Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Recession Revs Up CPA Career Plans

Downturn adds to workloads and stress for some. How hard are YOU working? Join the survey, compare the answers.

August 17, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

While the CPA profession is proving remarkably recession-resistant, the worst business downturn since the Great Depression is nevertheless taking a toll.

To be sure, a number of firms and finance organizations have been forced into painful layoffs, although the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows a net seasonally adjusted 4,000-job increase from June to July at accounting and bookkeeping services, bringing the industry workforce to about 940,300. Still, that's down from a year-ago July, when the BLS reported 947,500 jobs in the industry.

Despite the recession or because of it, the CPA profession is attracting unprecedented interest from college students. The AICPA reported a couple weeks ago that the number of students graduating with a bachelor's or a post-grad degree in accounting rose 3.5 percent to more than 66,000 in 2008 — a new record. To be sure, the students chose their majors long before the recession became official, but after signs of economic uncertainty began. And there are now 213,000 more in the pipeline.

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But the stresses and burdens of the recession on CPA workplaces are beginning to show. An increasing number of CPAs are telling me that they are working longer hours and enjoying it less. At the first sign of a recovery, the most talented and in-demand professionals could jump to a better job.

It's something that many in American industry are beginning to worry about

A new report from Deloitte, for instance, finds that 65 percent of U.S. executives fear losing some of their top talent once the recession ends. Of course, "retaining people is far less expensive than replacing them," Deloitte says, adding, "Every knowledge worker we lose costs us at least $100,000 in lost time, productivity, relationships and know-how."

A new survey of AICPA Insider readers shows a startling degree of unrest in the ranks. The survey of 466 readers shows 47 percent say they would "consider changing jobs for better working conditions — even if it meant a pay cut." The CPA Trendlines survey, conducted by Bay Street Group for the AICPA, remains open. To join the survey and get the results as they develop, click here.

The reasons for the restlessness start to come into focus when you listen to the comments we're getting. One senior finance executive who's already looking for a job complains about his current workplace, citing "fewer people with more demands and more frequent demands from management." Another finance manager likes her company, but plans to move on, blaming "increased management responsibilities coupled with decrease in staff." A third says, "The level of stress and the volume of work have increased tremendously."

So when the recession eases, and competitors come head-hunting, don't say you weren't warned.

HOW HARD ARE YOU WORKING? Join the survey, compare the answers.

COMMENT: Questions, ideas, rants or raves? Send an e-mail to
Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.