Birmingham’s ‘young soul’ is turning the city into a hub for finance graduates

Gemma Gathercole, Strategic Engagement Lead at ACCA,

With its title as Europe’s youngest city, it is no surprise that Birmingham is a hotspot for finance students. However, it isn’t just students who see its charm, almost half (46%) of its graduates stay as full-time residents pursuing their careers within the city – with accounting & finance graduates topping the list.

Director of specialist recruitment firm Robert Walters West Midlands, Habiba Khatoon caught up with Gemma Gathercole, Strategic Engagement Lead at ACCA, to delve into what she thinks makes Birmingham stand out as a finance hub.

What makes Birmingham such an attractive location for finance professionals?

“Birmingham is a thriving, culturally diverse city with a proud industrial heritage. As it showcased in last year’s Commonwealth Games, the city is embracing both its past and future as one of the largest regional banking and professional services clusters in the UK.”

What do you think is luring large firms to open a base in Birmingham?

“Recent reports have identified Birmingham as having an attractive investment prospectus and the leading UK city for entrepreneurs outside London. It’s transport connectivity and strong quality of living mean that as well as the city itself, Birmingham has great access to the talent in the wider West Midlands region and beyond.

“As a result, growth in the financial and professional services sector has been boosted by a significant number of large companies relocating operations to Birmingham. With the regeneration of areas like Paradise Birmingham, the city provides not only first-class office space, but also starts to build a rich skilled talent pool from which to recruit. Businesses relocate for business advantage, so the growth of the financial and professional services cluster will only add to the attractiveness of Birmingham as a base.”

How do you think the local businesses will cope with the skills/candidate shortage?

“It has been a tight labour market, so good candidates can negotiate strong terms, including hybrid arrangements, and businesses need to think more broadly about their attraction proposition. But we are starting to see some evidence of a desire for stability so the labour market isn’t as tight as it has been.

“To ensure a good pipeline of talent, it’s important for businesses to share their skills needs, whether that’s through training providers, colleges or universities they are working with, through their chambers of commerce or other business organisations, or for finance professionals through their professional bodies, like ACCA.”

What radical changes have you seen in the past 5 years within finance functions?

“It certainly feels like the pace of change in the workplace accelerates year on year. Over the last 5 years the biggest (and quickest) single change has been the move to hybrid or remote working as employers all over the world managed the impacts of the pandemic. But linked to that the impact of technology has been hugely impactful, from providing additional tools for finance professionals to enabling that remote working.

“Finance professionals see the value of technology but still want training on that technology to allay fears relating to the pace of change. Not related to the pandemic, the emergence of sustainability information dissemination – along with the associated requirement for assurance – marks a significant evolution of corporate reporting, and presents a real challenge and opportunity for finance functions. ACCA produced recent reports including Sustainability assurance – rising to the challenge and Green finance skills: the guide on these topics.”

In your opinion, what kind of career & workplace requirements do finance professionals of today want?

“ACCA’s recent report UK Talent Trends in Finance tells us that in the UK the adoption of hybrid working is more advanced that other countries globally, with 80% of UK respondents reporting hybrid or full remote working. Hybrid working remains a requirement for the future too with 83% wanting to work remotely at least one day a week. Other workplace requirements include a need for better work-life balance, which reflects that desire for hybrid working, but also wanting reasonable work deadlines and/or sufficient resources to do the job. Job security, recognition and career development are highly prized too.”

ACCA, alongside RSM are proud sponsors of Robert Walters’ West Midlands Finance Awards. Deadline for entries closes on Friday 9 June. For more information on the first-class awards evening taking place on Thursday 12 th October 2023, visit Robert Walters West Midlands Finance Awards.