Executive Search: CFO Market Insight

A new era

two women technology professionals discuss job opportunities at a local coffee shop in front of a window
  • CFO headcount growth double in The North compared to London
  • Overall compensation structures increase across the UK
  • Finance-related activity rife within online, retail, hospitality, technology and travel

Now that all restrictions are lifted – a month earlier than planned – we can see if Boris’s bold announcement to the world that Britain is firmly over the pandemic hill has proven worthy as a catalyst to get the economy moving.

If hiring trends are anything to go by then we certainly are back in business – and have been for some time. In fact, 2021 was 114% up on 2020 job vacancy levels – that’s a 69% increase on a three-year average. January has remained true to that trend – with early signs illustrating this could be another record-breaking year.

Remote chance of finding talent

Whilst London has grown in share of total hiring – now representing 44% of all job vacancies - the real jewel in the crown is The North, where the North West (+113%), North East (+128%), and Yorkshire (+126%) have all recorded record job vacancies as most firms removed geographical barriers amidst the tightest labour market seen in over 20 years.

Data reveals that the number of CFO’s living in The North increased by 11.1% - double what was recorded in London at 5.1%. Similar to the capital, Birmingham experienced a migration of finance talent out of the city to neighbouring areas such as Coventry and Nottingham. 

Premiums do remain intact when working for a London-based business, however the rise in location agnostic hires has resulted in incremental salary increases across the whole of the UK.

Pre-pandemic Chief Execs would want their CFO to be based in the HQ with them at least four days a week, now it doesn’t matter if a CEO see’s their no.2 less than once a fortnight!

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

The primary challenge for businesses is that every sector – regardless of recovery stage - is now looking to recruit the same kind of talent. At the height of the pandemic businesses shed a layer of skin, with CFO’s now looking to replace that layer and bring that support back tenfold in the way of financial planners & analysts, governance & control experts, and specialists within commercial finance.

Attraction will all boil down to what a company has to offer – with the primary offering being:

  • Enhanced remuneration and bonus structure
  • Pre-agreed career path & succession planning
  • Investment in leadership skills and profile raising (L&D)
  • Ample flexibility – particularly location

Increase in CFO’s based on region

East of England  +3%
East Midlands +16.9%
London +5.1%
North West +10.2%
North East +12%
South East +5.4%
South West +5.9%
West Midlands +4.2%
Yorkshire +9.8%

Changes Afoot: Industries to watch

two women technology professionals discuss job opportunities at a local coffee shop in front of a window

Back-to-back lockdowns has seen spending at an all time low, and in-spite of the rising cost of living, the pandemic bought the UK’s net household debt down.

With that, and the lifting of all restrictions, analysts are predicting an explosion of consumer spending in the next 12 months and whilst there will no doubt be headwinds, the consumer goods & services industry will carry the economy once again. 

Online Marketplaces

  • VC investment set to top last year’s global record of $132m
  • Low barriers to entry will see the diversity of the ecosystem continue to grow and proliferate
  • As a burgeoning industry catapulted by the pandemic, the sector is in urgent need of finance talent with experience in M&A, customer journey, and supply chain, to help correctly manage its growth
  • Apparel & Fashion dominating the online marketplaces scene and now considered the ‘go-to’ place for fast fashion over the high street or town centres 

Bricks and Mortar Retail

  • Consumer behaviour changed for good: 70% of Brits name online as their preferred shopping method
  • Businesses should jump on the ‘novetly’ of physical shopping and enhance their in-store experience – demand for touch & feel, physical customer experience, and on the spot information on the rise
  • Acquisitions of physical retail businesses by online brands will continue – particularly within apparel & fashion i.e. ASOS purchasing Topshop 

Hospitality and Leasure

  • Investment into FP&A and scenario modelling rife ahead of the ‘new-new’ normal
  • Hard requirement to transform services into new revenue streams through acquisition and consolidation
  • Consumer behaviour remains unpredictable meaning forecasts are skewed as short-term focus on real-time data is adopted by finance teams
  • Performance of hospitality & leisure will have a knock-on to the real estate market –  rents, leases & long-term use of commercial property.


  • More money than ever is flowing into UK tech - the sector raised £29.4 billion in 2021, and PE activity is already sky-high going into the year
  • Considered a fail-safe industry with companies displaying a solid investment pipeline into their own digital infrastructure and back-office
  • Industries with significantly high levels of margin: Cybersecurity, Software, and Data.
  • Industry-defining mergers & acquisitions anticipated this year as fast growth tech start-ups set sights on long established data-rich businesses 

Travel and Tourism

  • Global vaccine programmes and heightened scientific understanding has seen a return in consumer confidence
  • Governments will continue to press ahead with border reopening and easing of restrictions to tap into the $2.37trillion travel industry
  • Rise of technology such as Zoom and Teams has created a long term cultural shift within business travel
  • Sector will continue to struggle to attract talent – with job confidence within the industry not returning for some 4-5 years.

Contact us:

Kristian is UK Managing Partner for Robert Walters Executive Search, specialising in delivering high-quality and impactful human capital across CXO and Business Transformation.

Contact Kristian:
E: Kristian.Lee@robertwalters.co.uk
T: +44 (0)161 214 7449
S: linkedin.com/kristian-lee

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