Corporate Finance: A Different World

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Wall Street refugees attempting to flee to the relative safety of corporate accounting and finance may find a mismatch between what they have to offer and what companies are looking for, says Steve Kerrigan, CPA, a recruiter and regional managing director in Washington, D.C., for the Mergis Group.

With a background that includes work in private equity and the Big Four, Kerrigan knows what it takes to move between the capital markets and the accounting and finance world.

For those willing to take a lower bonus and move to a new industry, jumping from investment banking, where jobs are being lost, to accounting and finance, where hiring continues, makes sense. The biggest challenge those job seekers must overcome is that companies typically seek employees with strong technical accounting backgrounds. By contrast, most former investment bankers have resumes focused on deal-based work. "They're trying to use that resume to go after a corporate finance job, and it's not translating well," Kerrigan says.

The best matches are occurring in finance rather than accounting, where former Wall Street employees are most attractive to companies seeking high-level audit consultants, finance directors and treasury strategists.

Whether you want an accounting or finance job, the key is to highlight how the skills you have will enhance a corporate team. "The number one thing people need to understand ... is how their role is going to be part of an accounting and finance team," Kerrigan observes.

This means you should emphasize your experience with corporate profit and loss statements, data analysis, and business unit strategy development and execution, rather than the great deals you've done. "The way to get your foot in the door is not talking about what you did on Wall Street, but rather what great finance and accounting skills you have that can translate into the corporate environment," Kerrigan says.

The view from the back office is quite different from the view up front, Kerrigan points out. "Unless you're working with the CFO on strategy, understand what these roles are," he says. Corporate analysis and strategy work is often geared toward making strategic changes that increase profits, versus calculating company value and ability to repay debt.

You'll also have to accept that Main Street bonuses are smaller. While an investment banker might be eligible for a bonus of 100 percent of compensation, a back-office accountant's bonus opportunity is more likely to be 20 percent or 30 percent of compensation.

On a more positive note, if you can live with lower compensation, you'll leave behind the ups and downs of the debt and equities markets. While there's no guarantee you won't be laid off by a corporation, you'll have a lot more job security on Main Street than you ever had on Wall Street.

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