Survey: Accounting and Finance Execs Still in Hot Demand

Here's why.

May 5, 2008

by Sukanya Mitra

Whether or not you think the economy has actually slowed to the point of a recession, the demand for accounting and financial professionals to keep track of business operations in any economic climate continues.

For instance, Manpower, the Milwaukee-based national staffing and recruiting firm just released its annual hiring survey indicating that financial and accounting staff are now No. 6 on its Annual 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill survey. This is up from the No. 8 position in 2007.

Why so? Is it only the recession? Have the top colleges stopped churning out great finance majors? Or should we just blame it all on those pesky baby boomers who are itching to retire and leave us with all that extra work to do?

“The unemployment rate for accountants and auditors was 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2008, well below the national average of 5.1 percent reported in March,” said Tom Silver, SVP, Marketing and Customer Service, for JobsintheMoney.com, a Dice Company.

“In fact, only four quarters in the past eight years have shown lower unemployment rates for these professionals. It’s a perpetually tight market and accountants and auditors should have that understanding when negotiating for positions, salaries and benefits,” he added.

Tom Waldron, Head of Executive Division — Banking & Financial Markets, at Michael Page had a different take. Waldron attributed the hiring strain in recent years to the surge of highly qualified CPAs who are “diversified with transferable skills.” Thus many firms have started filling non-accounting positions in finance and operation with such people.

In the past year, companies seem to be ramping up for two critical regulatory issues: International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) required by more than 75 countries as of March 2008 and FAS 157 & 159 — Fair Value Measurements/Options, which went into effect in late 2007.

“CPAs have been aggressively recruited to comply with these, and other, growing regulatory concerns,” said Waldron.

Holly Paul, HR Sourcing Operations Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, agreed with Waldron’s observation. “There is always demand for people with strong skill sets, backgrounds and experiences, but the added regulatory and technical understanding needed — coupled with the highest professional standards and differences in culture from one firm to the next, make it more challenging to find the right people with the right skills and the right fit.”

So, if there is always a demand for people with strong skill sets, and there has also been a recent surge of overqualified individuals, where’s the disconnect? Puzzled, I asked these industry experts whether they thought there was a shortage of talent or a shortage of jobs. They unanimously agreed on the former.

“Clearly, there is a shortage of talent. We are in a talent war and companies need to recognize this and take appropriate action to secure the best talent available and to retain the talent that they already have,” said Michael Parbs, Vice President — Central/West Zone at The Mergis Group. “The demographic implications of the baby boomers retiring will continue to put enormous strain on available talent. The Social Security Administration estimated that starting January 1, 2008, 10,000 people will become eligible for Social Security each day for the next 20 years!” he added.

Parbs also referenced the 2008 Mergis® Accounting and Finance Employment Report, which found “56 percent of accounting and finance workers believe that there are fewer jobs available, up 15 percentage points from the previous quarter.”

Michael Page’s Waldron indicated that visa restrictions were also to blame. “The U.S. has tightened visa requirements and as a result, it is increasingly difficult to hire qualified accountants from overseas to work in the U.S.” PWC’s Paul on the other hand looked at it from the point of view of educators in the accounting and finance industry, noting, “We are greatly concerned about the impending shortage of accounting faculty, which will have an impact on the talent supply.”

And since we can’t quite twitch our noses and make visa restrictions dissipate into thin air, create an overflow of qualified faculty out of nowhere or force baby boomers to stop cashing in their Social Security checks, what is it that will turn this situation around? On the downside, “Unfortunately, the situation is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Mergis’ Parbs. “What employers can do is recognize the shortage, get in tune with the new worker mentality and cater to that mind set.” On the upside, Paul was more optimistic, “Opportunities and competition for the very best people always exist. As the current economic headwinds subside, any short-term increase in supply of talent will be absorbed.”

Recommendations

“In the long-term, as companies are better able to handle new regulatory issues through systemization and improved processes, the [staffing] demand in these areas will decline and only maintenance of these systems will be required,” said Waldron. “However, it is likely that given the current economic climate, the Fed and SEC will continue to propose additional regulations through 2008/2009 that will yet again call for licensed professionals to address these new issues and create appropriate controls and procedures.”

So what’s the takeaway for CPAs and other finance execs? “It would be beneficial if the profession as a whole would embark on an educational awareness campaign to sell the next wave of professionals on the benefits of a career as a CPA professional,” advised Waldron. “Flexibility, travel, broad exposure and increased compensation are just some of the many attributes.”


Contact:

Max De Paola
Michael Page
203.905.5253

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