Amid the detritus of layoffs and slashed bonuses in banking and finance, there's one profession still actively looking for talent: the more placid vocation of accountancy.
Public accounting firms, such as the Big Four (KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and Ernst & Young) and national firms such as McGladrey and Grant Thornton, need staff to help advise companies on their tax, audit or business needs. On the corporate side, companies need in-house accountants to focus specifically on their business.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the profession will grow by 22% between 2008 and 2018, with as many as 500,000 jobs opening up. In a recent survey of finance professionals conducted by Accounting Principals, a global staffing firm and a division of New York-based Adeccoo USA, half of all respondents said they expect their company to hire in 2012. Of the accountants surveyed, 74% said they are confident their firms will win new business this year, which would lead to more work and jobs.
What accounts for the booming industry when virtually all other segments of finance are retrenching? It's a mix of things. For one, corporate revenue and profits have been growing. "More results means more transactions, more transactions means more accountants to oversee, them," said Brett Good, senior district president with Menlo Park, Calif.-based recruiting firm Robert Half.
In addition, a combination of regulatory changes, such as the Dodd-Frank financial reform regulation, is causing a demand for accountants to verify transactions, said Brendan Courtney, president of Mergis Group, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based recruiting firm.
The large accounting firms themselves cut jobs in 2008 and 2009 and didn't aggressively hire entry level applicants from college campuses. Now they're making up for it.
"All the firms pulled back and we're scrambling not to make that same mistake," said Nina Guthrie, national director, university recruiting at accounting firm Grant Thornton. "We're bringing on even more associates from campuses."
The Big Four are competing against each other to add thousands of college level and senior-level employees. KPMG hired 51,000 people for its fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2011, and is on track to add 50,000 a year for the next five years.
Ernst & Young plans to have hired 55,000 by June 30, 2012, the end of its fiscal year and will hire a similar number for the following year. In North America, South America, Central America and Israel, the firm plans to recruit 15,000 at both campus and experienced levels. That figure is up about 1,000 from last year.
Deloitte added 49,000 people in its fiscal year 2011 and will hire around the same number for fiscal year 2012. PwC, which had originally aimed to add 45,000 by the end of June 2012, will have added 40,000 by that time. All of the firms are still hiring to meet those numbers.
Other firms are also hiring. For its fiscal year 2012, which ends July 31, Grant Thornton plans to add 1,000 people. New York-based WeiserMazars, which has about 700 professionals, will hire 40 people in the fall of 2012, up from 30 in 2011 and 25 in 2010.
"We bring on people every year," said Katie Byrne, partner in charge of WeiserMazars' Pennsylvania office. "There's a lot of attrition and you consistently have to keep supplying talent."
Recruiters are seeing similar demand from companies looking to expand their in-house accounting staff.
Public accounting firms want to fill positions at all levels, from recent graduates to managers with years of experience. WeiserMazars is bringing in lateral hires for its insurance consulting business as well as its real state and manufacturing distribution specialties, Byrne said. It's searching for a senior manager with two or three years of experience for its insurance taxation area. It also wants a senior manager, with about eight years of expereince, for its state and local taxes speciality.
Deloitte will hire for its audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory businesses across all levels, according to a spokesperson.
E&Y plans hiring for its audit, tax, advisory and transaction businesses, according to Nancy Altobello, Americas vice chair of people at E&Y. Transaction employees will help companies with mergers and acquisitions.
"This activity has picked up for us because it's a relatively new service," Altobello said. "Companies are looking for more help, especially with anything that goes cross-border."
PwC said financial services clients want help with regulatory issues, creating demand for accountants who can help them navigate new rules, according to Paula Loop, U.S. and global talent leader.
Outside the accounting firms themselves, companies are recruiting staff accountants with three years of experience, financial analysts with three years of experience and assistant controllers with five years of experience, said Good of Robert Half.
Here's a sampling of what you might expect to make at various rungs in the accounting hierarchy, according to the 2012 Robert Half Salary Guide.
Auditor at a large firm:
1 to 3 years experience: $58,750 - $74,250
Senior: $71,000 - $92,250
Senior manager: $108,000 - $171,750
Tax services at mid-sized firm:
1 to 3 years experience: $53,000 - $67,250
Senior: $65,000 - $85,500
Senior manager: $99,000 - $149,000
Budget Analyst, up to 1 year experience: $36,750 - $45,500
Senior internal auditor: $71,750 - $94,000
Controller: $142,750 - $199,000
Hiring is taking place across U.S. and around the world.
"If you're a highly skilled public accounting professional, you can have your pick of jobs especially in larger markets, like New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago," said Cindy Christopher, national director, talent acquisition at Grant Thornton.
The Big Four tend to hire globally, and KPMG will focus on Brazil, Russia, India, China, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa in addition to the U.S. and Europe, a spokesperson said.
PwC will do "very strong hiring" in the U.S. and in emerging markets such as China and Brazil, Loop said. To a lesser extent it will recruit in the Middle East and India "depending on the skill-set. The firm expects "softness" in Europe, so will hire fewer candidates there.
For those just out of school, Loop said the firm relies on local talent because it has relationships with the schools from which it recruits. However, opportunities exist for experienced employees to go abroad, although they should be fluent in the local language, she said.
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