AAT’s 2023 Salary Survey shows the benefits of being licensed

aat comment

Accounting income is increasing steadily across the profession, though licensed accountants have the most to gain.

The new AAT Salary Survey provides a revealing snapshot of the state of the profession going into 2024. It shows that accountants are seeing their incomes rising steadily, a significant achievement in a sluggish economy where investment and confidence levels are down across the board.

The headline figure confirms the positive post-pandemic picture of salary levels for AAT members. There’s been a 14% increase in average salaries for the two years from 2021 for AAT’s students and non-licensed members.

Income on the rise

The survey also finds the benefits of attaining licensed status are being felt across the accounting profession. These go beyond the basic financial elements, with job satisfaction levels remaining high for those holding licensed status. Full-time licensed accountants reverted to a positive fee income in 2023, after the 4% drop in average (median) fee income in 2021 compared to 2019. The average fee income for 2023 is 43% higher than 2021 and 38% above 2019.

Meanwhile, 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.

It’s also worth pointing out that licensed membership is especially positive for women. A larger percentage of female licensed accountants saw an increase in their fee income in the last year: 62% of those working full-time compared to 55% of men.

As to how licensed accountants are structuring their working practices, just under a third of licensed accountant survey respondents (32%) have their own practice and are also working in an employed role. This has dropped by only 2% since 2021 (and is close to the average since 2011 which is 31% of LAs). The average full-time salary, bonus and fee income in 2023 for LAs who are both employed and run their own practice rose by 3% from 2021, up to £31,000.

Job satisfaction among licensed members also remains strong, particularly compared with non-licensed peers. Fully self-employed licensed accountants top the chart, with 90% satisfied. Meanwhile those working in business (81%) and practice (78%) aren’t far behind. Non-licensed accountant satisfaction levels are a little lower, having reached 77% for those in practice – the highest level on record, but still below licensed peers.

The bigger picture

However, there is a bigger picture that bears looking at, and it becomes more nuanced when we look at the findings around stress and work-life balance. Firstly, it should be said that levels of stress, long hours and feelings of overwork remain almost identical to 2021 for licensed accountants.

51% of licensed accountants reported feeling overworked in 2019; by 2023, that figure had increased to 55%. Meanwhile, those reporting feeling stressed at work also grew, up from 55% to 58%. And while the figure for those reporting long hours has remained broadly unchanged at 61%, that proportion is high, and is not coming down.

And certainly, when contrasted with the non-licensed cohort, it’s clear that licensed members are feeling the strain. Of this group, 61% report working long hours, compared to 36% of non-licensed accountants and 37% of AATQBs. In 2021, we did see a small increase in feelings of overwork, stress and long hours among non-licensed accountants. By 2023, though, stress and long hours were back down by 4% and remain significantly lower than among licensed accountants.

Persistent wellbeing concerns

This issue isn’t going away. And while increased salary levels and status are clearly important indicators of a thriving profession, wellbeing matters. Clare Bennison is Executive Director Customer, Partnerships and Innovation at AAT. She says the statistics around work-life balance are useful in shining a light on this important area, with accountants bearing the brunt of some really significant economic challenges.

“We are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, so that many accountants have not had a break. If you think about those practitioners during the pandemic, it was brilliant what they did [for clients], but horrendous for them.

“Licensed accountants who do the job really well and are genuine business advisors to their clients can take on sometimes some of their clients’ troubles as well. So you’ve got to take all of that in the round. It means you’re working harder and you’ve got to work smarter and adapt to everything else. So I think this will be a continued theme, but it’s one that we’ve got to do something about.”

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

Related articles