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What salary and benefits can I expect as an accountancy grad?

Emmanuel Payne

After years of living frugally as a student, exactly how much will your circumstances change when you land that a full-time grad position?

When it comes to salaries and benefits for accountants there’s good and bad news. The good news is that over time it’s possible to enjoy a lifestyle beyond the dreams of most wage slaves. The bad news is that starting salaries are often far from impressive.

What the survey says

Of course, the salaries firms offer grads vary and it seems the more prestigious the firm, the less need it has to offer an attractive salary package. According to research undertaken by Prosple Australia, only five per cent of Australian accountancy grads were earning less than $45,000. Before being too relieved by that figure, you should also be aware that no more than three per cent of grads were pulling down any more than $75,000. The median salary, accounting for 50 per cent of those surveyed, was $45,000 - $55,000. That’s hardly the breadline, especially for someone in their early twenties, but the starting salary for a police constable in Australia is north of $60,000. When Prosple Australia asked Australian grads how satisfied they were with their pay, those in the ‘accountancy and advisory’ category were the least happy, with only 52 per cent saying they were satisfied.

Paying your dues

Given many people pursue a career in accountancy with the ambition of enjoying a good salary it’s perhaps unsurprising grads aren’t overjoyed by their initial pay packets. Before doing anything rash, however, it’s worth taking a broader and longer-term perspective.

Your employer is making a substantial investment in you. It is subsidising your on the job training and almost certainly an external qualification from an accountancy body as well. In short, you are costing your employer more money than you’re making it and there’s no guarantee you’ll hang around long enough for that investment to be recouped. As mentioned, once you are trained up, you should be able to leverage a much higher salary from your current employer or a future one.    

Common benefits

What accountancy firms lack in impressive starting salaries they often make up for in sweet benefits. These vary depending on the employer in question but commonly include the following.  

  • Graduate loans. Firms sometimes offer cheap loans or a ‘starting bonus’ to those who’ve entered grad programs to help them finance ‘career start-up costs’ such as buying a corporate wardrobe and getting together a rental deposit.
  • Study and other forms of leave. Yes, your employer will often continue to pay you even when you’re not engaged in any income-generating activity .
  • Sporting and social events. Chances are you’ll be invited to partake in work bonding experiences, often involving fine food, oceans of alcohol and expensive entertainment, usually at no cost to yourself.
  • Subsidised or free insurance. This can be health, income protection, TPI or all of the above.

Most firms, especially the larger ones, also offer further benefits, which employees can pick and choose from. Here’s a sample of what may be available:

  • Health checks
  • Lunch allowance
  • Staff discounts (gym membership, travel, computer hardware and software)
  • The ability to purchase more annual leave – or ‘sell back’ unused leave
  • Annual travel insurance
  • Bikes for commuting to work
  • Carbon offsetting

Straight from the horses’ mouth

Prosple Australia asked some grads working at the bigger accountancy firms what they thought about how they were looked after. Here, in summary, is a sample of what they had to say (paraphrased):

BDO: “Pay is OK and reviewed yearly but there is no bonus scheme. There’s lots of free socialising based around food (often breakfast and lunch), a social club and subsidised health insurance.”

Deloitte: “Pay is modest but there is a clear performance framework allowing for regular promotions and pay rises. There’s no bonus scheme though gift vouchers are sometimes given out. As is typical for a Big Four firm, the pay isn’t great but the learning experiences are.

KPMG: “Modest pay and no bonuses but good benefits in terms of medical expenses, as well as super and life insurance. CA program is completely covered and there are opportunities for overseas secondment.”  

PWC: “Modest pay and bonuses are hard to get. However, as well as working hard you’ll also have the opportunity to play hard. There are lunches and dinners after finishing big jobs as well as free tickets to events such as football games, not to mention a social club.”