CPAs speak out on compensation issues. Next question: Are you ready for tax season 2008? Join the survey; see the answers.
by Rick Telberg
Hereâ€™s something rather surprising: Slightly more than half of the accountants we surveyed actually think theyâ€™re paid well enough.
I think it says much for our profession that a majority, however scant, is satisfied with its salaries. And I find it amazing that only 46 percent of respondents are dissatisfied. I wonder how many other professions can claim so many financially satisfied professionals.
Even more interesting are the reasons behind the satisfaction or its lack. And it was the lack, I should add, that drew the most comments in our survey.
One anonymous sole proprietor echoed a sentiment the profession knows well. â€œI always end up feeling sorry for my clients and help them without charging for all my time.â€
We heard that again and again, sometimes expressed as a reluctance to charge for the occasional request for advice, and sometimes, as another sole proprietor said, â€œIâ€™m afraid to bill higher.â€
But Reina Schlager, CPA, a co-owner of Schlager Sonntag & Levin of Ft. Meyers, Fla., doesnâ€™t mind taking those questions and dispensing freebies. Thanks to what she calls â€œa mix of fees and commissions,â€ her free advice pays off. â€œI believe there is enough room in there to avoid charging a fee for advice,â€ she wrote. â€œClients also appreciate that a clock is not ticking with important questions they have, and so they do not hesitate to raise those questions with them. I then act as a coordinator of their various needs.â€
Investment advisor William Morgan, president of Herbein Wealth Management LLC in Wyomissing, Penn., claims he isnâ€™t paid enough, but I suspect he means he isnâ€™t paid what heâ€™s worth. â€œWe guide clients through a minefield of investment traps and mistakes and save them from sleepless nights worrying about how they will meet their goals,â€ Morgan said. â€œIt is hard to value peace of mind, but that is what we give our clients each and every day.â€
Practitioners also complained about the too-common problem of clients who donâ€™t cough up the dough. Unfortunately, for a sole proprietor or the partners of a small firm, that means a de facto cut in take-home pay.
But thereâ€™s none of that nonsense for Jim Erickson, managing partner of James Erickson & Co. P.S. of Bellevue, Wash. He doesnâ€™t take no for an answer. â€œIt is part of my mantra to get paid,â€ he commented in the survey. â€œMost of the time I do.â€
One unnamed respondent apparently gets paid too, as a senior executive at a regional audit firm, but what she puts in her pocket is less than what she puts into the job. â€œ[Itâ€™s] because I was hired before the acute shortage,â€ she said, â€œand because I am a woman.â€
That second quipâ€™s a lousy reason to earn too little. I keep trying to believe it isnâ€™t really a problem in our profession, or at least not a general rule.
I hope Cheryl Panther, CPA/PFS, sole proprietor of Panther Financial Planning, isnâ€™t in a similar revenue rut. â€œIâ€™m new to financial planning,â€ she said, â€œand I need to price myself slightly below the market at this time.â€
Several other professionals had similar reasons for accepting below-market salaries. Some said they had to accept less because they worked for a government. Others accepted lower pay in exchange for the higher kind of satisfaction that not-for-profits offer.
Kevin Feeney, vice president of stock equity and retirement plans at Gartner, Inc., in Stamford, Conn., seems to have risen to a higher plane. He said he doesnâ€™t make enough, â€œbut it really doesnâ€™t matter. Iâ€™m satisfied with what Iâ€™m getting. Iâ€™ve never chased the big bucks and am probably happier for it.â€
And happy is he or she who hears that higher calling and brings home the big fat check. And a bonus. And dental. Weekends off. The whole shebang.
NEXT QUESTION: Are you ready for tax season 2008? Join the survey; see the answers.
Copyright Â© 2008 Bay Street Group LLC. All Rights Reserved. First published by the AICPA.