CPAs Plan Career Moves for 2008

Benefits packages emerge as key to CPA job changes. Which benefits matter most to CPAs? Join the study. Get the answers.

by Rick Telberg
On Careers

If you’re like most CPAs, one of your New Year’s resolutions may be to start looking for a new job.

A whopping 75 percent of CPAs apparently have some interest in moving on to a different job, according to the responses so far to my latest survey. Of course more money is always the concern, but many CPAs seem as interested in the workplace benefits at the next stop.

“Most of us consider the benefits package to be just as important as the salary,” said one senior corporate executive who’s participating in the Bay Street Group/CPA Trendlines study on accountants’ job and benefits preferences. “I would not accept a job if the critical benefits were not offered.”

“Recruiting is based on cash compensation, but competitive benefits plans are a given. If you don't have them, you can't compete,” adds a midlevel CPA at a large public practice firm.

In fact, staff retention now rivals staff recruitment as a challenge for most CPA firms according to the latest AICPA PCPS MAP survey. Early responses to the Bay Street Group/CPA Trendlines study suggest that only 6 percent of CPAs are “seriously looking” for another job. But another 15 percent are “casually looking,” and 54 percent “could be persuaded.”

As expected, paid vacations and health insurance are the benefits that job hunters most often identify as critical. To be sure, the health insurance concern is not about the availability of coverage but rather about how much of the costs will be borne by the employer.

“Offering health insurance isn't enough,” says one corporate accountant. “The employer should contribute more toward the employee's cost, especially when family coverage is necessary.”

From the public practice side, a manager with a small firm complained that “The employee deduction for the medical insurance has increased at an outrageous pace at our company.”

Employers and managers had better take heed of CPAs’ benefits desires because the competition for accounting talent has never been stiffer.

An accounting workforce shortage was one of the major themes in the Federal Reserve Bank’s mid-summer “Beige Book” report on economic conditions, which determined that accounting staff shortages exist in seven of the 12 Federal Reserve districts. The situation is so bad in the Dallas area that the Fed projects accounting salaries there will grow between 5 and 8 percent in 2008.

Compounding matters in Dallas and elsewhere is the national 4.7 percent unemployment rate. That borders on what some authorities consider to be full employment, which means that about 5 percent of the population is always out of work because they are transitioning to jobs that they’ve already agreed to accept.

Meanwhile, accounting graduates in 2007 again rank as among the most sought after groups entering the workforce according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. NACE reports that salaries for accounting graduates increased 2.3 percent between 2006 and 2007 to an average of $46,718.

“Firms are looking beyond the traditional fringe benefits to attract staff,” says one manager at a CPA firm. “We even offer free chair massages in house during tax season.”

Chair massages were not offered as a key benefit in the Bay Street Group study. But we’ll reconsider.

WHICH BENEFITS MATTER MOST TO CPAs? Join the study. Get the answers.

Copyright © 2007 Bay Street Group LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.