2009 Salary Guide Projects Steady Demand, Modest Pay Increases

In spite of an unpredictable economy and a tightening job market, accounting and finance professionals with the most sought-after skills remain in demand.

October 20, 2008
Sponsored by Robert Half Finance & Accounting

In spite of an unpredictable economy and a tightening job market in many fields, accounting and finance professionals with the most sought-after skills remain in demand, according to the 2009 Salary Guide from Robert Half International.

The annual guide examines the accounting and finance hiring environment, including expected average starting salary levels and an analysis of regional employment and compensation trends. The findings are based on extensive research conducted in Robert Half offices throughout the United States, as well as ongoing surveys of chief financial officers (CFOs) and other senior executives.

Seventy-two percent of CFOs surveyed by Robert Half reported continuing difficulty finding skilled accounting and finance job candidates. Despite the competition for top candidates, the guide found that starting salary increases will remain modest for the most part, a likely response to overall economic uncertainty. The guide found that increases in base compensation are generally in the three-percent range, although high-demand financial specialties are seeing slightly higher average increases in the four-percent range.

Corporate Accounting Perspective

Firms seeking full-time employees are being selective and looking for individuals with precise qualifications, which frequently include industry experience and proficiency with company-specific software systems. Advanced knowledge of Microsoft Excel and Access is a common requirement, as is familiarity with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and enterprise risk management applications. Communication, leadership ability and other soft skills are another critical hiring consideration. In fact, 53 percent of CFOs surveyed said they’d be willing to hire someone with fewer technical skills if the candidate had strong soft skills.

Based on starting salary increases and demand patterns, the following are some of the most sought-after professionals on the corporate accounting front:

  • Tax accountants are seeing rising salaries, thanks to new tax regulations and increased attention by businesses to potential tax-derived cost savings. According to the Salary Guide, managerial-level tax accountants at large companies ($250 million and above) can expect average starting salary increases of 4.9 percent to a range of $76,500 to $100,750, while senior-level accountants can expect a 4.7 percent average increase, with base compensation ranging from $61,000 to $77,500.
  • Financial analysts are in demand as companies seek to maximize profitability and identify cost-savings opportunities through better budgeting and forecasting and improved financial management. Financial analysts are projected to see average increases ranging from 3.7 percent to 4.2 percent and salaries ranging from $76,750 to $104,250 for a managerial-level financial analyst at a large company to $45,000 to $58,000 for an analyst with one to three years of experience at a midsize company ($25 million to $250 million in sales).
  • Cost accountants are sought by businesses looking to better understand operational costs, monitor cost variances and perform cost-benefit analyses. A managerial-level cost accountant at a large company can expect an average starting salary increase of 4.2 percent and a salary range of $72,250 to $95,500. An entry-level cost accountant at a large firm will see starting pay rise 3.6 percent on average to a salary range of $39,500 to $47,750.

Other in-demand positions in corporate accounting include staff and senior-level accountants, especially those who have earned the certified public accountant (CPA) designation and have at least three years of experience; director of financial reporting; controllers; and credit and collections specialists, especially at the manager level.

The View From Public Accounting

Public accounting firms continue to add entry-level and experienced professionals to help clients address fundamental accounting, tax and audit issues. Moreover, the large number of anticipated retirements from public accounting over the coming years should ensure steady hiring.

Salaries remain competitive, though firms are reserving the largest raises for professionals with the most sought-after skills and experience — particularly those with expertise in tax and auditing. Tax accountants also are in demand in public accounting, as are professionals with knowledge of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting regulations and those who have forensic experience and can provide litigation support. In addition, demand is growing for accountants familiar with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

At the entry level, firms are seeking to hire students with a combination of internship experience, a good grade point average and excellent interpersonal skills. According to the Salary Guide, accounting professionals just beginning their careers can expect the following:

  • Accountants with up to one year of experience will be offered 3.8 percent more than last year at large public accounting firms, with starting salaries in the range of $49,000 to $60,000.
  • Base compensation for accountants with up to one year of experience in audit/assurance services will rise 3.2 percent at small public accounting firms (up to $25 million in sales), to the range of $41,000 to $49,000.

Experienced professionals will see larger increases. For instance, candidates for senior manager/director positions at large firms are expected to receive a 4.5 percent jump in starting pay from 2008, with a salary range of $102,250 to $159,250. Audit/assurance managers at small firms also can expect a 4.5 percent average salary increase to a range of $69,000 to $86,250. Experienced tax professionals at public accounting firms of all sizes also can expect average pay increases of approximately 4 percent. For example, a senior manager/director in tax services at a midsize firm can expect 4.4 percent more over the previous year, to a range of $91,250 to $135,750.

A Final Consideration

It’s important to note that for each job category included in the 2009 Salary Guide, the pay range listed represents starting compensation only because performance, seniority and other factors make ongoing pay difficult to measure. Also, bonuses, incentives and other forms of compensation, such as benefits and retirement packages, are not taken into account.

Although the Salary Guide seeks to establish national and regional pay norms, job seekers should keep in mind that companies have demonstrated a willingness to enhance compensation as necessary to land the best candidates and to offer top performers above-average pay increases and other financial incentives in an effort to retain them.

To request a complimentary 2009 Salary Guide, please visit www.roberthalf.com/FreeResources.