After years of grappling with the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, the accounting industry is now readying itself for another regulatory overhaul, the scope of which is still unknown. There is no doubt that a massive re-shaping of the existing financial infrastructure is coming as the Obama Administration, legislators and federal regulators try to deal with a collapse of the nation’s credit system and look for better oversight of complex financial products like credit-default swaps and derivatives.
Those companies not immediately snared by these coming changes are struggling against a growing economic downturn, as consumers spend less, employers shed hundreds of thousands of jobs and banks become more restrictive in their lending standards. All of this likely means steady employment and new opportunities for accounting professionals, say recruiters and staffing experts.
“No job is completely recession proof, but with the compliance and regulatory oversight that is coming and companies trying to keep a closer eye on tracking their financing, tracking their accounts receivable closely for example, I think these accounting jobs tend to be more stable,” said Dawn Fay, district president of New York operations for the staffing firm Robert Half International.
To her point, unemployment among accounting professional jobs such as auditors and budget analyst tends to be half that of the general population. Last year, when U.S. unemployment ranged around 6 percent, among accounting professionals it was less than 3 percent.
WHERE THE ACTION IS
A second quarter 2009 study of CFOs by Robert Half found that 86 percent of employers want to keep accounting and finance staffing at current levels. About five percent were looking to add staff, while seven percent wanted to reduce staff.
Some of the most troubled industries were those looking to bulk up their accounting staffs. CFOs at financial-services firms, real estate companies and insurance agencies all expressed interest in adding people in the next few months. So too did professional services firms or companies based around energy like oil and gas-exploration firms.
Geographically, the survey found companies in the southwestern parts of the United States the most likely to add, while those in mid-Atlantic regions or the upper East Coast were least likely.
In particular, say accounting experts, troubled companies or those focusing on their liquidity and cash management are focused on adding mid-level general accountants, controllers and senior audit managers.
“When cash-flow becomes an issue, you want to add or have accountants who can track that,” said Scott Moore, manager of education and recruitment for the American Institute of CPAs.
Mr. Moore and others said another employer adding lots of accountants or people with financial expertise is the federal government. For example, the FBI said this March it will add hundreds of agents to track and investigate issues such as mortgage fraud, public-corruption cases or to keep an eye on how the $787 billion federal-stimulus money is spent. The U.S. Senate has said it will take up legislation this spring to give the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies $245 million to add staff to fight financial fraud.
Other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC are all expected to bulk up accounting staffs as new regulations for banks, investment banks, hedge funds and other firms come down the pike. There has also been talk by lawmakers about a creating a new super overseer of the accounting profession -- a Federal Accounting Oversight Board.
“The government is hiring. We’ve started to see it with both the federal government and the states. Some of it is in the Fed or Treasury. Some of it is to track how the states handle all of this federal stimulus money,” said Ms. Fay.
With employers large or small keeping a close eye on how the money comes or goes out, Ms. Fay and others said of the specific jobs being added in corporate America are related to credit and collections.
For example, with banks tightening up credit standards on companies and consumers, there is an increasing need for credit analysts to stress test the credit worthiness of a borrower. At the same time, employers are hiring collections specialists or people with accounts receivable backgrounds to keep an eye on what goods or services have been provided while ensuring bills for those goods or services are paid on time.
Because many of the existing economic models had not planned for the kind of GDP and unemployment declines currently at play, corporations large and small are also pushing to do a better job in their own forecasting. Rosy scenarios, piggybacking on poor internal controls, have doomed many companies in the last few months.
Accounting jobs such as financial analyst, budget analysts and sales forecasting are also in demand. Along these lines, companies now wants accountants “that don’t just report yesterday’s news, but can do a better job of forecasting,” said Ms. Fay.
One other issue that will create new jobs or a need for new skill sets is the coming use of International Financial Reporting Standards of IRFS, which will push to create one global accounting language or standard. Starting in 2011 and running in staggered waves until 2014, small and large companies along with their public-accounting audit firms will implement IFRS standards in place of GAAP.
GETTING THE JOB
The CPA exam in a couple years will include IFRS questions to prepare accounts for the new standard, which emphasizes theory of accounting more than specified rules. The move to IFRS will create a demand for accountants familiar with these rules and the IT systems that will help handle them. Having a handle on IFRS regulations sooner rather than later would be a distinct advantage for any accounting job candidate.
“I think handling the IFRS standards will be the job of the new blood. I think the majority of older workers, baby boomers, may take a pass on learning all of that, so it will fall to younger workers,” said Matthew Murtaugh, AICPA’s manager of its Young CPA initiative. “Anyone with that kind of experience will be valued."