Hiring and Compensation Trends in Accounting

What does the accounting and finance employment market look like now? Read how hiring and compensation trends are being impacted in today's business environment.

October 16, 2008
from Accountemps

Amid economic turmoil and a tighter job market in many fields, there's encouraging news for top accounting professionals. According to the 2009 Salary Guide just released from Robert Half International, employment prospects are relatively strong for finance and accounting practitioners with in-demand skills and specialized expertise.

In a survey conducted by Robert Half Finance and Accounting, 72 percent of U.S. finance and human resource managers and 56 percent of global respondents say they are having trouble finding skilled candidates, particularly for positions in accounting and financial management and analysis.

This does not mean, however, that it's a job seeker's market. Despite the competition, those firms seeking full-time employees are focusing on candidates with precisely the qualifications they seek. To minimize hiring risks, more businesses are relying on project professionals and temporary-to-full-time arrangements.

Following is a closer look at some of the trends identified in the 2009 Salary Guide.

Hiring Trends

The globalization of business has had a transformational impact on the accounting and finance profession. Companies that operate abroad or have international clients seek finance and accounting professionals who are multilingual, have worked overseas and are familiar with International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Many industry observers predict that the increasing pace of globalization and the likely near-worldwide adoption of IFRS will propel the next major hiring wave in finance and accounting.

A global outlook and international experience is especially critical at the executive level. One in five companies surveyed by Robert Half said that an understanding of international markets is one of the most sought-after attributes in executive candidates.

Another qualification that is highly prized among employers is the certified public accountant (CPA) designation. This is the most frequently requested professional accreditation for accounting and finance positions. A master's degree in business administration (MBA) is also a highly marketable credential, as are professional designations such as chartered financial analyst (CFA), certified internal auditor (CIA) and certified information systems auditor (CISA).

A third key qualification is technical expertise. Employees are looking to hire candidates with advanced knowledge of Microsoft Excel and Access, familiarity with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and enterprise risk management (ERM) applications.

For all positions, soft skills such as communication and leadership abilities play a critical role in hiring decisions. In some cases, employers ask candidates to take personality assessments before they'll make a job offer.

In the corporate sector, positions in demand include staff and senior accountants. Companies seek CPAs with at least three years of experience to oversee core duties such as maintaining the general ledger, performing account analysis and reconciliation, correcting journal entries and performing the monthly close. Tax accountants are also in high demand because of new tax regulations, international tax issues and increased attention devoted to potential cost savings derived from tax management.

Tax accountants are sought in the public accounting sphere, as are senior auditors with at least three years of experience who can add value to the audit function and troubleshoot problems. Public accounting firms also seek accountants knowledgeable in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting regulations and IFRS. In addition, those with forensic experience and the ability to provide litigation support will find a brisk demand for their skills.

Compensation Trends

Salaries are keeping pace with market demand, with modest increases. The greatest rise in public accounting salaries in 2009, for example, is predicted to be 4.5 percent for senior manager/director of audit/assurance services at large firms ($250 million or more in sales), according to the Salary Guide. The range for this position is expected to increase from between $98,750 and $151,500 to between $102,000 and $159,500. Other positions with increases in the four to 4.4 percent range include senior accountant, tax services (4%); manager, tax services (4.3%); and manager, audit/assurance services (4.4%).

On the corporate side, the starting salary for a senior accountant at a large firm is expected to increase 3.6 percent, from a range of $53,500 and $71,250 to $55,750 and $73,500. A tax manager at a large company can expect an increase of 4.9 percent, from a range of $72,000 and $97,000 to $76,500 and $100,750. At midsize and small firms, increases for accountant positions range from 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

To land the best candidates, firms are using signing bonuses, often in lieu of higher base salary. Performance bonuses are a common retention tool, but companies are less likely to offer other benefits, such as relocation packages, flexible work schedules or extra vacation days.

While it remains anyone's guess what the future will look like for the accounting and finance profession, the large number of anticipated retirements suggest that hiring is likely to remain steady as firms seek both experienced and entry-level accountants to replace those leaving the industry.

For more information about hiring and compensation trends in the accounting and finance industry, request a copy of the 2009 Robert Half Salary Guide at 800-803-8367.

Accountemps is one of the world's first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.