Corporate Finance Salary Outlook

New benchmarking data reveals which positions have the biggest projected pay gains and compares job markets.

March 2011
by Connie Gentry/Journal of Accountancy

In corporate finance these days it pays to specialize. A look at anticipated starting salaries for 2011 shows positions that are more niche than generalist in flavor are likely to see the biggest pay gains compared with 2010.

“The more specialized you are, the more desirable you are,” said Carol Scott, CPA, vice president –Business, Industry & Government for the AICPA. “The greater opportunity for finance professionals is in specialized roles: regulatory compliance, tax accountants, fraud and forensic accountants.”

The largest projected increase in the 2011 Salary Guide published by Robert Half International (RHI) for corporate finance positions is a 5 percent climb for senior business analysts, who could see starting pay ranging from $66,500 to $85,500. (See Exhibit 1; the 2011 Salary Guide.)

Across all corporate finance job titles, the starting salary forecast for this year is sunnier than it was in 2010. Robert Half predicted an average increase of 3.1 percent — a significant improvement over last year’s negligible 0.6 percent rise. See Exhibit 2 for data on other positions of interest (link opens in new window).

Historical trends reflected in the guide, which has been published every year since 1950, suggest the industry may be recovering from the economic crisis at a faster rate than it did after the burst of the dot-com bubble. During the technology run-up, the 2001 Salary Guide predicted a 7.2 percent increase in the average starting salaries for finance and accounting professionals employed in corporate positions. But by 2002, the forecast was a modest 1.5 percent increase and in the next two years the Robert Half guides predicted starting salaries would decrease year over year, dropping 0.3 percent in 2003 and another 1.1 percent in 2004. It wasn’t until the 2006 forecast, five years after the onslaught of that recession, that accounting and finance starting salaries in corporate settings were expected to increase 3.1 percent, the same average projected for 2011.

“Accountants are more critical to business than they’ve ever been,” said Dawn Fay, district president for Robert Half’s New York/New Jersey market. “Not much changed in accounting for a long time, but then Sarbanes-Oxley happened, new regulations came out of this last downturn and there has been growing emphasis on the integrity of data and [an undercurrent] of corporate mistrust. All of these factors put added pressure on accounting and finance to report accurate numbers and maintain excellent business practices.”

The RHI survey suggested jobs would be added across all levels of corporate finance, Fay said. The challenge, she said, is finding candidates with diverse capabilities, from technical expertise to systems knowledge and soft skills. “Employers need individuals with strong communications skills who can articulate forecasts and report numbers in meetings,” she said.

Hot Jobs

Business analysts are among the most sought-after corporate finance professionals, according to Robert Half. Companies of all sizes are seeking business analysts at every level, largely because these positions marry technology and accounting.

“This is the person who bridges the gap between emerging technologies, internal computer systems and accounting and finance,” Fay said. Ideally business analysts leverage the technology infrastructure to drive the company’s efficiencies and profitability.

For 2011, business analysts in businesses of all sizes can expect starting salaries and year-over-year increases as follows:

Entry level, up to one year of experience:      
$43,000 to $55,000   4 percent increase  
Junior level, one year to three years of experience:      
$51,000 to $68,750   4.4 percent increase  
Senior level:      
$66,500 to $85,500   5 percent increase  
Manager level:      
$78,250 to $102,500   4.5 percent increase  

Financial analysts are likewise in high demand, especially at midsize companies ($25 million to $250 million in sales) and at large companies (sales exceeding $250 million), according to the 2011 Salary Guide, primarily because identifying opportunities to increase profits is a priority for companies.

This article has been excerpted from the Journal of Accountancy. View the full article here.