PwC has announced a plan to create almost 800 jobs in Belfast over the next five years as part of a £40m technology centre.

The accounting and consulting group said the new jobs would be part of an “advanced research and engineering centre” at its offices in the Northern Irish capital. The new recruits will work in areas such as software engineering and technology and will be split between client work and research and development.

The investment would increase PwC’s workforce in the city, where it already employs 2,500 people, by almost a third and be supported by £9.8m in funding from economic development agency Invest NI.

Kevin Ellis, senior partner and chair of PwC UK, said the Belfast investment could serve as a model for future public-private partnerships with regional mayoralties in England.

“Just like the vaccines were a coming together of AstraZeneca and Oxford university with help from the government, this is, I think, going to be a replica model because we can’t create these jobs or reach into the social mobility backgrounds of school leavers or university grads quickly enough to fill the jobs need,” he added.

Belfast is already PwC’s second-largest office in the UK outside London and the new hires will be based in its new Merchant Square office, due to open this summer. The new roles will be part of Operate, PwC’s operational and process management division, which works on projects such as business recovery for clients hit by disruption, and drawing up crisis prevention plans.

Welcoming the new jobs, which are expected to generate about £25m in annual salaries, Northern Ireland’s economy minister Paul Frew said the expansion would enhance the region’s reputation in technology innovation and “our capabilities in important research areas such as robotic process automation, workflow automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence”.

Belfast has a growing reputation in the expanding field of “reg tech”, the intersection of regulation and technology. PwC is among those to have invested in the sector with its acquisition of compliance and automation business KYC-Pro in 2018. FinTrU, another reg tech company providing services to global investment banks, has grown to more than 700 staff from its establishment in 2013.

PwC’s expansion will boost Belfast’s finance centre, where the other Big Four accounting firms — Deloitte, EY and KPMG — also have a presence alongside the likes of Citigroup, which employs 3,200 people in areas such as technology and legal.

The expansion in Northern Ireland is part of PwC’s plan to increase its UK workforce from 22,000 to 26,000 over five years. The UK will account for about 10 per cent of the firm’s planned $12bn global investment in recruitment, training, technology and deals over the next five years.

Invest NI’s support is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and will contribute towards 145 of the 771 new roles. The plan includes the creation of 38 jobs in joint research teams at Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.

PwC is one of the biggest graduate employers in the UK. Building expertise internally will be key to achieving growth in the next two to three years as booming demand from companies for advice on deals, digital transformation and ESG creates a “war for talent”, Ellis said.

Additional reporting by Laura Noonan