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Big Four losing up to half of new accountants amid tight demand

Recruiters say market for young talent is tight, with candidates seeking to move abroad or into analyst and industry roles

Big Four accounting firms are losing up to half of newly qualified accountants who have trained through their graduate trainee schemes amid an increasingly tight market for young talent.

Accounting bodies are sounding the alarm on a worsening skills shortage in the sector, as recruiters say that the market for recently qualified accountants is particularly tight, with candidates more frequently seeking to move abroad or into analyst and industry roles.

The “Big Four” accounting firms of Deloitte, KMPG, EY and PwC have a steady stream of candidates entering their training programmes each year but are coy about how many newly qualified accountants they are retaining post training.

Contacted by The Irish Times, KPMG said its retention rate sits at about 50 per cent, while EY said the “vast majority” of its trainees stay on post-qualification. Deloitte and PwC did not disclose any details regarding their retention rates.


Jay Davitt, a director at recruiting firm Morgan McKinley, said of those who stay on after training with a big firm in Ireland, the number who leave within the first year of qualifying “could easily be 80 per cent”.

Morgan McKinley consultant Fergal McPhillips said the demand for newly qualified accountants in Ireland is “exceptional” at the minute and is “probably the busiest market in finance”.

He said the shortage of entry level talent into the profession is linked to large numbers of young accountants taking their qualifications overseas, with a shortfall in the number of expats returning to Ireland since the pandemic.

“We ran an open day earlier this year and met 25 newly ‘qualifieds’ who were due to finish their training contract in April. Of the 25 we met, 21 were going travelling for an extended period,” he said.

Mr McPhillips said his agency has seen entry level accounting salaries jump from €50,000-€55,000 up to €60,000-€65,000 in the last two or three years, with previously “unheard of” offers of up to €70,000 for newly qualified accountants becoming more frequent.

Tanya Thomas, executive director of A+F Recruitment, said that gaps in the market for entry level roles in financial accounting and audit are also due to newly qualified accountants more frequently seeking to “make two or three jumps up the food chain” to analyst and advisory roles.

“Audit is not as attractive as it was. People want to get into the higher value add section of the business, as they are beginning to see all the changes going on with automation and artificial intelligence and that’s creating a gap in supply,” she said.

The Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies – Ireland (CCAB-I) has highlighted a “critical shortage” of accountants with audit experience and a deficiency of accountants with practice experience of all types.

CCAB-I is engaging with the National Apprenticeships Office to consider creating a new national professional accountancy apprenticeship, and with the Department of Education to reform the Leaving Certificate accounting syllabus as part of wider efforts to attract candidates into the profession.

The accounting body has said it is also “vital” accountants remain on the Government’s critical skills occupations list allowing Irish accounting firms to employ staff from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to meet capacity shortages. It said that, in larger firms, over half of new recruits filling vacant positions for experienced hires are being sourced from non-EEA countries, due to a significant shortage of suitably qualified EEA-based candidates.

Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is an Irish Times journalist.