CPA Jobs Set for Surge. But When?

Economists predict demand for accountants and auditors will explode over the next few years.

by Rick Telberg

In a report that’s getting a lot of attention from savvy CPA firms and financial services headhunters, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) last month forecast a 22 percent headcount expansion from 2008 through 2018. That’s 279,400 new jobs.


Brendan Courtney, president of The Mergis Group, told me that jobs are already surging for accountants in the new bailout and recovery industry. He’s looking for thousands of trained, experienced finance professionals.

But he also says that today’s displaced job hunters will need to look first at contract work and temp jobs until employers feel it’s safe to hire permanent workers again.

To be sure, many tax, accounting and finance professionals are still slogging through the Great Recession. The Association for Financial Professionals, for instance, reported that about one in four respondents say their organizations will contract in 2010. At the same time, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of private companies found 43 percent of CEOs and CFOs still budgeting no expansion over the next 12 months to 18 months. The data just seem to reinforce economic uncertainties and a weak outlook.

On the other hand, finance and accounting professionals continue to do better than average. Robert Half, for example, names several areas in which salaries are holding steady or rising, and starting salaries this year will beat the averages:

  • Tax accountant. With at least three years of Fortune 500 experience, and a track record of achieving sizable tax savings, starting salaries will average $46,500 to $61,500 this year.
  • Compliance director. Even at smaller companies, new accounting rules and government regulations are boosting demand. Starting pay: $83,750 to $108,500.
  • Credit manager/supervisor. In a world where cash is king, accountants who can evaluate credit risk and manage delinquent accounts are starting at between $42,500 and $57,500.
  • Senior financial analyst. If you can find ways to boost the bottom line, employers are paying $57,750 to $74,000 to start.

Looking past the recession, the BLS sees burgeoning opportunities for professionals. “As the economy grows, the number of business establishments will increase, requiring more accountants and auditors to set up books, prepare taxes and provide management advice,” according to the BLS.

“As these businesses grow, the volume and complexity of information reviewed by accountants and auditors regarding costs, expenditures, taxes and internal controls will expand as well,” the BLS says.

But it will be important to take a broader view of opportunities.

And the BLS says much of the finance and accounting profession could be profoundly affected by a newly borderless business world. “The continued globalization of business,” BLS researchers say, “will lead to more demand for accounting expertise and services related to international trade and accounting rules and international mergers and acquisitions.”

And here’s the growing movement towards International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which, the BLS explains in it’s own simplified way, “uses a judgment-based system to determine the fair-market value of assets and liabilities.”

Judgment? That’s exactly what professionals are hired to do.

Add it all up and the experts seem to be saying that if you can make it through 2010, the rest of the decade should be much easier. Of course, we must still survive 2010.

Copyright 2010 AICPA.

3 Responses to “CPA Jobs Set for Surge. But When?”

  1. Gary Schroeder

    I agree there will be more need, but that does not correlate to demand. Accountants still are perceived as overhead. Every client is looking at reducing overhead. We need higher productivity first. As my first managing partner, Joe Olson, shared with me 30 years ago, “we are a parasite of the government”. People need us, they don’t want us.

    It is for that reason that I see a continued short term decline in the need for accountants. Businesses want them, but they will get by without them.

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