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AI, pay rates and work flexibility top issues for profession


A huge global survey highlights a handful of concerns as key to the future for the tax sector.

By Philip King 14 minute read

Concerns about AI, pay rates, work flexibility and mental health emerge as the dominant issues right across the tax and finance profession, according to a survey of almost 10,000 workers in more than 150 countries.

The research, sponsored by the UK-based Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, revealed six common themes and put “more pressure on employers to get their employee engagement strategies right”, it said.

Top of its list was heightened interest in AI, which had “captured the imagination of many” but also raised questions about its long-term impact. Hopes that it would do much of the “heavy lifting” during critical periods were balanced by concerns that job displacement, especially in entry-level accounting and finance roles, would distort traditional career paths. More than half of the respondents said they were concerned about the impact of AI on their role.


It also highlighted the need for training to work alongside AI systems “with some concerns around growing skills gaps because of the pace of change of emerging technologies”, and worries about an over-reliance on AI leading to “reduced understanding of processes, as well as potential ethical issues”.

The survey said a degree of optimism was mixed with “general uncertainty and concern about when and how significantly AI will impact accounting roles with open questions around the scope, timeline, and extent of disruption”.

However, the biggest work-related fear across the profession was inflation and the cost of living, with the overwhelming majority saying they will demand a rise in the next 12 months.

“There’s a real sense in our data that employees continue to feel the pinch,” the survey said. “Wage demands are up, and salaries are identified as the biggest reason for wanting to move employer, cutting across the gender and sector divide.”

“The mounting pressures from inflation and living costs represent both an economic concern as well as a talent retention risk if left unaddressed through appropriate compensation policies.”

“There’s a question too, more noticeably in developing markets, of talent attraction and retention becoming untenable without pay benchmarking adjustments and faster salary restructuring.”

In this regard, the survey found global mobility on the rise and “an incredibly fluid job market with professional accountants in demand and willing to move quickly to enhance their careers and take new job opportunities”.

Almost half of respondents expected to move to their next role within 12 months, and two-thirds within two years.

“As always this high level of career aspiration and mobility creates a significant retention challenge for employers, and our analysis suggests the reasons employees choose to stay at an organisation may not quite match what attracts them to somewhere else.”

One might be where they work – home or office? – with hybrid working slowly gaining ground across finance and accountancy but a mismatch between employer and employee preferences.

“It’s by no means the modus operandi right now. Working practices remain hugely polarised, with wide disparities evidenced in the data across geographies, sectors, role types, infrastructure challenges and country and regional cultural biases.”

“Whilst many observers subscribe to the belief that hybrid working is the working practice for the future, not every organisation is a convert. It’s here we see some polarisation between employers as well as between employees, and a mismatch in aspirations, with far fewer employees across the profession being offered the opportunity for hybrid working than what is demanded.”

“Two-thirds say they are more productive when working remotely but respondents are equally split on the question of whether working remotely makes team collaboration harder.”

The mismatch was especially clear among employees at small accounting practices, where six out of 10 were fully office-based but just 19 per cent preferred that arrangement and two-thirds wanted hybrid working.

On diversity, equity and inclusion the survey found respondents were “in broad agreement that a strong diversity and inclusivity culture is a key attraction factor in choosing to work for a particular employer, and there’s a general sense that most people feel their organisations are inclusive and fair when it comes to career development”.

However, one-third felt social background remained a barrier to career progression and more needed to be done.

“Some people feel existing diversity initiatives lean too heavily into singular facets such as gender, potentially at the expense of other markers of difference such as age or neurodiversity,” it found.

“A range of equality issues and concerns were cited, from persistent biases and discriminations, unequal career advancement prospects, through to concerns over the existence of favoured networks, nepotistic behaviour, exclusionary cultural issues and workplaces exhibiting a lack of psychological safety.”

One strong trend from last year’s results was “alarming” rises in work-related stress and burnout, and that also came through in this study.

“Poor work-life balance is a common theme, as well as concerns relating to the blurring of work and personal lives exacerbated by remote working practices.”

“There’s a real sense of a constant pressure to perform, driven by a combination of heavy workloads, tight deadlines, cost reductions, and ever-increasing stakeholders demands.”

“Some respondents suggest accountancy work environments and workflows lend themselves to extreme pressures that lead to chronic stress, mental exhaustion, and burnout risk over the long term.”

The research found key mental health indicators had improved slightly compared with 12 months ago, with 57 per cent saying work pressures were impacting mental health, down from 61 per cent last year.

However, the survey said it remained a critical issue one difficult task for employers to address.

The ACCA research quizzed 9,889 tax and finance professionals in 157 countries across all sizes and types of firms, academia, government and not-for-profits.


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Philip King

Philip King


Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.

Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.

You can email Philip on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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