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Modest Pay Gains Projected for Accounting and Finance Positions in 2011

The hiring outlook for accounting and finance roles in the year ahead points to modest salary increases.

December 6, 2010
Sponsored by Robert Half International

Growing optimism among financial executives and anticipated salary increases for many accounting and finance positions suggests an improving hiring outlook for the year ahead, according to research by Robert Half International. 

The 2011 Salary Guide from Robert Half predicts that accounting and finance starting salaries will rise an average of 3.1 percent in the coming year, up from 0.5 percent as reported in last year’s guide. The newly released guide lists average starting pay for nearly 300 positions in accounting, finance, banking and financial services. Business analysts, tax accountants and financial analysts are among the professionals expected to see the largest pay gains.

Another hopeful sign is strong business confidence among financial executives. A significant majority (86 percent) of executives interviewed for another study, the most recent Robert Half Professional Employment Report, said they are at least somewhat optimistic about the outlook for their businesses, including 39 percent who are very confident.

Despite more upbeat forecasts, employers remain cautious when hiring. Much of the workforce expansion that is taking place is being driven by necessity, as existing staff can no longer manage rising workloads or turnover has occurred in key roles and replacement workers are needed. Some companies, however, see this as a good time to hire in order to take advantage of both increased business activity and the large pool of skilled professionals currently in the job market. Others are choosing to address expanding workloads while maintaining flexibility by bringing in project professionals, often with the possibility of a temporary-to-hire arrangement.

Positions in Business and Industry

Companies hiring full-time employees are adding staff in roles that are essential for stability and growth, such as controllers, staff and senior accountants, accounting clerks and billing/collections staff. Also sought are experienced financial professionals who can help businesses conduct detailed analyses, identify trends, facilitate growth and improve efficiencies. Expertise in areas such as tax, regulatory compliance and financial reporting is highly valued as well.

The certified public accountant (CPA) designation remains the most in-demand credential for a variety of accounting and finance roles, especially when paired with Big Four experience. Other frequently requested accreditations include the chartered financial analyst (CFA), certified management accountant (CMA), certified internal auditor (CIA) and certified information systems auditor (CISA). For senior-level corporate finance positions, a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) is often preferred.

Certain in-demand roles in business and industry are likely to see higher-than-average starting salary increases, according to the Salary Guide. While salaries for most specialties are expected to rise 1 to 3 percent next year, following are several positions projected to see higher increases:

  • Senior business analysts should see the largest boost in base pay in 2011, with average starting salaries rising 5.0 percent to the range of $66,500 to $85,500.
  • Projected base pay for tax accounting managers at midsize companies ($25 million to $250 million in sales) is $69,500 to $92,500, up 4.9 percent.
  • Starting salaries for financial analysis managers at both large (more than $250 million in sales) and midsize companies are predicted to climb 4.8 percent; senior financial analysts at midsize companies are predicted to see their base compensation rise to $60,000 to $78,000, a 4.7 percent increase.
  • Senior compliance analysts at small companies (up to $25 million in sales) are anticipated to receive starting salary offers between $58,750 and $75,250, a 4.1 percent increase.

The Public Accounting Outlook

Hiring in public accounting has been slow to rebound. Firms appear to be waiting for demand for their services to pick up before significantly increasing headcount. Although clients continue to have a need for tax and audit work, the business slowdown has softened demand for other accounting and consulting services.

The hiring that is occurring is in response to pressing needs and mostly concentrated in tax and audit. Managerial-level professionals with expertise in tax or audit are among the most sought-after candidates. In addition, firms are beginning to restore some staff positions cut during the downturn. Some accounting industry observers think recently passed financial reforms could lead to more business from the financial sector, which would potentially translate into increased hiring.

Compensation in public accounting is expected to see moderate gains in the year ahead. The elimination of salary freezes and reinstitution of cost-of-living increases by many firms can also be viewed as hopeful signs. Some of the more sizable increases in base compensation for positions in public accounting include:

  • Average starting salaries for tax services senior managers and directors as well as senior tax accountants at midsize public accounting firms ($25 million to $250 million in sales) are expected to climb 3.9 percent in the year ahead.
  • Base pay for senior auditors at midsize public accounting firms is predicted to range between $62,000 and $81,750, up 3.8 percent over 2010 levels.

A Final Consideration

It’s important to note that all salaries listed in the 2011 Salary Guide are national averages. Because compensation varies significantly by geographic market, the guide includes information to customize the data for more than 130 U.S. cities. Also, the pay ranges listed represent starting compensation only because performance, seniority and other factors make ongoing pay difficult to measure. In addition, bonuses, incentives and other forms of compensation, such as benefits and retirement packages are not taken into account.

Despite an abundance of candidates in the job market, some employers continue to report challenges finding professionals with the precise skills they need. To improve their ability to attract the best people for high-demand and hard-to-fill roles, some firms are demonstrating a willingness to enhance compensation more significantly than these averages may indicate.

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