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Is Globalization Affecting CPA Hiring Trends?

Key thought influencers weigh in.

December 8, 2008
by CPA Insider™ Staff

Here’s the equation for today: Recession + Financial Meltdown = X. What does this mean for CPAs and financial executives? To help you understand both the challenges and rewarding opportunities of a career in finance and accounting, the AICPA Custom Media Solutions team invited thought influencers from both sides of the fence, i.e., both job recruiters as well as career coaches to share their insights on this hot button topic. Joining us this month (listed alphabetically) are: Debra Feldman, Executive Talent Agent, JobWhiz; David C. Hisey, EVP and Chief Financial Officer, Fannie Mae; John Hudson, CPA, President, Hudson Consulting LLC.; Denise Probert, MPA, CPA, Vice President of CPA Education, Kaplan Schweser; Thomas Vucinic, CPA, President, Becker Professional Review; Deborah Walker, Career Coach, Alpha Advantage, Inc.; and Carl Wright, CEO, Stephen James Associates.

Welcome back panelists. Can you tell us about any useful career resources you’ve found that many CPAs may not be aware of?

Debra Feldman (JobWhiz): Keep up with current business news. Read traditional and new media including Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Business Week; check for trends that indicate needs for new talent — mergers, acquisitions, expansions, new hires with specialty niche.

David Hisey (Fannie Mae): Some resources that are not always tapped into include public accounting firm alumni associations and networking Web sites such as LinkedIn. In addition, another useful career resource that should always be a focus of CPAs, especially those who are new to the field, is the importance of identifying strong mentoring resources. Those resources can serve as a lifeline as you maneuver through your career.

John Hudson (Hudson Consulting LLC): The AICPA’s CPA Career Center is a great niche resource for CPAs. There is a very active job board as well as a number of relevant CPA career tools.

Denise Probert (Kaplan Schweser): State CPA societies and professional organizations are a valuable resource for CPAs. They provide professional development opportunities and often provide members with access to a database of job opportunities.

Thomas Vucinic (Becker Professional Review): There are many “networking Web sites” that provide opportunities for individuals to establish contacts that may benefit them for years to come. These contacts may (and some will) eventually become clients or employers. Take advantage of these Web sites as well as networking organizations that may exist in your community.

I would also recommend that individuals take advantage of training budgets and enroll in management leadership skills workshops. Many of these workshops are designed to help improve the soft skills needed to be a successful CPA.

Carl Wright (Stephen James Associates): A well respected local Executive Recruiter.

How is globalization affecting CPA hiring trends?

Feldman: International experience is a plus, English and at least one additional language, both written and spoken business level not just conversational, European languages, but also Russian, Chinese dialects and Indian languages. Minorities may have an advantage since they are multicultural.

Hisey: Globalization has created competition and opportunity in the world marketplace. CPAs are and will continue to be, in high demand. As we continue to move toward adopting International Accounting Standards as common practice, global opportunities will become increasingly available.

Hudson: As noted earlier, many CPAs need to have a stronger sense of the broader context in which they function. Certainly, outsourcing opportunities, the interconnectedness of our capital markets and the ability for a new competitor to emerge from out of nowhere underscores the fact that the world is getting much smaller. That’s about to change even more with the expected forthcoming adoption of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). This is going to require an entire retooling of the skill set for many existing and aspiring CPAs. The implications to practicing CPAs at all stages of their career, students emerging out of accounting programs over the next five years and to the CPA exam itself are immense.

Probert: CPA recruiting continues to be a full-throttle agenda item for CPA firms. The demand for CPAs is strong and will continue to be strong in the future. Those CPA firms that have an international presence have already been affected by global hiring practices. These practices will continue to grow as we face the demands of implementing the International Financial Reporting Standards.

Vucinic: Globalization, specifically the transition towards IFRS will create a situation where the demand for IFRS skills will undoubtedly exceed the supply. Many firms and other organizations will be vying for a limited pool of IFRS talent. If you have these skills you can expect higher than normal job security and compensation.

Wright: I believe CPAs will need IFRS skills as the US moves in this direction. Also, strong communication and multi-lingual skills will become more important.

Compared to the last decade, are CPAs more likely or less likely to be job hopping over the course of their careers? Why?

Feldman: In general, the job market is more mobile with average tenures declining.

Hisey: CPAs oftentimes have made job changes in their career due to their desire to build out their skill-set. Based on some of what we have seen recently in the financial markets, I think we will see even more of that. CPAs will continue to take new positions at new companies, especially in challenging environments in order to gain the best, most diverse, hands-on experience possible.

Hudson: I think CPAs are going to be much more mobile going forward than they have been over the last decade. This is currently being reflected in traditional benefit systems as they are being retooled to reinforce shorter-term contributions. One real example is the disappearance of long-term defined contribution pension plans (rewarding long term employment) and the growth of ISOs (incentive stock options, etc.) where the incentive is much shorter term.

Probert: In my opinion, CPAs change positions for different reasons. Today, most CPA firms have a fairly short and fast path to partnership. That has reduced the incentive to leave firms for faster career advancement in other firms. In addition, work-life balance initiatives have been created by most international, large national and regional CPA firms. This has helped retain valuable human capital. However, the demand for CPAs has been so strong that it is quite easy to find a position that better suits your personal and professional needs that also offers strong financial incentive to make a job change.

Vucinic: Basic economic principles rule here. As long as the demand for CPAs exceeds the supply, you can expect similar job hopping to that of the prior 10 years. I have heard individuals at many different companies question employee loyalty in the context of job hopping. My response is always the same, “loyalty is a two way street, give employees a reason (or reasons) not to pick up the recruiter’s call.”

With today’s economic environment, the question is how long will demand exceed supply? It’s difficult to say, but CPAs have many opportunities and are well positioned even in these difficult times.

Deborah Walker (Alpha Advantage, Inc.): CPAs will most likely move from job to job at a higher rate than previous decades. The frequency of job change really kicked up around 2001 with major shifts toward globalization, corporate instability and economic uncertainty. The momentum of corporate change hasn't slowed down since. Mergers, acquisitions and reorganizations breed employment turnover.

Wright: Less likely. Many hard lessons were learned by workers and employers from the dot-com boom and subsequent job hopping for equity positions. Most CPAs are looking for stability and long-term growth.

The tenure of financial professionals, particularly CPAs, seems to have shortened considerably over the years; they seem to change companies more frequently than 10 years ago. I believe we will see a move back to longevity and stability.

On average, how many careers do you think a successful CPA will have?

Hisey: There are many routes that a CPA may take to build his or her career and be successful. Today’s CPAs are taking initiative and owning their career development. Many are interested in job and industry transitions that will give them broad experience. More and more, you see CPAs taking advantage of challenging opportunities at new companies, particularly companies in which the challenges are unique and the need for excellent CPAs is great.

Vucinic: I don’t think it is unusual for CPAs to have two, three or maybe even four different careers. I know many CPAs that are now recruiters, educators, general managers, entrepreneurs, etc.

Wright: Careers — two to three. Companies — eight to 10 (over span of 40-45 years working).

Next week our panelists discuss how CPAs and financial executives can re-enter the job market.

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