Get Paid What You’re Worth!

CPAs speak out on compensation issues. Next question: Are you ready for tax season 2008? Join the survey; see the answers.

January 17, 2008
by Rick Telberg/On Careers

Here’s something rather surprising: Slightly more than half of the accountants Bay Street Group and AICPA Career Insider surveyed actually think they’re paid well enough.

It says a great deal for our profession that a majority, however scant, is satisfied with their salaries. And it’s amazing that only 46 percent of respondents are dissatisfied. I wonder how many other professions can claim so many financially satisfied professionals.

Even more interesting are the reasons behind the satisfaction or its lack thereof. And it was the lack, I should add, that drew the most comments in our survey.

Are CPAs ready for tax season?

Join the survey. Get the results.

(Free. Confidential.)

One anonymous sole proprietor echoed a sentiment the profession knows well. “I always end up feeling sorry for my clients and help them without charging for all my time.”

We heard that again and again, sometimes expressed as a reluctance to charge for the occasional request for advice, and sometimes, as another sole proprietor said, “I’m afraid to bill higher.”

But Reina Schlager, CPA, a co-owner of Schlager Sonntag & Levin of Ft. Meyers, Fla., doesn’t mind taking those questions and dispensing freebies. Thanks to what she calls “a mix of fees and commissions,” her free advice pays off. “I believe there is enough room in there to avoid charging a fee for advice,” she wrote. “Clients also appreciate that a clock is not ticking with important questions they have, and so they do not hesitate to raise those questions with them. I then act as a coordinator of their various needs.”

Investment advisor William Morgan, president of Herbein Wealth Management LLC in Wyomissing, Penn., claims he isn’t paid enough, but I suspect he means he isn’t paid what he’s worth. “We guide clients through a minefield of investment traps and mistakes and save them from sleepless nights worrying about how they will meet their goals,” Morgan said. “It is hard to value peace of mind, but that is what we give our clients each and every day.”

Practitioners also complain about the too-common problem of clients who don’t cough up the dough. Unfortunately, for a sole proprietor, or the partners of a small firm, that means a de facto cut in take-home pay.

But there’s none of that nonsense for Jim Erickson, managing partner of James Erickson & Co. P.S. of Bellevue, Wash. He doesn’t take no for an answer. “It is part of my mantra to get paid,” he commented in the survey. “Most of the time I do.”

One unnamed respondent apparently gets paid too, as a senior executive at a regional audit firm, but what she puts in her pocket is less than what she puts into the job. “[It’s] because I was hired before the acute shortage,” she said, “and because I am a woman.”

That second quip’s a lousy reason to earn too little. I keep trying to believe it isn’t really a problem in our profession, or at least not a general rule.

I hope Cheryl Panther, CPA/PFS, sole proprietor of Panther Financial Planning, isn’t in a similar revenue rut. “I’m new to financial planning,” she said, “and I need to price myself slightly below the market at this time.”

Several other professionals had similar reasons for accepting below-market salaries. Some said they had to accept less because they worked for a government. Others accepted lower pay in exchange for the higher kind of satisfaction that not-for-profits offer.

Kevin Feeney, vice president of stock equity and retirement plans at Gartner, Inc., in Stamford, Conn., seems to have risen to a higher plane. He said he doesn’t make enough, “but it really doesn’t matter. I’m satisfied with what I’m getting. I’ve never chased the big bucks and am probably happier for it.”

And happy is he or she who hears that higher calling and brings home the big fat check. And a bonus. And dental. Weekends off. The whole shebang.

NEXT QUESTION: Are you ready for tax season 2008? Join the survey; see the answers.

COMMENTS: Questions, rants or raves? Write Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2008 Bay Street Group LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.