Practising accountants here face the uphill task of attracting and retaining talent, even as they grapple with the complexity of ever-evolving financial reporting standards.

These challenges affect both public practitioners (that is, those working in public accounting firms) as well as those working in accounting and finance roles in businesses.

In addition, accountants working in businesses are concerned about the competency of finance staff, while those in small accounting firms highlighted the compliance burden as an issue.

Such were some of the findings of a survey aimed at shedding light on the demographics and issues impacting the accountancy sector. Findings of the survey conducted by the Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC) - tasked with transforming the accountancy arena - will be used to design policies and programmes to benefit the sector's various stakeholders.

The survey was carried out between July 1 and Aug 16 last year, and received more than 3,500 individual responses from professional accountants in public practice (21 per cent), those in business (34 per cent) and from students in accountancy or related courses (45 per cent).

The mean monthly income among the professional accountants who responded was $7,587, or 2.5 times the national mean of $3,000 in 2012. About 5 per cent earned less than $24,000 annually and around one per cent earned $500,000 and above.

The respondents believed that pay in the accountancy sector was, in general, not commensurate with their job responsibilities. They also felt there was a lack of work-life balance and career progression. To improve the lot of accountants, they saw a need to give more recognition in the form of incentives or salary increments, a better work-life balance including having flexible working hours, and more on-the-job training.

Another area of concern was how productivity in the sector could be improved.

Accountants working in companies said there should be provision of external structured training courses, continuity of staff and adoption of better technology. Those in public practice suggested having the availability of technical support from within and outside the organisation, and the provision of external structured training courses.

As for the students, many said they were intending to pursue a career in traditional areas, such as financial accounting (71 per cent) and external audit (46 per cent). Some want to pursue careers in new growth areas, such as internal audit (34 per cent), risk management (16 per cent) and valuation (9 per cent).