Despite layoffs and a tightening job market in various industries, corporate accounting remains a strong line of work nationwide. Not only is there continued need for corporate accountants in a variety of positions, salaries are holding steady - and even increasing in certain high-demand areas.
"The need for preparation of financial statements, financial analysis, tax and compliance are always necessary," says Kathy Downs, recruiting manager for Robert Half Finance & Accounting. "At both privately held and publicly traded companies, all parties - owners, lenders and shareholders - need to understand where they are operationally."
In this market environment, Downs notes, "cash is king, but for different reasons." She adds that more than ever, business owners and managers need good advice about how to manage cash, receivables and debt, as well as guidance on how to look at purchase or lease decisions. These particular needs require specialized corporate accounting professionals.
Demand for Qualified Candidates
The demand for corporate accounting exists but the supply of qualified candidates with distinct skill sets is limited.
"In selected areas the accounting industry is willing to pay - and even pay a premium - to find people with the right skills," says Scott Ruoti, an executive recruiter with Harmer Associates in Minneapolis, Minn.
According to the 2009 Salary Guide from Robert Half International, 72 percent of CFOs surveyed reported ongoing challenges in finding skilled accounting job candidates. This supply/demand imbalance has insulated current salaries and boosted compensation in specific sub-specialties of corporate accounting.
Downs cites several reasons for the difficulty in finding qualified candidates. One of the main explanations is the general shortage of individuals who have earned the CPA designation. In addition, she says, "Some firms want a candidate with particular software skills, specific industry training, or who is familiar with International Financial Reporting Standards." Finding a person with the right combination of background, credentials, and technology expertise can narrow the field of qualified candidates.
Additionally, Downs notes, "In the current environment, training budgets may have been cut, so some employers are looking for a candidate who can hit the ground running."
According to the Salary Guide, among the positions most in demand in corporate accounting are tax accountants, financial analysts, cost accountants, and directors of financial reporting. These specific needs are largely driven by the slumping economy as well as tax, and regulatory changes.
Ruoti sees this in Harmer Associates' practice, noting, "We definitely see a need in financial reporting and some other very specific areas."
New tax regulations and a focus on tax-derived cost savings have boosted demand for tax accountants. Demand for financial analysts is up as companies strive to improve budgeting and financial management. More firms are trying to gain a greater understanding of costs and cost variances, which has led to a greater need for cost accountants. Similarly, knowledge of Sarbanes-Oxley and SEC regulations are creating increased demand for directors of financial reporting.
The Salary Guide says there is also increasing demand for mid-level staff and senior level accountants with a CPA designation, as well as manager-level controllers, credit and collections specialists.
Salaries Steady to Increasing
"Salary levels vary depending on the organization, industry, and region," says Downs. In general, the Salary Guide indicates that the larger the firm, the higher the salary for a given level of experience, although this isn't an absolute.
At a medium sized firm, says Downs, the Salary Guide indicates a general accounting candidate with one to three years of experience could expect a salary ranging from $40,250 to $53,250. An employee with three to five years' experience could command a salary from $50,750 to $65,500. A manager level position with supervisory responsibility could pay $60,500 to $79,500.
Managerial level tax accountants can expect salary increases of up to 4.9 percent and senior accountants are projected to achieve 3.6 percent to 4.7 percent increases. Financial analysts in managerial roles can expect their salaries to increase in the 4.1 percent to 4.2 percent range. Cost accountants in managerial positions can expect average starting salaries to increase 4.1 percent to 4.2 percent.
Bonuses Minimal, but Hiring Continues
Bonuses for corporate accountants tend to be a much smaller portion of compensation than in other areas of finance, and are generally based on a combination of company and personal performance.
"We're seeing either no bonuses or smaller than usual bonuses," says Downs. "If there are bonuses this year, firms are giving them to top performers."