Salary Guide 2020 : Scottish Financial and Professional Services

Table of Contents


Core-Asset Consulting’s Salary Guide 2020 is a combination of market intelligence, salary data, and insights and analysis from our consultants.

It is designed to assist clients in setting competitive remuneration levels in the year ahead, as well as helping candidates assess their career path and inform their next move.

Whether you are looking to strengthen your business or enhance your career, we hope you will find this guide of value.

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1. Overview

Betsy Williamson
Managing Director – Executive Search & Specialist
Contact Betsy

The UK’s exit from the European Union

The UK government formally announced the country's withdrawal from the EU in March 2017, starting a two-year process which should have concluded in 2019. During 2018 and 2019 with this backdrop in place we predicted that cost-cutting would be the dominant theme in the financial services sector in Scotland.

This was driven by a number of large industry mergers and the need to control costs given the pressure being placed on fees, the growth of automation, new technology and increased industry regulation.

In 2019 as cost cutting and acquisitions continued, the industry in Scotland became more and more polarised. Sadly, succession planning became the unintended casualty of taking a red line through layers of middle management. Companies already have challenges with diversity and difficultly in attracting and retaining a diverse employee demographic.

Middle management is where tomorrows leaders are born and a long-term view, similar to the investment stance that tends to permutates the market here should also be extended to talent management.

In one of our 2019’ papers we discussed how the cutting of graduate recruitment programmes during the financial crisis in 2008, 2009 and 2010 had left the industry 10 years later with a gaping hole which it is struggling to fill.

Caution was, and still is encouraged when it comes to headcount reduction so that it does not unwittingly weaken internal succession and leadership; dissolving corporate knowledge, and of course, all of the above evolved with the shadow of Brexit hovering.

The UK’s exit from the European Union is now here, for Scotland this will bring its own regional and national challenges. However, as the wheel continues to roll forward clarity in some form will allow companies to assess what this new landscape means for their respective markets and businesses.

This new certainty will create opportunities. Companies will have different interpretations, many will take alternative stances on the key issues.

Positive commitment to a route forward will hopefully break the hiatus, at least in terms of strategic activity which should in all logic ripple into recruitment activity.

Culture & Work-Life Balance

As workplace pressures intensify employees often find themselves examining work-life balance, rewards, compensation, and career choices. Regulation is now analysing the role that variable incentives play as part of overall compensation and how this drives work placed behaviour and culture.

The compression and pressure of all these points together will result in a light being squarely shone on company culture and on employer’s expectations on the employees to deliver as industry pressures compound.

This focus on culture runs concurrently with the FCA’s focus on improving conduct and behaviours within the investment and financial services industry, increasing responsibility and accountability overall. In the FCA’s view there are four main drivers that form culture:

  1. 1. Purpose
  2. 2. Leadership
  3. 3. Approach to reward and management 
  4. 4. Governance

Clearly it is difficult to measure culture in practical terms however robust polices help to form a base line towards behavioural change and allow Business Directors, Partners, Boards and Shareholders to hold individuals and companies to account.

From an employee perspective, culture; the way that companies operate, the way that people speak to each other, the day to day norm of how the business operationally conducts itself is more a point of discussion now than it has ever been.

It is widely reported that a strong corporate culture helps attract potential employees, but more importantly it also helps to retain them. A strong culture is a form of competitive advantage, people are more likely to stay for a substantial period of time in what they deem as a good employer.

In addition, job satisfaction tends to be higher at companies with a positive working culture. Employees are more likely to come together as a team when they have a strong working culture, it facilitates social interaction and communication and leads to increased productivity and innovation.

A strong culture is linked to productivity; people are naturally happier, enjoy work more and tend to suffer from less absence days and/or stress related issues.

High levels of employee turnover is often an indicator of low morale, or cultural issues. A culture based on valuing the employee instils loyalty and a strong working ethic, these are the corner stones to competitive advantage.

In 2020 those companies who take a narrow view around incentive schemes assuming that this is the only element to employee retention may find themselves haemorrhaging employees. Culture and overall benefits, including remote/flexible working, diversity, maternity and paternity benefits, occupational health frameworks, sponsorship of professional and educational qualifications, office environment, and environmental policies are important considerations for employees.

With a recruitment hat on, questions like; Are they a flexible employer? What are they like to work for? What are the people like? How supportive is the office environment? are becoming more and more prevalent questions as corporate and economic pressures continue. This is the far cry from a historic industry standardised initial question of; what is the salary?

Environmental, Social, Governance, (ESG) & Sustainability

Societies expectations are changing as new generations age and take over the corporate reigns from their predecessors. General awareness has shifted towards corporate governance, sustainability and environmental and social policies.

What was once deemed the norm from both a working and cultural perspective is no longer the case. In 5-years’ time, or indeed 10 years’ time what we considered normal now, will have disappeared into the history books.

Whether an organisation operates in Private Wealth, mainstream Financial Services, Accountancy, Legal, Consulting, and/or Professional Services, is in Institutional Investment Management, Private Equity, Real Estate, or a Pooled Local Authority the focus and awareness on ESG isn’t just a nice to have anymore it’s something that shareholders are demanding.

All companies need to demonstrate they are working towards the best interest of clients, employees and the market overall. The definition of fiduciary responsibility is now shifting to something much wider than just a focus on investment returns.

Recent legal opinion is that it is an actual violation of this responsibility not to consider non-financial outcomes for clients.

There is an increasing realisation that ESG matters to corporate performance and therefore the investment community and its surrounding corporate partners are starting to view it differently. This awareness is important from a running a business point of view, whatever that business may be.

Investors want to invest in a business where these factors matter and something positive is being done to address these issues.

ESG and sustainability are on the same side of the coin as succession planning, culture and diversity they are long-term considerations which materially impact business success, ESG has finally reached critical mass.

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2. Asset Management Front Office

Betsy Williamson
Managing Director – Executive Search & Specialist
Contact Betsy

Market Commentary

Scotland benefits from a rich heritage and history as a financial services centre with roots that can be traced back to the 17th century. The financial services industry in Scotland employs more than 100,000 people directly with the same again indirectly via an extensive supply chain of providers.

Fund Management in Scotland encompasses a broad mix of large institutional companies and smaller boutique firms that provide services to clients both in the UK and globally.

The sector has grown considerably in recent years and assets under management (AUM) in Scotland are now estimated to reach over c£800 billion.

Edinburgh remains a good place for fund management companies to be based, whether this be Equity, Fixed Income, Multi-Asset, Private Equity, Real Estate or the Alternative sectors.

The city has a strong historic base and ingrained reputation to be leveraged. There are a number of well-regarded international fund management houses located here.

This global presence allows the smaller boutiques (which are the green shoots of the industry) to leverage this with access to investor relations representatives and investment banks when they visit the city to present on corporate activity.

There is an existing ecosystem, a strong commercial property market, world-class universities, relatively good infrastructure, funding and incentives available from the Scottish Government, investment in Financial Technology and a locally based regulatory body in the FCA.

However, the political and economic situation over 2019 and indeed the preceding 3 years around Brexit most definitely had an impact on the investment sector. This prolonged period of inertia has been strategically unhelpful. There is a direct correlation between political instability and levels of corporate confidence.

The number of variables that this uncertainty produces are complex and both industry and sector specific, however holistically companies are considering key issues around labour and the free movement of people, tax, laws and regulation, supply chain and business provision, and international competition.

Collectively speaking uncertainty around these factors has resulted in fund managers adopting a 'wait-and-see' approach as the UK government tries to wade its way through these topics.

Within Institutional Fund Management it is not expected that the themes above will dissipate in 2020. In short, this year will be no easier than 2019 or 2018 from a corporate perspective. Opportunities will exist as they always do, however cost cutting will continue, head count reduction will trundle on,

polarisation will be a major impactor and succession planning will require consideration as a balance to these points.

Whilst 2018 was a busy year when it came to front office recruitment, the volume of vacancies for experienced investment analysts, portfolio managers and fund managers decreased during 2019.

Graduate recruitment across asset management remains largely inhouse with large companies hiring directly through their graduate schemes.

Sector consolidation over the past few years has meant that there are very few mid-sized companies present in the market, leaving career options between boutique asset managers or global companies. This becomes a catch 22, some feel progression limited in small companies, but don’t want to feel like a cog in a wheel in a large company.

Redundancies have also been a frequent theme over the last 12 months, with cost cutting is a feature across the asset management industry generally.

That said, as a result of ongoing regulation changes there were spikes in demand, in particular in areas such as investment risk and market risk. An emphasis has also been placed on the need for candidates with industry qualifications with Professional Risk Manager (PRM) and Financial Risk Management (FRM) being particularly sought after.

The Investment Management Certificate (IMC) and Chartered Financial Analyst Qualification (CFA) were also a focus for those operating in front office and middle office positions. The highest volumes of hiring for the above were at mid to senior level, with those of 5 years’ plus experience being in highest demand.

Yet when it came to successful appointments qualifications weren’t the only elements being considered, employers were also focused on softer skills and personality traits. Tenacity and the importance of; doing the right thing, were the overriding qualities.

This is perhaps not surprising given the nature of the more holistic changes impacting the sector. Diversity was also a key focus, attracting, retaining and hiring more female candidates to the industry remains a challenge in traditionally male dominated fields.

To counter this, during 2019 companies have been more open to offering flexible working with a recognition to the importance of work/life balance. It may be a generational change, however there is a definite shift in companies realising that people are less willing to live for work.

This has sparked a change in working patterns and a focus on the importance of health and wellbeing. Employers have become aware of the need to offer more than just salaries to attract the best candidates.

Flexible working, holiday allowances and benefits packages are also important elements of the employer proposition. Culture is especially important; in some instances, candidates were willing to take a lower salary if is deemed that there is a “good” company culture.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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3. Business Services

Titta Hukkanen
Senior Consultant – Financial & Professional Services
Contact Titta

Business Support

Market commentary

Recruitment volumes in business support were relatively stable throughout 2019, there were higher levels of demand from January to July which had more of an administration, team support and PA focus with decreased requirements in the second half of year.

There were very limited Senior level Executive roles on the market over the last 12 months, this is likely as a direct result of senior level and mid-tier management head count reduction. The vast majority of roles were at mid-level with fewer openings as senior manager or director grade.

Generically data suggestions that overall the majority of recruitment activity was as a result of organisational change.

Recruitment across marketing was stable during the year with opportunities in various areas including; RFP, Presentations, Investment Communications and Investment Writing.

Between January and December 2019 demand also increased for mid-level Investment Writers and Investment Communications professionals within the Investment and Asset Management sector, together with more specialist technical marketing opportunities.

From a candidate perspective there were a number of experienced individuals actively and seeking new opportunities, however there were limited opportunities available to them.

Salary levels over the past year have also remained relatively static with only marginal cost of living increases being evident.

This is likely an impact of the client driven market, with the choice of candidates greater than the volume of vacancies.

Risk and Compliance

Market Commentary

During 2019 recruitment within the Scottish Risk and Compliance sector was relatively consistent. Trends focused on the implementation of key regulatory change including SMCR and GDPR. In addition, there were positions available within AML, compliance monitoring, operational risk, compliance advisory and regulatory compliance.

The level within these subsectors was on par to the levels of 2018, the more globally based organisations annually recruit in these areas. In addition, there were also a smaller number of boutique organisations with vacancies in generalist risk and compliance, these roles tended to be at a more senior level and required all encompassing business risk and compliance experience.

Overseas experience was also an important skillset to have given Brexit. Many companies have opened additional offices in Europe for example in Ireland, Germany and France.

Candidates with global regulatory compliance and wider compliance experience were sought after as they were able to support new overseas teams whilst working from a UK base.

Generically speaking as companies move more towards the digital age there was also a focus on IT risk professionals. The customer journey has been an important factor for many companies and there has been an increased requirement for individuals with this experience, specifically from a risk and compliance perspective.

The talent pool remained tight within these specialist areas, however salaries remained static, and there was little correlation between skillset supply and demand.

On the flip side, the drivers for individuals who did move roles centred around the strength of the employer brand and reputation of the business, as well as flexible working patterns as employees move towards achieving a better work-life balance.

Over the last 12 months, employers in the asset management space have been pioneering changes to maternity and paternity schemes, this theme is expected to continue.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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4. Private Wealth 

Jack Anderson
Consultant – Financial & Professional Services
Contact Jack

Market Commentary

The trend of market consolidation in Private Wealth continued into 2019 brining a new wave of acquisitions. In the Scottish marketplace, Smith and Williamson was acquired by Tilney (announced Sep 2019) and Brooks MacDonald acquired Cornelian (announced Nov 2019), with their book of business subject to FCA approval. 

Overall the general demand for discretionary wealth managers and their supporting staff remained stable. Most Scottish based firms will be open minded engaging with those candidates that have a portable book, although these individuals tend to be of limited availability.

Ultimately, if candidates can either (a) bring a client book, or (b) can demonstrate a track record of building a book, they remain highly attractive from a market perspective. This is a candidate driven sector.

During 2019 the largest pool of available candidates within private wealth management where those who were (and are) part or fully qualified (CISI level 6 or Level 7) and are currently operating in a support capacity, seeking their first move to directly manage client relationships.

Unfortunately, vacancies that offer the chance for inexperienced private wealth managers to directly run client relationships are rare, employers look to ensure an expectational level of service and achieve this through the recruitment of experienced financial planners or investment managers.

Ensuring that the level of service is consistent has, in turn, meant that experienced, credible support staff, such as paraplanners, administrators and assistants has remained steady with this area of the market being the most fluid.

From a client perspective during 2019 investment and financial sales was also a moderately buoyant sector. Employers remain open minded and interested in proactively speaking with experienced market professionals who can add value to their respective businesses.

That said, from a candidate perspective those individuals who have a proven background in telephone sales were less likely to be looking for a like for a like move and where more inclined to look for field based or management positions. There was/is an interesting market disconnect in this capacity.

In addition, over the last 12 months there has been significant structural changes within the telephone sales teams of Edinburgh’s largest life and pensions providers, this has led to increased competition for the same small pool of talent, as of yet this has not correlated into overall salary increases.

From a field-based perspective Business Development Managers working in the intermediary space and with a fund sales background has been highly sought after.

However, the availability of those candidates was limited with those who were actively looking doing so as a result of structural changes within their current firms.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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5. Pensions and Fintech

Louise Powrie
Director – Financial & Professional Services
Contact Louise

Market commentary

The pensions market in 2019 has seen some major changes at an executive level with the appointment of new CEOs within some of the most established providers including; Royal London, Aegon and Phoenix.

As an industry, the challenges faced in 2019 remain consistent; how to ensure customers will have an adequate pension provision that is cost effective, accessible, easy to understand and perhaps most pressing, getting the message to the younger generations on the importance of saving over the long term.

Auto-enrolment has been making great traction towards this, according to the DWP, 87% of eligible workers within the private sector were saving into a workplace pension’s in 2018.

However, with fewer DB schemes and gaps in the advice market on how and where to invest, one of the most imminent issues faces Generation X is whether they will have enough time to save before retirement.

From a recruitment perspective the largest growth within the sector has come from providers who have focused on differentiation and improving their service offering.

Companies now have access to a plethora of data, and this can be used to better understand customers and what they want.

As pension providers evaluate this data it has shaped a proportion of the recruitment during 2019. Key roles were within the proposition, strategy, technology, customer experience and customer journey fields, however, there were also additional growth areas including;

  • Fund Governance; the downfall of Woodford in the latter half of 2019 highlighted the critical requirement of this.
  • Fintech; 2019 saw continued consolidation in this sector with acquisitions by Embark for the adviser book of business from Alliance Trust Savings and Zurich. FNZ acquired both GBST and JHC Systems, leaving FNZ responsible for over £250bn of assets and 63% of the market overall. Technology plays a key role in these areas and as such demand for those individuals with Agile experience has also increased.
  • Pension Consulting; with increased regulation and the continued focus on board and corporate governance is it anticipated that growth in this sector will continue across all areas; Trustees, Actuaries and Consultants.
  • DB Pensions administration; as outsourcing to pension consulting continues to evolve core business models.
  • Investment Consulting; one of the challenges in this market is appealing to experienced investment consultants/analysts to move from one consultancy to another.

Across all sectors of the market, diversity and inclusion continues to be a focus with the aim to get better balance within organisations, but there were remarkable changes to initiatives.

There has been an increasing awareness of neurodiversity, with companies seeking to support individuals with conditions such as autism or attention deficit disorders.

A common theme across all markets from an employer perspective was static remuneration.

Candidates conversely continued to seek factors in addition to salary increases with key themes around strength and security of the brand, flexible working and being part of something new; either products, markets, or leadership changes.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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6. Investment Operations

Rachael O'Neill
Associate Director, Investment Operations – Financial Services
Contact Rachael

Market commentary

In some respects, recruitment within the Investment Operations market in 2019 was a tale of two halves. The anticipated overall market lull from Brexit materialised in the summer with relatively consistent volumes between January and July.

Following this short hiatus, the market picked up again in both Third-Party Administrators and Asset Managers, particularly for junior to mid-level appointments.

A key trend was the requirement for niche skills particularly in Derivatives and Regulatory Reporting, however there was also demand for Fund Performance, Trustee & Depositary/Fiduciary and Pricing skills.

Often in these areas the challenge is identifying the depth of experience required within the salary guidelines. This is a correlation to the tight gradings and bandings which tend to permutate global players. Salary levels therefore remained static during 2019.

In addition, for these in demand skills sets the time to recruit can also have a bearing on the client successfully appointing, even more so if these individuals are immediately available.

Often it can be the quickest offer which is accepted by the candidate, with a deadline being issued together with the contract. This result is a “take it or leave it” ultimatum being placed on the table.

From a sector analysis perspective positions spanned both global businesses and boutiques creating a choice for candidates. For many, the opportunity to work in a smaller business holds appeal, allowing more “hands on” roles and the chance to be more horizontally involved.

It is encouraging to see these businesses growing in 2019. Generally, Scotland continues to be a being a key hub for larger more global companies and from an investment operations perspective there is a continued trend to relocate more technical roles to Edinburgh and Glasgow from larger Global centres.

One of the most prominent features of 2019 was the availability of senior level operational candidates.

This was reflective of the restructuring and merging of some of the larger houses, mainly within the asset management sector.

Some senior level candidates, those being Senior Vice Presidents, Senior Managers / Operations Managers and Unit Heads found themselves seeking new roles which, unfortunately, were not in abundance.

This was compounded by the pending IR35 changes which left many with the need to seek roles out with Scotland

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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7. Accounting and Finance

John Docherty
Associate Director – Accounting & Finance
Contact John

Market commentary

2019 was a year of prolonged uncertainty with the volume of permanent recruitment down by 10% from 2018. The key factors affecting this downturn were unsurprisingly Brexit and laterally the General Election.

This, in combination with the consolidation of some large finance business, and the offshoring of transactional finance roles contributed to a general slowing in market opportunities. This downturn impacted what accounting & finance candidates were open to in terms of Scottish businesses with the Commerce and Industry sector being the main beneficiary.

This dip was also reflected in market sentiment; however, the perception was worse than the reality.

The margin of decrease was relatively small and there were still opportunities available in several key areas including; Financial Reporting & Controls, Transfer Pricing, Business Partnering and Audit. Additionally, a key area of demand was Tax, across all disciplines.

Professionals in this field continued to be “overfished” in a somewhat shallow pond, with those from private practice with the Chartered Tax Advisor (CTA) qualification commanding the highest premium, this was driven by opportunity to reduce advisory fees as workloads for inhouse teams expanded.

To counter these areas of demand businesses were more open minded about transferrable skills, especially in junior appointments. In many areas the shortage of candidates outweighed the roles available on a 3-1 ratio.

As a competitive leverage, companies were willing to break their initial salary brackets and we witnessed increases of up to 30% to secure appointments, particularly in technical accounting roles and senior management positions.

That said, historically there tends to be perennial demand for accountants at newly qualified to 5 years’ experience, and 2019 was no different.

This demand was not just across financial services but also Commerce and Industry, an increasingly attractive option for many due to greater uncertainty in financial services.

Salaries for newly qualified accountants increased from the late £30,000’s bracket to over £40,000 annually, breaking this ceiling for the first time.

Ambitious individuals at this level were undeterred by a slower market, recognising when a fresh challenge was required to maintain an upward career trajectory.

One interesting observation was the number of candidates moving to smaller companies, seeking greater technical breadth and accelerated responsibility. Historically larger companies, specifically in financial services have leveraged the benefits of internal mobility and linear progression. However, 2019 saw this strength undermined by regular restructuring and redundancies.

As a result, interest in start-ups grew, especially with a burgeoning fintech sector. Finance professionals were attracted to the potential growth from the ‘ground up’ and the entrepreneurial culture, along with a more expansive set of responsibilities and greater senior stakeholder exposure. This was reflected in roles where budgeting, forecasting, benchmarking and gauging IPO readiness were the key responsibilities.

Established commercial and industrial businesses were also popular with more emphasis on growth rather than cost cutting efficiencies.

While Financial Services is prone to fixate on a specific International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS) for example or a particular fund class, other sectors approach the market with a less prescriptive technical ‘must haves’ focusing on the individual’s ability to learn, credibility and their personal motivations.

Increasingly people were seeking more than just financial reward and would consider a sideways step if they could see greater career progression and benefits. Social media and sites such as Glassdoor provide insights into company culture and working patterns which historically didn’t exist.

This has magnified situations where employee morale and poor work-life are prevalent. Companies which do not offer flexible working and embrace diversity (in all contexts) have failed to realise this can be a strategic benefit, especially in a limited market.

Businesses that have put thought into how office logistics can encourage collaboration and wellbeing; including gyms, cafeterias, or prayers rooms, are scoring highly in candidates’ estimations.

A ‘dress for your day’ policy is increasingly becoming the norm. While still professional, this moves away from the prescriptively formal. Increased paternity leave has also made headlines with companies across financial service and blue-chip commerce and industry businesses now offering 9 months as standard.

When faced with a limited talent pool and deep skillset shortages external recruiters remain an intrinsic

component of identifying those that would not normally be actively seeking a move. Proactivity is key. The secret is to present a career opportunity not a job.

Companies need to consider the strength of the business proposition, career trajectory, development curve and personal development opportunity. Company ethos and approach is also essential. 

It can be strategically useful to consider candidates from other locations such as London, the Channel Islands and overseas, however in reality, this is rarely a quick solution.

Attracting candidates to a city where they have no established roots and footprint is difficult, there is a high flight-risk for those who do not have settled or have pre-established family connections.

In areas such as Tax and Statutory Reporting, expertise is often required in UK jurisdictions, not international.

That said if companies are expanding into Europe then experience of other GAAPs or offshore fund structures are often beneficial.

Matching or managing migrating talent’s salary expectations is also difficult, few people are willing to take a drop in salary to move to a city they are not personally connected.

Removing actual relocation costs, there are also timeline constraints; a two-week deadline is an exceptionally short window of time to map an international territory or alternative location.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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9. Legal

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Market commentary

The major trend within Private Practice and the In-House Legal market over the last 5 years has been consolidation. Most notably by mergers of the top international and national organisations including Pinsent Masons, CMS, Addleshaw Goddard, and Dentons.

These mergers have offered financial stability and the maximisation of client propositions via a global and/or UK-wide service.

The remaining independents such as Burness Paull, Shepherd and Wedderburn and Brodies are continuing to thrive, with sectors such as fintech, real estate, food and drink, infrastructure, renewables and retail generating substantial amounts of work both domestically and internationally.

Major political and economic uncertainty, Brexit, and increased regulation around GDPR and corporate governance, have continue to dictate the direction of the legal market.

Legal firms have largely shown strong resilience and have used these changes to their benefit. Clients have required additional support and advice around the potential impact of impending new regulations.

This has led to an increase in the demand for solicitors with regulatory and immigration experience ensuring companies do not fall foul of regulatory change, and that their workforces are protected from any amendments Brexit presents.

The Corporate Market has also continued to be busy with a steady flow of deals which increased in the latter half of 2019. This was primarily based on the acceptance of businesses to press forward with their respective plans irrelevant of the fluctuating political landscape.

Other areas in demand where closely aligned to that of the Scottish economy covering the renewables sector, commercial and residential property markets, FMCG, technology and fintech.

As the Financial services market has continued to evolve with mergers and new players entering the market this has also led to increased demand for In-House solicitors as these businesses scale up or open new sites.

Generally, the profitability of firms in Scotland was lower than the rest of the UK. Income and profit results suggest that while firms are generating higher revenues through increased volumes of work, the work is less profitable which may in part be due to clients wanting more clarity around fees and tighter control on legal costs. Fixed fees models are now widespread.

A recent report by the accounting firm French Duncan highlighted law firm profits in Scotland have dipped by over a quarter in a decade and went on to describe the market as ‘fiercely competitive’.

To demonstrate this, we can point to the financial casualty of Morisons LLP, the firm fell into administration in March 2019, demonstrating there is still a financial strain on the profession for mid-tier general practice firms.

The financial crisis of 2008 remains at the forefront of Partners’ memories where tough decisions were made around business structures. It would be fair to say that lessons were learned around over heavy headcount models, companies are naturally cautious not to repeat the same mistakes.

For global companies, a focus on costs drives mandates to Scotland, overheads and salaries here are significantly less compared to London.

Crucially however, legal firms need to keep succession planning at the forefront of their minds; investing in future talent. There is still a market hang-over from the previous recession and a significant experience gap for qualified solicitors in the 3 to 8 years PQE range.

Despite potential factors such as a Brexit, the impending Scottish Independence Referendum or additional mergers and acquisitions Scottish lawyers should not panic about their career prospects. There is a high demand for skillsets in areas such as litigation, corporate restructuring and insolvency.

Economic and political change is no bad omen for the Legal profession, quite the contrary.

Conversely, we have also a number of experienced lawyers moving away from the profession. Long hours and the lack of perceived flexibility in the culture in Private Practice were key factors pushing people to seek a moving.

Being able to see the input of their work, making a genuine impact, becoming a trusted advisor, more flexibility, a collaborative culture, were also contributing factors. Destinations have included; project management, operations, governance, risk, compliance, strategy and commercial roles.

For those staying in sector, salaries where important but career progression and working environment where higher up the agenda when considering opportunities.

On the salary front newly qualified lawyers in 2019 benefited from the most significant increases in base salary with increases between 8-12% compared to the previous year. These increases have not been seen by junior and mid-level solicitors.

Around the 1-5-year PQE mark there also seems to be a trend developing where junior moves happen in quick succession with individuals seeking fast progression and salary increases fuelled by generally market demand.

Over the next 12 months we may well see a rebalancing as a number of the larger firms looking to align their Scottish lawyers’ salaries with their English counterparts.

Strategically this would aid in retaining experienced junior and mid-point lawyers (across all sectors), however it would pose a challenge to the global cost reduction model and the concept of Edinburgh / Scotland being a lower-cost centre.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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9. Interim, Temporary and Contract

Mike Stirton
Director – Interim, Temporary & Contract
Contact Mike

Market commentary

We predicted that 2019 would be a great year for those with highly specialist skill sets, who were both in demand and able to command far higher rates than those who were more generalist.

This did happen to a certain extent in a few pockets (finance & fintech) but due to increasing budgetary pressures, lack of demand and a rather gloomy global economic outlook, contractor rates remained rather flat in most other areas of financial services and in some pockets actually decreased.

Throughout the second half of 2019 we witnessed an alarming growth in individuals out of work, most notable at the experienced end of market. The changing way financial services firms conduct business and the lack of fresh opportunities at a senior level had a significant impacted on this population.

Fintech and Change

After a strong H1 in 2019 the lack of new projects and looming IR35* changes hit this area of contracting the hardest in H2. Whilst some projects rumbled on, many were concluded with little fresh initiatives taking their place. This tipped the supply and demand scales heavily to one side and as such rates started to lower towards the end of the year.

Those in the project and programme management space found themselves hit the hardest. Those whose experience is perhaps closer to the ‘coal face’ of projects, positions such as business analysis and software development, were less adversely affected.

As we predicted those who found themselves with more ‘generic’ change backgrounds, unable to stand out from the crowd found things the toughest.

Core Business Functions

This was an interesting year for the area we class as ‘core business”. As a result of previous years of outsourcing and investment in technology, gone was the demand for high volume financial operations staff such as fund accountants (previously a fundamental cornerstone of Edinburgh’s financial sector) and in was an increasing need for monitoring and regulatory support.

There was a slight downturn in rates for financial administration contractors a result but a large spike in rates for those in the operational, regulatory and market risk domains where demand increased.

Accounting and Finance

This was perhaps the most stable area of contracting. Accounting and reporting demands don’t really disappear when things get tough and this was evident in the contract market.

The fact firms were a little nervous to add to long term headcount actually favoured the interim accountancy and finance market and this was one area where we witnessed increased demand and a steady growth of rate as a result. However, things did quieten towards the end of the year.

Business Support

Business support functions remained a buoyant market with plenty in the way of short-term opportunity. It should be noted however that most opportunity existed at the entry to mid-level as businesses looked to use less expensive resource to navigate pressure points.

This meant much of the business support roles we witnessed had administrative duties (with associated rates) attached to them. Those with more specialist senior business support experience such as HR management and senior marketing, found less opportunity open to them.

For this reason, rates did start to creep up slightly at the entry end of the market and decreased steadily at the upper end and with this rate bandings started to condense.

*IR35 is an anti-tax avoidance rule that applies to all contractors and freelancers who do not fall under HM Revenue & Customs’ definition of being self-employed and as such are ‘within’ the scope of IR35. From April 2020, all medium and large private sector businesses in the UK will become responsible for setting the tax status of any contract worker they use.

To read our outlook for 2020 and to access the salary information, please download a pdf copy of the Salary Guide.

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10. Methodology

The purpose of this guide is to provide insight into current salary and employment trends in the asset management, accounting & finance, asset servicing, legal and wider financial services sectors in Scotland.

The salary ranges quoted are indicative of salaries candidates with similar experience might expect to earn in 2020, and are exclusive of bonus and benefits. Contract and temporary day rates are based on a seven-hour day.

The information in this report is provided as a general guide only. Salary data is gathered from registering candidates, job offers and placements made through Core-Asset Consulting in 2019, including data gathered from our clients and our extensive database of candidates.

Additional market insight is provided by our consultants’ knowledge and experience of market conditions.

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