Key findings from AAT’s 2023 Salary Survey

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The main trends highlighted by the 2023 Salary Survey, explained.

The 2023 AAT Salary Survey is a major event in the accounting year in that presents a snapshot of a profession developing rapidly, and dealing with a lot of change. The impact of the pandemic, developments in technology, changing work patterns and an economy that doesn’t allow for any complacency are all filtered through into the survey, providing a glimpse at what accountants are earning, how they are coping under pressure, what they value, and where they see themselves and the profession in the coming years.

The headlines are clear: the survey paints a positive post-pandemic picture of remuneration for AAT membership, with a 14% increase in average salaries for the two-year period from 2021 for AAT’s students and non-licensed members. Meanwhile, Salary progression is again evident this year as members move along the membership journey, with the greatest increase being between Level 4 and the full member stage – where on average membership carries a 35% jump in average salary.

Hard work pays off

A closer look at the research reveals some interesting trends that paint a nuanced picture of the rewards – and challenges – that those in the profession face.

A growing proportion of students say the hard work is worth it. Students at all levels were asked to what extent they agree that: “Studying for an AAT Accounting Qualification has increased my earning potential.” This year, more than three-quarters of them (79%) agreed that AAT has had a positive impact on their earning potential. These figures show an uplift of 5% on 2021 and 2% compared with pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

That optimism is borne out, with the median salary for those studying jumping by 14% from 2019, to reach £25,000 this year. Bonuses are also up, by a whopping 60%. More students are working full time now, too, with the high percentage of students at L2 and L3 not working (12% and 6% respectively) recorded in 2021 dropping to 5% at L2 and just 1% at L3 not working.

On the shop floor

Differences are also becoming visible across different industry sectors. The 2021 survey showed that AATQBs in the not-for-profit sector received the highest average remuneration package. In addition, a significantly larger proportion say their salary has increased over the last year: 88% compared to 74% in the private sector and 73% in the public sector.

The size of the company matters too. Those AATQBs in medium-sized organisations fare the best in terms of basic salary and overall remuneration, but those in micro-sized companies have the highest average bonus.

Those in larger organisations enjoy a median income of £28,000, while accountants at midsize firms top that, averaging over £29,000. Similarly, mid-size firms give bonuses hitting the second-highest levels at an average of £2,360. Those accountants working in the smallest organisations (categorised as 1-10 employees for the purposes of the survey) are offsetting the lowest median salaries (£24,000) with big bonuses, averaging over £2,500.

The gender agenda

Accountancy, like most professions, has had to grapple with the gender pay gap in recent years. Encouragingly, the profession appears to be making progress in some areas – although more is required. The most glaring gap is at the senior level, where it seems that the parity that exists at the early career level tends to dissipate. Indeed, among non-licensed members, men working full-time at the professional level (MAATs and FMAATs) enjoy an average salary which is 9% greater than women at the same level, and a bonus which is 10% higher.

The direction of travel on this is hard to discern. For instance, among the student cohort, we see women earning more than men. Some other trends suggest this may begin to filter through more widely. Salary increases are becoming more common for women compared to 2021 where males were 8% more likely to have seen an increase in salary. By 2023 this gap had closed to a 2% difference (but still in favour of males). And certainly the gap still exists, but shows signs of closing: although 3% more men than women received a bonus in the last year (38% versus 35% of women), they still lag behind men (the difference was 5% in 2021).

Striking out

Running a business comes with a huge potential rise in remuneration. Over half of all licensed accountants (54%) say they have seen their fee income increase over the last year, compared to 43% in 2021. This figure for 2023 increases to 59% for those who are purely self-employed.

You can read more about the specific findings for licensed accountants here.

Mastering apprenticeships

One of the more notable trends in recent years is the growth in the proportion of students taking the apprenticeship route. AAT has been a keen supporter of this, working with employers and training providers to develop better pathways to professional progress. The 2023 survey reveals that once again, while progress has been made, there is work to do.

Most encouragingly, the proportion of apprentices has grown, now accounting for 30% of students who work full-time, compared to 24% in 2021 and 30% in 2019. Students who are not apprentices do significantly better in terms of salary and bonus with an average salary which is 21% higher than that of apprentices. However, salary levels are increasing markedly, a trend that will surely close the gap.

Crucially – and this will inevitably increase take-up of apprenticeships – since 2021, the average apprentice salary has gone up by 23%, compared to 16% for those students working full-time who are not on an apprenticeship scheme. It’s also worth pointing out that apprenticeship numbers are almost 50-50 gender split, a factor that should also go some way to addressing gender gaps further up the career ladder.

Christian Doherty is a business journalist and freelance writer for AAT.

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