reports that the average graduate salary at finance and professional services firms is £32,316. This is slightly lower than the average graduate salary across all sectors of £33,229. It is worth noting that ISE members tend to be the largest employers, which often pay higher salaries. You can deduce from this that graduate salaries at smaller firms are likely to be less than £32,000.

Another survey, the Hays UK Salary and Recruiting Trends report, which compiles data from 23,000 employers who recruited through them in the past 12 months, confirms this. The 2022 report shows that:

  • the typical salaries of trainee ACCA accountants range from £19,000 to £25,000 (with the lowest figures in Wales and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of trainee CIMA accountants range from £21,000 to £25,000 (with the lowest figures in Wales and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of trainee CIPFA accountants range from £18,500 to £24,000 (with the lowest figures in Northern Ireland and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of trainee ACA accountants range from £18,500 to £28,000 (with the lowest figures in Northern Ireland and the highest in London).

The wider variety in these figures reflects the remuneration variations across different locations as well as the sizes of the employers surveyed.

What do graduates at the Big 4 accounting firms earn?

Anonymous survey sites suggest that the graduate-level pay at the Big 4 (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) is around £30,000 – perhaps in the high twenties or very early thirties. The Big 4 firms are all members of the ISE and so the pay levels they offer are reflected in the institute’s average for professional services and finance employers: £32,316.

Yet, there are indications that individual salaries at the Big 4 firms may be lower than this, depending on the role and the office location. The CMA Recruitment Group, an agency that has offices in Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Basingstoke and Guildford, records the following 2021 salaries for graduates at the Big 4 in these geographic locations:

  • .Audit and assurance: £20,000–£22,000
  • Tax: £20,000–£26,000
  • Advisory: £22,000–£24,000
  • Corporate finance: £24,000–£26,000

However, bear in mind that these figures may not be representative – the entire survey is made up of a comparatively small 712 employers and it is not clear how many graduate trainee vacancies they had on their books from the Big 4.

Benefits packages for graduate accountants: what perks can you get?

On top of these sorts of salaries, you 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.

Plus, there are likely to be benefits on offer as well as a base salary. 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 as standard employment benefits:

  • a graduate loan (larger firms may offer up to £7,000 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. Some firms allow you to buy and sell days.
  • interest-free season ticket loan
  • personal accident insurance
  • life assurance
  • pension scheme with company contribution.

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

  • flexible working
  • health checks, including for family members
  • access to a private GP
  • lunch allowance
  • staff discounts (eg on retail brands, gym membership, travel and technology)
  • insurance for travel, technology and personal injury
  • subsidised bikes for work
  • free eyesight testing
  • carbon offsetting
  • private healthcare
  • mental health and well-being support
  • career coaching
  • dental insurance
  • childcare vouchers.

Don’t forget that firms will also usually provide financial support towards your professional qualifications (and offer study leave). Some also pay a financial award when graduates progress to manager level.

Salary progression in accountancy: what can chartered accountants earn?

Qualifying as a chartered accountant usually takes about three to four years and comprises a number of exams, practical work experience (usually 36 months’ worth) and completion of a professional ethics module.

Part-qualified pay

Your salary is likely to increase as you move towards chartership as you will be gaining valuable experience. The 2022 ISE development survey reports that after three years, graduates in the finance sector are likely to see a pay increase of 35%, while the 2022 Hays UK Salary and Recruitment Trends salary reports that:

  • the typical salaries of part-chartered/semi-senior ACCA accountants range from £22,000–£36,000 (with the lowest figures offered in the East Midlands and the highest salaries in London and the south-east)
  • the typical salaries of part-chartered/semi-senior CIMA accountants range from £28,000–£36,000 (with the lowest figured offered in Wales, north-east England and Northern Ireland and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of part-chartered/semi-senior CIPFA accountants range from £23,000–£30,000 ( with the lowest figures offered in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the highest in London)
  • the typical salaries of part-chartered/semi-senior ACA accountants range from £22,000–£35,000 (with the lowest figures offered in Northern Ireland, and the highest in London and south-west England).

Chartered accountants’ pay

Expect a big increase in salary once you achieve chartership. The 2022 Hays survey finds that post-qualification salaries rise significantly, most highly in London. Newly chartered accountants at large and SME (small-to-medium-sized) London firms typically earn £52,000. Accountants with five years’ and more post-qualified experience typically command £80,000 at both large firms and SMEs in London; by the time you reach finance director status, the typical London salary is £160,000 at a large firms and £135,000 at SMEs.

The trend towards lower salaries outside of London continues post-qualification, but the amounts on offer are still considerably higher than the average UK annual salary (around £38,000, according to the Office for National Statistics). Chartered accountants in large firms in the East Midlands, the north east and the Yorkshire and Humber region with five years’ post-qualification experience earn around £70,000 according to the Hays report, while those in smaller firms in these regions earn around £65,000.

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