Count on accounting careers

By Henry DeVries

Accountants are busy, if not loved.

“Our image is so horrible — the creepy, nervous guy who can’t talk to anyone,” says Dana Basney, a forensic accountant and director of CBIZ Nation Smith Hermes Diamond. “We’re by-and-large just the opposite. This profession is for people who like people. Our job is figuring out what we can do with our skills to best serve their needs.”

What people need these days is far more information and a better understanding of prospective investments and investment firms, Basney says. Investors large and small are doing lots more due diligence these days, so even if auditors aren’t the most popular people, they are in high demand.

The need for accountants is a job trend ripped from today’s headlines. Financial collapses and scandals in the last few years involving the banking and insurance industries means more companies are having the books scrutinized. Enter the financial examiners, the forensic accountants of the business world.

Even in a dismal economy there’s plenty of opportunity in accounting. Bankruptcy cases require accounting work, and the post-collapse examinations of banks and investment houses have turned into billable hour bonanzas for forensic accountants.

“In a 38-year career, I’ve been unemployed for the 20 minutes it took to drive from the old job to the new one,” says Basney. “I’ve never seen a time when a person with an accounting certification and three years experience who can fog a mirror couldn’t get three or four job offers in a week.”

Basney teaches about the accounting aspects and issues in corporate consolidations and mergers at UC San Diego Extension, where students earn a certificate after completing nine courses, including an auditing course.

Between expected increases in regulations for banking, mortgages and investments and the growing number of personal and business bankruptcies, there’s plenty of accounting for growth in the numbers business.

Aspiring financial examiners and internal auditors can expect continued job growth as a result of changes in financial laws, regulations, and requirements. In addition, jobs in this field will become available as financial examiners retire, move into other positions, or leave the field completely.
While about 2,400 of the estimated 1.3 million accountants were laid off in 2008 — mostly from big firms — the Bureau of Labor Statistics remains bullish on the profession, predicting an 18 percent growth by 2016, an impressive 80 percent more than the average job growth of 10 percent. The need for financial examiners is projected to grow by 41 percent.

“The best job prospects will be for accountants and auditors who have a college degree or any certification, but especially a CPA,” the Bureau predicts.

A 2007 survey by headhunting firm Robert Half International found that auditors and accountants with just a year of experience earn between $31,500 and $48,250 a year and that up to three years experience means earnings up to $60,000. Senior accountants and auditors earned between $43,250 and $79,250, and managers, partners and firm principals could earn up to $208,000.

Accounting and auditing skills have the benefit of being portable – the tax codes, certificate requirements and, most importantly, the work, are very similar in every city and state. And the hours can be as flexible as people desire. Though large firms tend to want 40-hour weeks, there are plenty of opportunities for part-time work with smaller firms, private companies and through home-based businesses.

Auditing is a great place to start a career, Basney says. “You really get an idea of how things work, you learn about taxes, and you get a first look at what happened when things didn’t work,” he explains. “It’s a great foundation for a career.”

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