What’s your ideal definition of “going to work”? Once upon a time, that wouldn’t even be a question. You’d go to an office. Technology and the internet have changed that forever. Workplaces are portable, and remote work arrangements are increasingly common, even in the accounting. These days, CPAs seeking a remote accounting job have options. […]
Need some career advice? Email Rachel at [email protected] and your question may be featured on Going Concern. I am currently working at one of the big four firms. My service line is tax. I still don't have an idea on what will I do in the future. I'm also interested on pursuing a law degree. […]
If you've read our suggestions on getting over post-busy season depression and are left wondering, "What if I just quit?" know that that is definitely still an option! Take a couple weeks, figure some things out and know that when you're ready to work again, the IRS will be here waiting for you: The Internal […]
For those of you scoring at home, Crain's Claire Bushey reports that Cook County added 1,393 accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll services jobs in 2015 while it lost 92 jobs in law. The total headcount is now stands at Legal: 37,657, Accounting: 31,488. I think we can reasonably assume that the accounting numbers will […]
Awhile back, we solicited questions from you all about what a career at the PCAOB as inspector might be like. It took some time (I blame myself!) but we've managed to get our interview with Helen Munter, the PCAOB's Director of Registration and Inspections pulled together. First, some housekeeping: The Board video-recorded this interview between […]
The culture in most public accounting firms shape us to aspire to partner level. There may as well be shinin’ disco lights spelling out “PARTNER” plastered above our dismal hotel cube farms.
As we've discussed, if you want to dabble in public service or embrace chaos like never before or have a deep appreciation for irony, the IRS may be your employer or choice. However! You'll want to read Bloomberg's inside look to life as an employee of the IRS before dropping off an application because there are some quirks to […]
Actually, the question our philosopher pal posted was a bit more hostile than the question in the headline above. It was more like this: Who the hell told all you kids in school that Big 4 is the only employer you should ever think about? [A public service announcement.] Every single post in this sub […]
Back in July, we had a discussion about hanging out a shingle in public accounting. For many of you that are just starting out in your careers the idea of venturing out on your own seems as likely as the Jets pulling off a winning season. In fact, it’s hilariously unlikely. For some of […]
This is the first post from our new contributor, Dr. Emelee, a former Big 4 employee who is in process of obtaining his PhD. So you want to be a professor? Teaching looks like it would be fun (it is), you see that some professors are only on campus two days a week (they are), and you’ve […]
We spend a lot of time discussing careers here. Over the last four years, It’s become such a big part of our content that we started a little side venture as a result. The reason for that, I think, is that professionals with accounting backgrounds have options. A lot of them. Unlike our friends […]
What's your career been like so far? Has it been a struggle? Are you slow to catch on? Not the sharpest knife in the drawer? Have trouble getting along with people? Just need something that has zero sex appeal and fair compensation? Great! All you need to do become internal auditor: No list of unsexy banking jobs […]
Right about now, you're probably too preoccupied with the fact that even though it's Thursday, tomorrow really won't truly be Friday. So occasionally this busy season we'll give you some ideas of some things of things to do when you've had enough of public accounting. If you jumped the fence and found greener pastures and […]
Good news for the internal auditors out there — a study by the IIA found that more of you are getting raises; the bad news is they also found that everyone's share is slightly smaller: The number of U.S. organizations awarding raises to their entire internal audit staff increased from 60 percent in 2011 to […]
Ed. note: Find yourself caught at a crossroads unsure which path to take? Feeling lost and hopeless? Just want to know your lucky lotto numbers for next week? Hit us up and the career advice brain trust will take your hand, restore your faith, guide you down the path of greatness and even pick out what you should wear tomorrow.
By the end of the week, I am going to need to make a decision on which offer to accept. I am applying for entry-level auditing positions, and received my first offer last Friday. I also anticipate receiving two more by Thursday. The one I recently received is from a mid-size regional firm that specializes in an industry that I find to be very interesting. I also ith their staff and think I would really enjoy myself there. One of the offers I anticipate receiving on Thursday is from a Big 4 firm.
The biggest issue for me it seems is which job will put me in the best position 3-5 years from now. There is a greater than 50% chance that I will need to move in the next few years, and I keep going back to the fact that working for a Big 4 will give me the most options. The mid-size firm does some work nationally, and may connect me with other public accounting firms around the country, but that is about the extent of it. Is working at a Big 4 that big of a deal to future employers? If I plan to make a career in public accounting, is it easy to switch from one mid-size firm to another – or am I more likely to get recognized by a mid-size if I’m coming from a Big 4?
I have been a regular reader of Going Concern over the past few months, and appreciate the depth of knowledge you and the readers have, so I’m hoping you can help.
#1) Thanks for the kind words but maybe you need to spend a few more months on this website if you actually do not possess the knowledge to answer your own questions for yourself, namely the ones that question just how big of a deal Big 4 is on your resume. We at least hope when you say “mid-size” you mean a truly mid-size and not a small, regional firm that just so happens to have a national client or two. At least you’ve got hope for flexibility in that case.
#2) Now that you’ve thought about it for a moment, slapped yourself upside the head and come to the realization that yes, Big 4 on your resume really is that big of a deal (how we feel about that is irrelevant for this discussion, we are not talking about the Kool-Aid itself but simply the effects of said Kool-Aid), the question is what you want to do in the next several years. You should also realize from your short time on this site that few public accounting grunts actually dedicate 3 – 5 years of their life to the firm. 2 years in Big 4 is sufficient to get your CPA, get some good connections and earn a solid item on your resume.
However, you note part of the mid-size appeal to you is the opportunity to work close to an industry that interests you. It’s awesome that you are aware enough of what you like to think in these terms but what happens if you turn down Big 4 for this mid-size option only to find out this specialization is not at all interesting to you? Are you 100% positive that the Big 4 opportunity wouldn’t allow you the same close quarters with an industry you find appealing?
When you say you hit it off with the mid-size staff, do you mean their actual staff or just the hot recruiting bubbleheads hired to lure you into their trap? If you mean actual staff, then I think your decision here is clear. You seem to have a good feeling about the mid-size opportunity and are simply confused because you have bought into the idea that there is nothing like Big 4. That isn’t a myth, but it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to a career of mediocrity if you forgo the Big 4 route for something that you feel fits you better.
You probably already know all of these things and didn’t really need to email us to ask. If your heart is telling you go mid-size, do it. It isn’t going to make you a public accounting pariah, though it may limit your opportunities later on slightly. Note I said slightly. You will not be relegated to some public leper colony for being branded with the curse of anything but Big 4. On the other hand, Big 4 might steal your soul and you could find yourself suicidal before you are anywhere near to the two year mark just for the sake of a few extra opportunities and a nice resume item later on down the road.
Is that a risk you are willing to take? Only you can decide that. I’m pretty sure we have at least one or two mid-size staff lurking around here to offer you some more specialized advice based on their experiences beyond what I’ve just suggested to you (just ignore GT Partner, who is an obvious troll). Good luck.
I’m not saying it never happens; the best is when one of you makes me laugh so hard I spray Racer 5 from my nose.
But better than that, when a bunch of you come together to help someone trying to break into the industry.
Some may take issue with the self-regulation of the accounting industry: its glass ceilings, elusive “work-life” balance, sexism, narcissism and general malfeasance. “Big 4 isn’t rocket science,” the comments read. Right. I don’t think anyone here would argue that it is but there is a sense of having earned one’s position in the glass ceilinged, work-life fucked, sexist, narcissistic sludge puddle.
That said, I feel like most of the regular readers of this site have of what works and what doesn’t. When I see someone get slaughtered in the comment section, first I laugh, then I think about what would prompt a majority of you to descend on this person like a pack of rabid pit bulls. This happens more often than not but I can’t help but think you all do this out of love and affection for your industry. Right.
Every now and then, you impress me. Sometimes it’s really subtle, like someone giving someone else a reality smackdown without making them cry. Other times, it’s an obvious rallying together to help a really useful individual thrive in this industry.
When DWB tried to give this 10 year military veteran some advice on breaking into public, he offered personalized assistance in pursuing this. No one called the guy old, made dick jokes, or said “I’d hit it.” Instead, he got advice like “Do a little reading on consulting careers at places like Bain, McKinsey, Boston Consulting, etc. Pay makes Big4 look like peanuts, and exit opportunities are way better (McKinsey is referred to as a CEO factory). Or, if your interest is finance, you can look at investment banking, private equity, asset management, etc. In the long run, all of those pay multiples of what public accounting does.”
Then the OP chimes in:
Hi everyone… original poster here. Thanks so much for the feedback! One thing I should note: I recently (as in 2 weeks ago) finished my BSAcc, so the 15 years out of school thing is not an issue. I have IFRS and SOX accounting training. I am fresh off of the degree and looking for more. Hope this helps with the feedback.
As far as the top 7 MBA program comments: thank you so much for the encouragement, but the primary setback to those options is the fact that I must find a job that pays similar to support my family, and I am not sure that I can make a move to one of those areas. Should I look into sacrificing some pay early on and make a stab for top 7 MBA? (I currently make about $50k per year, and dipping much below that could strain the family as my wife has not worked in years and may have trouble stepping into the door as a medical assistant). I also prefer the flexibility of online programs. I was curious: with programs like FSU doing online degrees, is this a viable option, or am I better off with brick and mortar? Also, is it even possible to get a 1 year MAcc from a big name university with my credentials? If so, where would I want to start looking? I am open to either an MBA (most like finance focused) or a MAcc, and I definitely prefer a prestigious college.
This forum has been wonderful and I appreciate everyone’s feedback and the support you show for the military. You are really a set of class act people!
Fuck. IFRS and SOX. My thought here is that you guys recognize talent when you see it, which I don’t think counts as narcissism when you recognize it in someone else. This person could be a real asset to the profession and it’s endearing to see you all try to help him make the most of that. Instead of hating on him. Or talking shit about the school he went to.
Apparently he didn’t see the “military to b4 eh? heres a tip…remove stick from ass, then insert much larger stick” comment or maybe he found that useful too. Anyway, he follows up later:
Hi everyone! Accounting Airman here again! I wanted to let you know that I am processing the wealth of information that has been provided to me. I have received several direct contacts and also the posts here. I am out of town for the next few days on military related duty, so I may be slow in responding to everyone. I will get my resume out to those who requested (assuming you have a proper e-mail account) when I return.
Thanks again for all of the support and direction. I am amazed and honored by the responses.
I don’t expect to see this often and frankly am glad I don’t but good job. It’s rare that I’m not ashamed to be associated with this website and, subsequently, a lot of you. I’m sure that’s mutual.
Well done. If the partners had any doubt about your collective abilities to pull this shit off, I hope a performance like this encourages them to show a little faith in you assholes. I have it after this.
From the mailbag, we have a young lad who is about to go through his first recruiting season looking to land a Big 4 position. He requested that he got some advice from those of you in the biz and that have been through the process.
If you have questions about your career, recruiting, choosing a firm a problem/challenge at work (wonky technical questions will be ignored) or whathaveyou, send us an email at [email protected]. In the meantime, let’s oblige this young man.
I need help (advice from professionals) deciding whether I should apply for tax jobs, or audit/assurance jobs. I want to work for one of the Big 4 firms, but I know that may be lofty since I didn’t necessaril path to a career in accounting. Below is a brief narrative so that you may better understand my experience and qualifications
I am a senior at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) and will be graduating with a BBA in Accountancy in December 2010. I work full-time during the day to provide for my family and I attend classes at night. I work for a small bank opening new accounts, but accounting is the field I would like to have a career in. I am 24, so not much older than many of my accounting peers, and this is my first degree. I currently have an overall GPA of 3.35 and a major GPA of 3.89. I am the VP of Development for my Beta Alpha Psi chapter, and I have attended BDO’s 2009 Pathway to Success Program. Due to a change of major from Biology to Accountancy several years ago, I will have 156 credit hours when I graduate in December. I have enrolled in a Becker course beginning later this month, and plan to complete three parts of the CPA exam in the final window of 2010 and the fourth in the first window of 2011. Firms are now posting staff positions and internships on the career and employment website at my university. The time has come for me to go through my first recruiting season, and I am experiencing some anxiety.
As I mentioned earlier I am really interested in the tax specialty, but I am most interested in working for a public accounting firm. I have been told by several people in academia that a masters is necessary for tax staff, and about 90% of the entry level tax staff positions are filled with individuals who have had at least one internship. I must delay my advanced degree for a few years since I am out of cash and do not want to incur debt via student loans. I have hopes, though, that having at least some portion of the CPA exam passed will give me a leg up in the battle for staff positions at accounting firms. Also, an internship is not really an option at the current time, unless it is absolutely necessary.
I would like to know if someone with my education and experience would even be considered for a full-time tax staff position at a Big4 firm. Should I apply and hopefully interview for tax staff positions? Should I focus my attention on landing an audit/assurance staff position? Big time public accounting is where I want to be, and I know I have what it takes to make it there.
I hope you can publish my question, and ask for feedback/comments from professionals that work at big 4, regional, and local firms.
Okay, so lots of “interests” to wade through here. Let’s break these down. You say, “I am really interested in the tax specialty, but I am most interested in working for a public accounting firm,” but then you also say that you want to work for a Big 4 firm.
Depending on how you rank the importance of these three goals, that should give you the answer to your dilemma.
Let’s say working at a Big 4 firm is the end all to be all for you. You might have an easier time getting in by taking a job in the audit practice. A market like Memphis won’t be hiring too many tax professionals and it is likely that they will have advanced degrees. If there are tax positions available, by all means apply and interview for them. To answer your question, a Big 4 firm interviewing for tax positions will probably listen to what your interests and career goals are but you might not fit their ideal candidate criteria.
To address a couple other of your issues – having portions of the CPA may help you but is by no means is it a huge advantage. Also, if putting off an internship is what works best for you, then understand that will put you at disadvantage to those that have had them, especially since the Big 4 is making full-time offers primarily to their interns.
However, your GPA, work experience and BAP involvement are all good things so chances are, a Big 4 audit practice will give you a serious look as long as you interview well.
If you land the gig, you could do some time in audit and then explore some rotational opportunities a couple of years down the road, although again, those are probably extremely limited in a small market like Memphis.
On the other hand, if you are truly interested in working in a tax practice, it might easier to go with a regional or local firm to get the work experience you want. Since it sounds like you’re a good candidate, you can be selective about who you ultimately choose and what areas of tax you want to work in. Once you have a few years of experience and you still want to work for a Big 4 firm, it might be easier to get into their tax practice.
For the rest of you out there, dispense with your experiences and advice. Does he have a chance at tax? With Big 4? Should he just give it all up and join the Peace Corps? Help him out.
About two weeks ago, one of our Twitter followers was curious about how someone might land a cost accounting position. We put the question to the group and there was a little discussion but something told us that our inquisitor wa
We recently spoke with Sandra Richtemeyer, Ph.D., CMA, CPA, the Chair of the Institute of Management Accountants for 2010-2011 to discuss cost accounting careers in more detail. In addition to her role at the IMA, Dr. Richtermeyer is chair of the Department of Accountancy in the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Going Concern: We’ll just start off by getting your reaction to our reader’s question – “How would you suggest getting into a cost accounting position?” And the previous post’s comments “WHY would one get into cost accounting?”; “[N]obody likes cost accounting.” and “[I]n its true sense does not exist.”
Dr. Sandra Richtermeyer: We represent the Institute of Management Accountants so we usually place the focus on management accounting versus cost accounting. Cost accounting is one aspect of managerial accounting and when we say “management accounting,” that’s another term that many people don’t resonate with, as there aren’t a lot of positions out there called “management accountant.” You do hear job titles like “cost analyst” and “financial analyst,” so sometimes it is easier to explain these roles.
At the IMA, we like to take a look at the focus inside the organization and really try to look at the broad perspective of management accounting – which includes cost accounting – where people are really more involved with strategic decisions that influence business actions and activities and in much more significant ways than just what people would ordinarily perceive.
The last thing that you said, “does cost accounting really exist?” We certainly see positions called “cost accountant” but they are so narrow in scope and it’s not really reflective of what’s happening with the people that are charged with that important element or aspect of accounting.
GC: So it sounds like cost accounting is a red-headed step-child of sorts – why do you think there are so many misconceptions about cost accounting jobs?
SR: I think because people don’t see the big picture and how information produced in cost accounting and related activities plays a role in many business processes. They typically think of a very narrow scope that’s part of a costing decision or the actual calculation of cost of goods sold, budget variances or manufacturing costs. I don’t think that it is clear how accountants who have costing responsibilities are often working with key leaders in the organization who are determining product or service mix and making critical strategic decisions. They often need to spend a lot of one-on-one time with decision makers or teams to consider different analyses and work through various scenarios to help guide the right outcomes. All too often, cost accounting is perceived to be a stand-alone activity. Rather, it plays a really important role in an organization’s value chain.
GC: That takes me back to the financial analyst job I had and how many different people I worked with providing them with various data and analysis. Communication was a big part of that job.
SR: I think the biggest misnomer is that people don’t realize how important communication skills are for accountants in general and that they are critical for these types of roles. They picture people working independently in an office by themselves perhaps creating spreadsheets or entering information in an enterprise system but there’s so much interaction and people don’t seem to understand that. The concept of a cost or financial analyst being in an internal customer service role is often overlooked as well. It can very much be an internal customer facing role and even extend outside the organization with vendors or players in the supply chain.
GC: Is there traditional path into a “cost accounting” career?
SR: Well, I think there’s a few we can cover:
1) A typical starting point is to get an accounting or finance degree. A few years ago when the economy was stronger, a lot of cost accounting positions were filled by people with finance degrees while the accounting majors were frequently starting in public accounting. In a large company, someone might start in an entry-level position where they work in a more narrow accounting role where they do cost accounting. Alternatively, they may start at a smaller company and have a broad set of accounting responsibilities, with cost accounting being one of those. Smaller companies most likely don’t have job titles like cost accounting or financial analyst, because accountants have to do a lot more. We certainly hope that people who choose this path understand the importance of becoming a Certified Management Accountant because it’s a great credential for someone entering those types of jobs.
2) Many people might start out in public accounting as auditors and they may work with clients that have very specific product and service costing needs. After a few years of working as an external auditor, they might step out of that role and go work for a client and have responsibility that entails cost accounting. That’s not uncommon for someone with 2 to 5 years of public accounting experience. Someone with more experience than that would likely step into a broader role that is closer to a controller or CFO role, depending on the size of the company.
3) People unexpectedly find themselves providing these services. They might have started out as a business analyst and then they might find themselves providing a lot of costing information for people within the organization. The next thing they know, they are a cost accountant – either in title or in substance!
4) It’s surprising to me how many MBAs end up in controller-type positions and sometimes the path to controller, depending on the organization, is through a business or financial analyst position. I talk with a lot of MBAs that want to learn more about accounting because they find themselves essentially doing more and more cost analysis in their roles. The cost accounting piece may not be their entire set of responsibilities but it’s something they have significant responsibility for and they see it providing them with a lot more career advancement opportunities down the road.
GC: So what are some examples of some jobs for those that are interested in cost accounting? Or titles that people can look for when they’re job hunting.
SR: Well, we need to think about job titles and also the words used in a job description because in accounting, the title varies widely depending on the size of the organization. Larger companies have more specific titles and smaller companies tend to have more general titles. Some common titles are: General Accountant; Staff Accountant; Financial Analyst; Cost Analyst; Cost Accountant, to name a few.
Job descriptions likely list responsibilities such as: cost and profitability analysis, maintenance of costing systems, budgeting, interim or internal financial reporting. Often times they are a bit more specific and may include activities related to customer profitability analysis, product and service costing support, or variance analysis. Those are some key words that are going to pop out.
GC: What resources does the IMA provide that are useful?
SR: We have an amazing social network site, LinkUp IMA, for accounting professionals where our members discuss all kinds of accounting topics. This provides a great networking platform for professionals in specific roles to connect with each other and share ideas in an online forum.
We also have many chapters all over the world that allow accounting professionals to meet face-to-face and discuss trends and issues or concerns they deal with in their roles. We also have a strong certification program, the CMA. When someone makes the investment in themselves to obtain their CMA certification, they demonstrate that they are prepared not only for cost accounting, but for the many strategic roles that accountants are involved in. The CMA can provide the basis to launch them into a career path that will help them gain more experience and move into financial leadership roles. Our certification program provides a lifetime of value.
John Finn worked at KPMG in the early to mid-90s. He got into the field because he loved accounting. John discovered what many Big 4 types discover which is the job “involved more travel and schmoozing than it did accounting.” Since he wasn’t feeling it, he jumped ship in ’95, moved to New York and decided to get into showbiz. He landed his first gig doing the books for a film called Sleeping Together and since he could drive a standard transmission, he got to buzz around in the equiptment truck.
It turns out, that John’s marginal experience (three years) in Big 4 turned out to be way – WAY – more than most “accountants” in the movie business:
While he began his solo career with only three years of accounting experience under his belt — none of it in film accounting — inexperience turned out not to be an issue in the industry. “What I found out was that most of my peers were not trained as accountants,” he says. “They were failed screenwriters who really wanted to be in the business. I had a leg up on them because accounting was second nature to me. If you polled the accountants in the business, I would say that nearly half don’t have accounting degrees.”
Word must have gotten around about a real-life accountant doing the books for movie projects and in 1998, he founded JFA, Inc. to handle the expanding empire. That empire also includes IndiePay, a payroll software company that he founded to deal with the ‘archaic’ bookkeeping that was rampant in the industry.
On top of all this, John is in a band, Pispoure’, and wrote a song about how much he loves accounting. The song plays on a loop over at JFA’s website and before you assume that this another accountant failing miserably to exhibit any musical ability, it should be noted that he’s actually a decent songwriter. Anyone that comes up the lyric, “In order to get laid, you must impress our filing clerk,” is a natural talent in our book.
Leaving Big Accounting Firm for Hollywood [The Street.com]
We’re often asked which way to go when it comes to pursuing additional education or tackling the CPA exam before moving on to grad school (if you’re in one of those awesome 120 states or somehow loaded up on units after graduation) so let’s see if we can offer some insight on the matter.
Reader question is as follows:
Hello, I am looking at a public accounting career in tax and will graduate with a bachelors and 150 credit hours after 4 years. I am wondering if there are benefits to a Masters in Tax or MBA versus entering the workforce.
Funny you ask, have you checked with Going Concern contributor Joe Kristan? He can tell you all about taking the Masters route AND tax work so hit him up (you’re welcome, Joe) for more insight. “I think if you have good grades otherwise, a M.Acc can give you an edge in getting hired, especially with big firms. For me it gave me a huge edge – my M.Acc beats my B.A. in history with CPA firms everywhere,” he told us awhile back. Somehow we’re not surprised to hear his history degree wasn’t useful once it came time to find a sweet number-crunching gig.
Back to School
I think your payoff depends on what exactly you’re trying to get out of your career and which direction you plan to go. An MBA offers you flexibility (which comes in handy when the economy is in the can and jobs are scarce) while a Masters would keep you tethered to whatever path you take but either would make you more desirable to employers – depending on who you are applying with.
Keep in mind that for some employers, an over-qualified, well-educated candidate also means someone who will need to be paid more and could (in a normal job environment completely unlike the one we’ve got going now) easily find a better, more well-paid position with any number of employers. People may be desperate nowadays but the economy will recover eventually and employers have to consider that when deciding to offer you a position.
The Real World – CPA
The advantage to heading straight into the workforce out of school is that you can get the CPA exam out of the way and then, should you want to, choose to head back after you have been licensed and pursue a Masters. The advantage to this is that you are less of a threat to employers once you actually have your CPA since they don’t have to worry about you leaving after 2 years to the day once you have your experience requirement met so you can leverage your additional education to land a better job. Then again, the advantage to staying in school – for the moment, at least, job market being what it is – is that you can buy yourself some time, make yourself more of an asset and hope that things look better from a hiring standpoint once you have completed your Masters program. Many are taking this route simply because they’re afraid of the job market (for good reason).
Under the getting your CPA now route, you have the advantage of getting to know your profession before committing to a specialty – that means being able to change your mind before you’ve given up another year of your life and the costs associated with a Masters (or MBA) program. I don’t want to talk you out of what you’ve decided to be when you grow up but there’s something to be said for real-world experience (and I’m sure more than one old timer can tell you they wish they knew what they were getting into before they did).
Keep in mind also that if you’re looking at an MBA, work experience may be a requirement for admission so you might not have a choice in the matter. Take the CPA/work route and come back later when you have a little experience under your belt and more insight to allow you to make an informed decision on where you want to go with your life.
One of our Twitter followers Markied85 asked us the following:
How would you suggest getting into cost accounting? it seems like one of those positions you fall into with experience.
Good question! Personally speaking, your humble editor only had a brief stint as a financial analyst that involved compiling internal reporting for a COO and that was after we had done our time in public/Big 4, so your thinking is on the right track.
If you accept an entry-level position with a private company, chances are you wouldn’t be tasked with providing reports to managers. However it is possible that you would be responsible for compiling these reports and depending on how the department is set up, one of your superiors would review and present the reports.
But what do we know? Like we said, our experience is limited so we just took quick shot in the dark. What we do know is if you are an in-house cost accountant, a CMA is good credential to set you apart from the rest in your group (plus, you’ll probably get more money).
If you’ve got good experience with this transition or you’ve been in a cost/managerial accounting role your entire career, let’s hear about it.
We try to encourage you to think about your careers here at GC every once in awhile; present you with some options or ideas that maybe you haven’t considered before. We’ve covered several credentials out there that you can obtain and we’ve also touched on the pros and cons of the PhD.
But this time we’re going to get really crazy and give you the lowdown on an idea that we know many of you have had (including your humble editor) and that is the consideration of going to – gasp – law school.
For whatever insane reason, you can’t shake the idea of committing three years of your life and borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to live on PB&J, ramen noodles and frozen pizzas. Oh and of course there’s studying, tests and everything else that comes with returning to school.
But think about the benefits; you’ve got the CPA and if you were to get the JD, maybe you’ll top it off with an LLM and it’ll be smartest thing you’ve ever done. Think about the money! The prestige! The hot lawyers that you will bed and wed! It will all be worth it, right?
Well, maybe? If you spend even a little bit of time reading our sister site Above the Law, you might get the impression that the last thing you should ever do is go to law school. There’s an ncertain job market out there. You may end up with a huge debt load that can take a lifetime to pay back. And we’ve been told by a fair amount of our lawyers simply, “It’s just not worth it.”
Considering all that, we wanted to get some first-hand perspective, so we put the feelers out to a few CPAs turned lawyers to get an idea of their experience so those of you considering law school can make a more informed decision.
We spoke to three CPAs turned attorneys, Eric Gullotta who has his own practice in Sonoma, CA, Steve Farrar of Smith Moore Leatherwood in Greenville, SC and Timothy Gagnon who has in own practice in Needham, MA.
Messrs Gullotta and Gagnon both specialize in estate planning and taxation while Mr Farrar is a litigator who defends lawyers and accountants in malpractice lawsuits.
The three men agreed that their decision to go back to law school was worth it but that the process is certainly a challenge, “It was a tough three years. Probably the hardest thing is getting re-oriented with being a student after being out for awhile,” Mr Gagnon said.
Motivation and Benefits
Gullotta and Gagnon both believe that the biggest benefit that they’ve enjoyed by obtaining the law degree is that clients recognize the value that a background of a CPA can add to providing legal services. “The amount of respect and trust that clients put in you when you are both a lawyer and a CPA is really unbelievable,” Mr Gullotta told GC. “Being able to see the tax effects of legal transactions is really amazing and you can really bring value to your clients when you are able to negotiate or structure deals with tax effects in mind.”
Steve Farrar had a very different thought process before he returned to school. He went back because he was interested in being a trial lawyer, “I went back to law school with the intent to try cases,” he told us. While he was interviewing, most firms wanted him to consider working in a more transactional capacity but he found a firm that was willing to let him work in litigation and it turned out to be a perfect fit, “I’ve been ecstatic. While you might hear stories about people being burned out, I enjoy every minute of it.” And the biggest benefit for him? “This is going to sound hokie when I say it but I enjoy the theatrical chess match of going to trial.”
Back to School
But before getting to all the benefits of CPA/lawyer superstardom, there is the little matter of going to law school. While many lawyers we’ve talked to have said that the law school you attend is everything, it really depends on what you’re looking to accomplish with the degree. As Eric Gullotta told us, “it’s important to know what you what to do. If you want to work in [a large city], you’ll have to go to a reputable law school. If you want to practice locally, hang the shingle out, then you can go to slightly less prestigious school that is more practical for your situation.”
And being a CPA could possibly put you at an advantage when applying to law schools, “The interesting thing is that because you have experience and have a CPA, it can help you get into some of the better law schools,” Tim Gagnon said. “They’re looking to diversify their class, age, experience and you could bring something that diversifies the class that they can’t get out of somebody that just got out of undergrad.”
But there’s got to be drawbacks right? Besides all the lawyer jokes, Steve Farrar mentioned losing flexibility in his schedule, “The best way I can explain it is that I have multiple busy seasons but I never know when they’re coming.” For Tim Gagnon, it sheer volume of continuing to keep up-to-date on the changing rules, “It’s hard enough to keep up on one but you put the two together and you really have a lot of information to cover.”
Oh, and then there’s the practical (and possibly more important) stuff, “Higher malpractice insurance,” according to Eric Gullotta.
So, are your aspirations for law school a good idea? Hard to say. Knowing what you want to do with the degree seems to be the key to making a decision. If you are thinking that a law degree will be the solution to your self-perceived lackluster career to date, you could find yourself very disappointed.
However, if this is a career that you truly want then it sounds like there isn’t any shortage of success stories. Choose wisely.
Serious applicants only please.
A longtime associate of Usama bin Laden on Wednesday pleaded guilty at Guantanamo Bay to terror charges of conspiracy and material support, marking the first-ever conviction under the military commission system resurrected by President Obama.
Al Qosi was accused of supporting terrorism by serving on a Taliban mortar crew and occasionally as bin Laden’s bodyguard. While not a household name, it is alleged that al Qosi, who is Sudanese, knew bin Laden from his days in Sudan in the early ’90s and ultimately followed the Al Qaeda leader to Afghanistan.
Court documents claim that he served in a number of roles for his longtime friend — from driver to accountant to cook in the kitchen at bin Laden’s Afghanistan compound before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Perhaps most importantly, he allegedly facilitated bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in late 2001.
Big shoes to fill no doubt but you’ll probably clean their books up lickity. Benefits allegedly include weapons training, bomb making and lots and lots of virgins (after death of course).
You may think that working for the IRS would involve nothing more than a plethora of bomb and/or white powder scares as well as hassling famous doucebags for their back taxes you’d only be partly correct.
So if you’re looking for job security, the chance to slap some bracelets on those illegally avoiding their patriotic duty and a whole other level of bureaucracy that the Big 4 only wishes it could create, the IRS may be for you!
Of course if danger isn’t your middle name (some are gathering armies after all), there are plenty of other opportunities out there on the new IRS careers website. The only drawback of course is that you probably won’t get to carry any of those shotguns.
PricewaterhouseCoopers understands that their employees have big dreams. But if those dreams come crashing down into a heap of flaming shit on the doorstep of your life that they’ll be there for you when you have nowhere else to turn.
Case-in-point, Danny Brannagan is a football player. A Canadian football player. And he has a dream to play in the CFL for the Toronto Argonauts. He also has an opportunity to realize his dream to become an auditor for a Big 4 firm but PwC is accommodating his desire to be a tackling dummy until his knees need replaced:
[PricewaterhouseCoopers] is willing to wait while the young quarterback sees how far his skills can take him in the Canadian Football League.
“They (PricewaterhouseCoopers) understand I have a limited window to participate at a high level in sports and they told me to take advantage of that,” the Queen’s graduate said on Wednesday.
Brannagan will get to experience the life of a CFL quarterback while on the practice roster, but more importantly continue to develop the skills that helped him take Queen’s all the way to a CIS title in 2009.
“It will give me an opportunity to learn and develop as a quarterback, get used to the system and get used to the professional aspect of the game,” he said.
Brannagan will be paid the handsome sum of $500 a week while on the practice roster, which is undoubtedly less than he would be making at PricewaterhouseCoopers, even at an entry-level position.
“I don’t know if it’s a sacrifice, necessarily,” Brannagan said.
“PricewaterhouseCoopers has been very accommodating. They have allowed to me to have a flexible start date there. I don’t necessarily look at it as giving something up as much as I’m postponing a career after football.”
Argonauts head coach Jim Barker was thrilled to be able to accommodate Brannagan on the practice roster.
“It’s a lot better than working for an accounting firm,” he said half-jokingly.
$500 a week to get crushed by the defensive starters? Picking up the starting QB’s leftovers (if you catch my drift)? Get snapped on the ass by a linebacker’s towel who may want to get to know him a little better in the shower? These are the things dreams are made of.
Fortunately for Dan-o, PwC has elevators in its offices because he probably isn’t going to be able to walk up stairs after his “football career” is over.
Plus, the nerve of this coach. There was no half-joking there. He was dead serious. Would the Argonauts be there for Danny if he was part of the next round of PwC layoffs? Not likley.
We touched on international rotations yesterday, albeit one that probably would be provide more risk than most accountants are comfortable taking.
That being said, rotations – either to another practice, office or international – can be a way to re-energize your career if you’re feeling stagnant or a simple distraction from the distinct possibility that you don’t like your job. We’ll discuss all three of these possibilities and then open it up for discussion:
International Rotations – Offering international rotations is an excellent recruiting tools for the firms that offer them (primarily Big 4) and most people that work in firms that offer them would state that they are “an extremely rewarding experience,” whether or not they’ve actually experienced one. It’s one of the cliché message that firms put out without mentioning the fact that the politics of negotiating one can be tricky. All that being said, those lucky few that do experience them rave about their experiences (for the most part, there are some that just can’t be pleased) on both a personal and professional level.
Domestic Rotations – Again, firms market these as opportunities for those that are interested in them. There are less politics involved in the domestic versions although a particular office may have to demonstrate a need before it would be approved. A slight twist on these the domestic “rotation” is an unsolicited one, where one office has a desperate need for warm bodies and your firm offers you up to spend a significant length of time (e.g. two to three months up to a year or more) working in a different office.
Practice Rotations – You’re sick of auditing/tax/advisory. One day the idea of a rotation to a new service line or to a support department (e.g. HR) comes along and you jump at it because, well, you’re bored out of your mind. This can be a great opportunity to do something completely different which could be the start of a new career path. Or it could be your firm filling its need for grunts in a practice that is short-handed.
From a recent thread on staying or leaving public accounting, commenter Guest had this to say regarding internal rotations.
Internal rotations are also BS. They are generally looking for cheap labor to bridge them in times of need. Most people don’t get asked to stay on, in which case your peers that stayed in audit may have a leg up. If you do get asked to stay, you will be behind your advisory/tax peers since you didn’t start with them.
So it’s a bit of a mixed bag out there. On the one hand, landing one of these rotations is the first step and then you have to consider the repercussions of leaving an office/practice for a length of time. If you’ve got personal experience with any of these, discuss below for the wishers and dreamers out there mulling rotations.
For starters, why do you need an actor to “demonstrate what not to do in the workplace”? Couldn’t they just secretly film employees on any old regular Thursday and get the footage they need? Then you could do a candid camera type ending where Jim Turley jumps out and cans their asses.
As far as casting is concerned, David Hasselhoff immediately comes to mind but in the off-chance that the Hoff isn’t available, who picks up this gig? We imagine an in-house choice would be preferable in order to save on costs.
MoanDay Tuesday, everyone.
Last week’s post about Big 4 firms lowering the bar on starting salaries in order to project artificial pay raises was well discussed in the comments section. Thank you to everyone who commented, as that’s what makes this online community vocally vibrant and a joy to be a part of.
Part of the conversation included a debate about whether it is better to begin a career in accounting with a Big 4 firm or in the private sector; two very different career paths. The question is a legitimate case of shoulda coulda woulda. The following are a few comments from the peanut gallery:
• Guest said, “Even though I was offered $55k + $5k bonus out of college for a Big 4, I was VERY close to not accepting the offer and instead going with a private firm that was $60k starting and normal hours. The only reason I went to the Big 4 was because I fell for the trap of ‘the name recognition.’ If I could go back in time, I would have chosen the private firm.”
• Another Guest crunched the numbers, “In a Big 4, you’re overworked about 20-25% more than the private sector (if not, then more). Say a Big 4 offers you $55k starting. Your “REAL” salary relative to your peers would in fact be $55,000 / 1.25 = $44k. If you lower it to $50k for a first year, that equates to a real salary of $40k.”
• Finally, 2nd Year Associate chimed in with, “Plenty of my college pals are making upwards of $10k more than I am a year and they don’t even have their CPAs. I joined public accounting to get ahead over the next 5 to 10 years but if my pay was any less I’d have skipped this route completely.”
I think it all depends on where your career is at. If you graduated in 2007 or 2008, you might be less thrilled to be on the public accounting career. The double digit percentage raises for everyone on the team that were fiercely promoted by the Big 4 campus recruiting machines have yet to materialize for you, and now you find yourself lumped into the “just happy to have a job” group. Your classmates that went the private route have been cruising on decent pay and 45 hour work weeks. Nothing good to see here; move along.
If you’re 4-8 years into your career, you’re obviously in a different place. You’ve experienced the 15% raise, climbed the corporate shuffleboard to senior staff or manager, and utilize the phrase, “when I first started here…” all too often. You’ve earned your stripes after a number of busy seasons; your desire for a new job is to be better respected by your superiors. Pay isn’t everything, but it’s important.
Throughout all of this, you’ve benefited from the resources of working at a large firm (no, I’m not talking about free dinners). The training programs have been extensive, your CPA license is paid for, and you’ve been enjoying as much of your five weeks of vacation as the firm allowed you to take. And what about having the name on your resume? Having a pedigree firm on your resume can oftentimes land you the interview; earning the pay day is up to you.
So why did you enter into public accounting? Was it because the Big 4 had a strong presence on your campus? Were private companies not offering enough? Would you change anything about your career path to this point? Leave your thoughts below.
Natixis Global Associates is looking for an experienced tax professional to fill an AVP – Fund Administrator role in its Boston office.
Primary responsibilities include tax matters related to their mutual fund products. The position requires eight years experience with a CPA or advanced degree preferred.
Company: Natixis Global Associates
Title: AVP – Fund Administrator – TAX
Location: Boston, MA
Description: Reporting to the Deputy Treasurer, this individual will be responsible for overseeing, reviewing and completing certain department responsibilities. The focus will be on tax matters related to mutual funds.
Primary Responsibilities: Coordination and review of the department’s and vendor’s work on the following tax related items: Distribution schedule; Year end tax provisions; Fund distribution calculations; Tax related information included in the Financial statements and Form N-Q; Fund tax returns; Shareholder 1099s and related year-end shareholder reporting; Trustee and vendor 1099s; Research on the tax implications of new security types; Research on regulatory requirements and other tax matters; IRS compliance results; Communication between State Street, Tax Auditors, Marketing, Sales, and Product Departments.
Qualifications/Skills: Bachelor’s Degree in Finance or Accounting; An advanced degree or CPA is recommended, but not, required; Minimum of 8 to 10 years experience in the mutual fund industry is required, including direct tax experience and knowledge of fund administration, fund accounting and fund transfer agent functions and responsibilities; Project management experience is a must.
Jefferson Wells is looking for internal auditors to join its Financial Institutions team.
Candidates need a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and at least five years professional experience in internal audit, Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Work. Professional designation such as CIA, CPA, CRCM, CFSA is a plus.
Company: Jefferson Wells
Title: Internal Auditor
Location: New York, NY
Responsibilities: Prepare tax returns for S corporations, C corporations, and partnerships; Preparation of accounting records, and financial statements and tax returns for several investment partnerships; Reviewing and preparing yearly tax filings for Hedge Fund, Private Equity Funds, Real Estate Funds, and Funds’ general partners and investment managers; Performing security analysis and calculating various Fund tax adjustments; Preparation of Tax Form 1065 income tax returns and related K-1s and supporting schedules; prior experience with form 1120; Recording all accounting transactions of the fund and ensuring all investments are booked accurately; Preparation of limited partner capital calls and capital distributions; Researching tax treatment of complex financial instruments and corporate actions of Funds.
Qualifications/Skills: Enterprise Risk Assessment and Management Services; Financial Reporting Audits, Operational Audits, and Regulatory Compliance Audits; Fraud and Forensic Investigations; Internal Audit Co-Sourcing and Outsourcing; Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Work; Bachelor’s degree in accounting, or business related curriculum; 5+ years related experience; Professional designation such as CIA, CPA, CRCM, CFSA is a plus; Compliance, Bank Secrecy Act Compliance or Loan Review.
Jefferies & Company is looking for an experienced accountant to join its Corporate Financial Accounting Department in Los Angeles.
Candidates need three to six years of experience and a CPA is desired. Experience with investment banking or related financial services businesses is preferred.
Company: Jefferies & Company, Inc.
Title: Senior Accountant, Corporate Financial Accounting
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Description: This role will support the corporate controllers team in the financial accounting and reporting for compensation and benefits expense.
Responsibilities: Prepare journal entries related to the commission based sales force and performance based teams; Develop compensation models to compute applicable drivers and rules dictated by complex employment agreements and compensation plans; Prepare actual and forecasted financial reporting packages highlighting revenue and related compensation; Interact and collaborate with multi-functional groups throughout the company, including operating business units, corporate finance, legal, compliance, etc., to accomplish tasks and objectives.
Qualifications/Skills: 3 to 6 years in financial accounting and reporting, CPA designation desired; Investment bank and institutional sales and trading or related financial services industry experience desired; Expertise in gathering, manipulating, analyzing financial and accounting data; Advanced user of Microsoft Excel, Access, and PeopleSoft General Ledger.
Arizona American Water is looking for an experienced professional with an accounting or finance background to fill a Intermediate Financial Analyst position in Phoenix, Arizona.
The position requires 5 – 7 years experience including SOx and U.S. GAAP knowledge with a CPA or CMA credential desirable.
Company: Arizona American Water Company
Title: Financial Analyst II (Intermediate)
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Description: Intermediate Financial Analyst responsible for developing revenue and expense analyses, projections, reports and presentations.
Responsibilities: Compile and analyze financial information for developing revenue/expense analyses, projections, reports and presentations. Ensure accuracy of financial information; identify trends and present findings to senior management. Analyze and assess business performance against goals. Support management in shaping, driving and influencing business performance and continuous improvement.
Qualifications/Skills: Requires BA/BS in accounting/finance related field and 5-7 years related experience including, knowledge of US GAAP, SOX, regulatory accounting and practices and computer expertise. CPA/CMA is desirable. Experience in water/wastewater utility industry is highly desirable.
Senate Passes Finance Bill [WSJ]
All this fun Wall St. has been having – drawing populist rage, testifying before Congress – will be ending soon, sayeth Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), “When this bill becomes law, the joyride on Wall Street will come to a screeching halt.” The Senate bill still has to be reconciled in with the House version before being sent to the President; the goal is to have the combined bill completed by the end of June.
Dubai creditors agree $14.4bn deal [Accountancy Age]
Deloitte’s restructuring magician, Aidan Burkett, has pulled a rabbit out of his hat for Dubai World. DW has come to an agreement with 60% of its creditors, that will see the conglomerate repay $14.4 billion, in two tranches, over thirteen years.
Opportunities Abound in Tax and Accounting [FINS]
As the economy recovers, the accounting firms have more opportunities in the tax and advisory areas while in the governmental world, the Federal Reserve, FBI and FDIC are looking for accounting professionals. Options are good.
John Burton, a Columbia Dean, Dies at 77 [NYT]
Mr Burton was the first chief accountant of the SEC where he “stiffened the requirements for financial reporting by companies and lobbied accounting firms to take greater responsibility for the accuracy and clarity of the financial records under their review.”
And regarding the accountant’s “undervalued” role in society (largely unchanged today), Mr Burton wrote that accountants had only themselves to blame:
Mr. Burton wrote an essay for The New York Times in which he argued that, yes, accountants were undervalued in society, but that in many ways they were themselves to blame for a lack of creativity and for not seizing opportunities to influence business trends and political decisions.
“Accountants are not primarily record keepers and checkers,” he wrote in the essay, titled “Where Are the Angry Young C.P.A.’s?,” “but measurers of economic and social phenomena whose measurements can significantly influence the allocation decisions of our society.”
ParenteBeard Launches Emerging Growth Business Services Practice [ParenteBeard PR]
Mid Atlantic firm ParenteBeard’s new Emerging Growth Business Services Practice will serve clients in various growth stages utilizing the firm’s resources in “audit and accounting, small business, tax, international tax, SEC and business advisory [services].”
Morgan Stanley is looking for an experienced accountant to join their Real Estate Funds group in Atlanta, Georgia.
The position require 2 – 4 years of experience with a CPA preferred.
Company: Morgan Stanley
Title: Real Estate Funds Associate – MSREF
Location: Atlanta, GA
Description: Reporting to a Manager, position is responsible for the overall accounting, reporting and operations for global private equity real estate funds and affiliated funds. Responsibilities include assisting on special projects including reengineering processes and system implementations.
Responsibilities: Prepare quarterly and annual financial statements and footnote disclosures; Prepare various work paper and financial data analyses based on requests from the business unit, investors and auditors; Prepare fee calculations (i.e. management fees, acquisition fees, etc.) verifying that calculations are in accordance with applicable agreements; Prepare investor capital call and distribution notices; Address and resolve audit inquiries from external auditors during year end audit; Assist on IT initiatives to automate process, program calculations and streamline reporting; Participate on special projects related to the fund.
Qualifications/Skills: Bachelors degree in Accounting or Finance; Well organized, detailed, analytical individual with two to four years of relevant work experience; CPA preferred; Real estate partnership accounting and reporting experience a plus.
Good afternoon, and welcome back to the grind. I don’t know how your respective Monday started off, but mine began as it usually does; a large black coffee from the corner bodega, a longer-and-slower-than-it-has-to-be commute, and a daily update e-newsletter from FINS. I typically skim the link-heavy message for relevant stories or articles of interest, but today I found myself killing an extra few minutes browsing their website’s articles. I was caught off-guard by the title of one of their articles, “Accountants: ‘Push Me, Please!” Accountants wanting more work and stress? No chance in hell.
Actually, that seems to be just the case.
The short piece tosses around a few statistics, one that stands out when reading the fine print (my emphasis), “The majority of accounting and finance professionals surveyed (79%) say they prefer work with the opportunity for growth and advancement, even if it means more stress.”
That’s right. Even though stress in the workplace can lead to heart disease, strained personal relationships, and general irritableness, nearly 80 percent of accounting professionals would leave their current working environment for a new one. Think about that; hell, look around the room. Eenie, meenie, miney, moe. They all hate their jobs.
Not to continue playing Daniel Downer over here (it is MOANday after all), but a report out of the UK cites a report that says more than one in four working adults have their weekends ruined by the pending workweek ahead:
In a study to be launched tomorrow by the mental health charity Mind, employees were questioned about their levels of anxiety and more than 26% said they felt dread and apprehension the day before they were due to go back to work after a day or weekend off…Other findings include effects on people’s sleep patterns, high rates of illness and reports of extensive low morale.
(The bold portion sounds a lot like busy season.)
It’s no secret that everyone lives with stress; nor am I naïve in thinking that we all deserve well paying, stress free jobs. But how one manages day-to-day stress is just as important as planning for and working towards long term career aspirations. I encourage you to take the initiative to learn how strike a better (and more calming) balance in your daily routine. WebMD has a comprehensive Stress Management Center that covers topics ranging from quick fixes to diet changes to managing job stress.
Or you could just keep working for The Man and leave it up to your employers to catch on. They’re probably reviewing PwC’s book of HR strategerie as we speak. If you’re working at PDubs, well lucky you – consider your career is in good hands.
The CFP is a pretty common sense credential for an accountant to pursue if one is focused on client service and looking to work closely with clients to create a blueprint for their future financial success. If you became an accountant to help people put their finances together, this one is for you. Unless you’re the least bit unethical or otherwise of unsatisfactory moral fortitude; check the CFP board’s Candidate Fitness Standards if you’re not sure whether or not your sketchy past will pass.
Here’s a quick rundown on the CFP:
The CFP Certification Examination is administered by the CFP board and in order to take the exam, you will need to be knowledgeable in all of areas covered by the financial planning topic list. There are three ways to complete the educational requirement: CFP Board-Registered Programs, Challenge Status or Transcript Review.
CFP candidates must have a bachelor’s degree but that requirement is a condition of initial certification and is not needed to take the exam. The areas of financial planning are as follows:
• Financial planning: process and environment
• Fundamentals of insurance planning
• Income taxation
• Planning for retirement needs
• Fundamentals of estate planning
Three years of full-time relevant personal financial planning experience is a requirement for certification.
There are approximately 59,000 CFPs today, twice the number there were a decade ago. Despite the explosion in this designation’s popularity or perhaps because of it, the CFP is still an in-demand certification that can only grow in these uncertain financial times. CFPs can end up at large or small firms, or wish to start a private practice.
Compensation and Other Benefits
CFPs with 20 years experience make twice as much as those just starting out in the field, according to PayScale. Starting median salary is about $50k, and by 20 years a CFP can make anywhere from $90 – $100k. Of course pay depends on location and NY CFPs will naturally make much more (about $75k in their first year) than, say, metro Houston CFPs. Naturally, adding an MBA to one’s resume on top of the CFP will likely earn you an extra $20k in your first year. Income potential is based mostly on performance (sales).
It’s clear that CFPs have a real desire to help their clients (and pay their bills), so if you’ve got stars in your eyes and are planning to make a partner’s salary one day, this may not be the designation for you. But if you’re driven, love finance, and have a real feel for investments and clients, perhaps this is just what you need.
Accountemps released the results of a survey today that shows many Chief Financial Officers think that the best place for accounting graduates to start their careers is in a “small to midsize company.” The surprising thing about this particular survey is that the numbers aren’t even close.
When CFOs were asked, “In which one of the following employment environments would you recommend today’s accounting graduates begin their careers?” Their responses were:
|Small to midsize company||56%|
|Small to midsize public accounting firm||16%|
|Large public accounting firm||8%|
“Small to midsize public accounting firm” dropped 14% from 2005.
Oh right. And “large public accounting firm” came in dead last. So, for the CFOs surveyed, they’re not really hot on public accounting like they were five years ago and they’re really not crazy about the Big 4 and next tier firms.
Accountemps Chairman Max Messmer says, “At smaller companies, employees often must wear many hats because workloads are spread between fewer workers. Having a wider range of duties enables new hires to quickly build skills, gain exposure to diverse areas of the business and assume strategic roles earlier in their careers.”
From a personal standpoint, we’ve seen both the small and the freakishly large so we’ll try to provide some perspective here.
Maximilian’s thoughts are accurate as it relates to smaller companies. They do have more of a sink or you’re out on your ass approach that will help you grow up quick in that company. Additionally, small businesses have the tendency to be a little more flexible when it comes to your work/life balance. There aren’t any fancy initiatives or bombardments of emails; it’s more of the behavior of those around you. In small companies, you see people taking vacation for days and weeks at at time. That should encourage you to do the same.
At large companies, you hear about people that are losing their accrued vacation, mostly because they are lunatics, but also because it’s likely a widespread occurrence at the company. People in large firms have the asinine notion that somehow the wheels would fall off if they were to disappear for two days, forget about a week. This sounds ridiculous but it’s true.
However, large firms and companies do have resources and opportunities that smaller shops simply cannot provide. Want to move to San Francisco? Your large firm has an office there. Think you might want to spend two years in Australia? Your large company can make that happen. Small shops? Not so much.
What the press release doesn’t say is why the CFOs think you should start at a small/midsize company. Max’s opinion is fine but did he conduct all 1,400 of those phone interviews himself? Of course not. The survey was “a random sample of [CFOs at] U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.” Chances are, most of those CFOs have never worked at a big company so their perspective is likely skewed.
The other thing is – trying not to overstate this – you’ve got to make up your own damn mind about what you want to do with yourself. Do you want Big 4 experience? Then go for it. Do you want a flexible schedule that doesn’t involve a multi-level bureaucracy? Then a small company is probably more your speed.
No survey can answer those questions for you.
With all the uncertainty out there, more and more small businesses are cropping up. As anyone who has started their own business knows, there are plenty of decisions to be made, including your accounting method. While that answer may come easy, at some point small business owners have to ask themselves honestly A) Do I know squat about accounting? B) If no, do I hire someone full time or do I contract the work out as needed?
First, if you’re not versed in accounting and taxes are you really going to take the time to learn everything you need to know at the behest of growing and refining your business? Have you seen the tax code? You want to take advantage of everything you can, right? Best to call an expert.
Secondly, if you do decide to get some help, are you willing to pay for someone to keep the books, file tax forms, manage the payroll, etc. etc. full time? Are you going to pay them a salary, benefits, supplement their daycare, give them vacation? If you’ve got the resources to bring someone on, that’s great, start interviewing people. But what if you’re still in the early stages? Finding a CPA firm that can provide those crucial services for you can save a lot of headaches.
On the other hand, if you are already an accountant, maybe this growth in small businesses is your opportunity to get a little entrepreneurial yourself. CPA firms are the most profitable small businesses out there and somebody has to help those business owners keep their debits, credits and tax forms straight; it might as well be you.
The post the other day on getting an accounting PhD was so inspirational that I devoted several whole seconds to the idea…
Not for me.
Sure, being a professer has its attractions, especially at the end of filing season. Easy hours, nice gym facilities, trampy co-eds — how I miss the world of higher education. And yet I’m not sold.
Right now I have a good job. There’s also a family I want to maintain (sorry, trampy co-eds) and kids to get through school. To get a PhD would require me to walk away from my decently-paid position in this “most profitable small business.” But I must pay attention to the benefits, too, as Caleb related:
“Professors are constantly learning” – To become a PhD would require an odyssey beginning in a university town somewhere, taking boring courses in statistics to prepare me to write some enormous research project that nobody outside of my doctoral committee (poor bastards) would ever read. Sure, all of the practical tax stuff I’ve learned in 25 years of practice would become stale from disuse, but I’d be constantly learning to develop visionary statistical correlations.
“Professors want to make a difference in the world” – Yes, the difference between what I’d be making in my compensation as a graduate assistant for five years and what I make now would be a difference in the world – even a world of difference.
“Life as a professor is full of flexibility” – Yes, especially until you get on a tenure track. You have the flexibility of moving from a one-year fill-in position at Eastern West Dakota State to a similar position at the Utah School of Mines and Home Economics. But no “substantial financial risk,” at least once you’ve thrown away your perfectly good private sector job. No money, no worries.
I’m convinced the whole PhD system is just the same racket as the new IRS preparer regulations – a way for insiders to erect barriers to entry to enable them to raise their prices and milk their customers. But it does protect those poor students from being instructed by anybody with actual fresh knowledge of what a CPA firm looks like from the inside, so thank goodness for that.
Not so long ago, we presented you with the interesting results of the Final Four if schools advanced based the number of accounting research papers produced. This may or may not have piqued your interest in the possibility of ditching the grind of 9 to whenever you get off for the friendly confines of a college campus.
For those of you that are interested, Professor David Wood of Brigham Young University passed along a link that compiles information for anyone giving serious thought to going back to school. We also got some of his thoughts about his own experience as a professor.
Other than everyone calling you “Doctor” there are three benefits that professors enjoy that is listed on BYU’s “So You Want to Get a PhD.?” page. Granted these don’t apply to just those in accounting but to anyone looking to dive into higher ed instruction:
Professors are constantly learning – “Professors spend the majority of their time teaching and researching. Both of these acts are rooted in learning and sharing your learning with others.” Learning? You mean people enjoy learning? Constantly? Yes, it’s true that some accountants are in it for intellectual stimulation as opposed to the glamor, riches, and title. Professor Wood wrote to us in an email, “Every day is filled with exciting new challenges—from thinking about how to improve business through my research to trying to better communicate and reach students.”
Professors want to make a difference in the world – “In the classroom, professors are role models to their students and teach students how to make the world a better place.” Yes there’s some mushy stuff but that’s good, right? Being able to guide future accountants by showing them different paths that careers can take, what opportunities exist now and what the future holds is a rewarding part of a professor’s job. Professors have the amazing opportunity to inspire young minds to want to make a difference in their chosen career. As Professor Wood told us, “College students are at an important cross road in their life and professors can help provide clarity and information for students to make well-informed, good decisions.”
Life as a professor is full of flexibility – “Not only do professors largely work when and where they want, but they also choose what they do.” This is the stuff that most can only dream of in most corporate/Big 4 world – work when you want, where you want, time for hobbies and other activities. Sure you had to work hard at researching and teaching the new wave of CPAs but there’s a lot freedom that comes with it. Again, Professor Wood, “I don’t know any other career that offers the flexibility of academics without bearing substantial financial risk.”
There you have it. Lots of learning, you get to inspire young minds and you basically can live the way you want. Of course it involves some work too but we’ll touch on that later. Meanwhile, you can ponder.
So you want to get a Ph.D.? [BYUaccounting.net]
This morning we kicked off our certification series that may or may not get you motivated to find some additional letters for your business card. However, if you’re more interested in your getting your name (with letters behind it, natch) getting on the sign/in the window sooner rather than later, there’s good news as well. Forbes 20 Most Profitable Small Businesses list came out last week (on April 15th no less) and accounting related services took three of the top five spots.
Offices of CPAs #1 – Average pre-tax margin of 17.1% and; the trifecta of “pricing power…low overhead and marketing scale,” gave CPA firms the top spot in Forbes list.
Other Accounting Services #3 – Average pre-tax margin of 15.5%; The list states that this includes, “accounting, bookkeeping, billing and tax preparation services in any form, handled not necessarily by a Certified Public Accountant.” Of course many CPA shops do offer these services so it’s not something you should dismiss outright.
Yeah, being the boss is tough but for accountants its a path that many take, as FINS reported last week, citing the AICPA “Roughly three-quarters of the country’s 44,000 tax businesses are one-person shops, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).” And it’s not like everyone is going at it alone. If you’ve got one or more colleagues that you trust (and can stand to be around for hours and weeks on end) a partnership is always a solution.
And while this is great news for you entrepreneurial types, you can’t forget what you’re getting yourself into – you will be responsible for the outcome of the business, succeed or fail. As much as you hate the bureaucracy, politics and all around song and dance of the larger accounting firms, the failure of those firms are completely out of your control. But then again, maybe that’s why you took the risk in the first place – so you can be in control.
Now that busy season has come and gone (that is, for most of you) you may be thinking about what you’re going to spend you summer doing. Of course you should relax and use some of your accrued vacay that’s been thrown at you but you also me wondering what the next step in your career might be. For those of that haven’t yet gotten your CPA, we recommend getting on that ASAP, especially if you’re working in the public domain.
For the rest of you, some options include obtaining another certification that may assist you for your current role or prepare you for a position that you may have interest in for the future. We’ll examine ma er the next several weeks to give you an idea of what the requirements are, what the benefits of the certification might be (yes, including salary) and some career options.
Since forensic accounting is somewhat fresh in our minds, we’ll kick off this series with the CFE designation. It is administered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (“ACFE”), the “world’s largest anti-fraud organization and premier provider of anti-fraud training and education,” according to the ACFE website. The website states that Association more than 50,000 members and it requires 20 hours of CPE every 12 months.
Steps to Obtaining a CFE
1) Be an Associate member of the ACFE in good standing – You can apply for membership here.
2) Submit the CFE Exam application with proof of education and professional recommendations – The ACFE requires three professional recommendations (form here). See the education and professional requirements below.
3) Pass the CFE Exam – After your application and supporting documentation is processed, then you must pass the exam (application here). It consists of five hundred objective and True/False questions administered via a computerized exam that has a $150 fee. The exam covers four areas: Fraud Prevention and Deterrence; Financial Transactions; Fraud Investigation; Legal Elements of Fraud. The CFE has a ton of resources to help with the exam including a prep course that has a money back guarantee.
4) Gain final approval from the certification committee and become a CFE – Assuming you’re not living a double life, this should be the easy part.
The CFE requires a Bachelors Degree (or equivalent) and you may substitute two years of fraud-related work experience for one year of academic study.
Two years of work experience in one of the following fields will meet the professional requirements:
1) Accounting and Auditing – Anyone with experience ” or the detection and deterrence of fraud by evaluating accounting systems for weaknesses, designing internal controls, determining the degree of organizational fraud risk, interpreting financial data for unusual trends, and following up on fraud indicators.”
2) Criminology and Sociology – Do you know the criminal mind?
3) Fraud Investigation -If you’ve investigated fraud as a part of law enforcement or in the private sector (including insurance or internal investigations for other types of businesses).
4) Loss Prevention – This includes security consultants and directors but not your time working security as a mall cop.
5) Law – Candidates that have worked in a legal capacity including lawyers, fraud litigators and anyone working in an anti-fraud capacity.
The two largest groups in the ACFE’s most recent compensation guide were fraud examiners and internal auditors. All of the Big 4 have forensic groups, internal auditors are increasingly become a more important part of the corporate structure and of course, the Federal government (including the SEC) is looking for fraud experts.
The other option, of course, is develop services that aren’t already offered by your firm. Scott Heintzelman, Partner at McKonly & Asbury (aka The Exuberant Accountant) and a CFE told us that it was a way for him to get involved in a new new practice area, “Our firm was getting involved in more cases and I wanted to be a part of this exciting niche. I also saw it as a way to add value to all my clients, by using the best practices on the prevention side.”
Compensation and Other Benefits
The most recent compensation information for “anti-fraud” professionals that we found was produced by the ACFE and it surveyed over 3,000 anti-fraud professionals. Of those, 64% had obtained their CFE and 36% had not. The median salary of those with the CFE certification was $90,300; those that did not have a CFE certification was $74,111.
And depending on the job function, the certification may have an effect on compensation. For example, the median salary for someone with “controller” as their primary job function was $104,500 while a non-CFE’s median salary was $106,000. On the other hand, a respondent whose primary job function was “Internal Auditor” that had a CFE certification had a median salary of $92,000 while a non-CFE “Internal Auditor” had a median salary of $77,800.
Some non-monetary benefits that Scott shared with us is that it definitely raised his profile among the partners at his firm, “As a younger accountant in our firm, my partners clearly saw it as me making myself more valuable to them and my clients. I was the first in my firm and this was a clear distinction.”
Ultimately, work experience and subsequent training will do the most good for those interested in fraud prevention as mentioned by both Sam Antar and Tracy Coenen in our recent post on forensic accounting. The appropriate mindset that includes “investigative intuition,” “[thinking] like a scumbag,” and “double iron clad balls.” Sam insists that these personality traits and characteristics are the most crucial to any successful forensic accountant but he didn’t dismiss the certification altogether saying, “[The] CFE designation is like chicken soup. It can’t hurt.”
So for anyone that thinks that they have the personality and fortitude to make a run in forensics, the CFE can serve as tool to demonstrate your interest. God knows there’s plenty of work out there.
Here at GC, we try to present you with career options now again.
Most notably, we throw the Job of the Day at you but every once in awhile we go off the deep end to present something outside the world of accounting altogether in order that to give false hope to people’s dreams of getting out of number crunching business altogether.
Emmanuel Mulili, a “quiet numbers cruncher who’s quick with a calculator” moonlights as a MMA fighter and his co-workers are surprised that such a ‘reserved’ guy would want to beat the living tar out of another human being.
The “African Assassin” can be seen this Saturday at the Rumble in the Zoo III, after which, his co-workers in attendance will not dare to look at him cross-eyed ever again. Especially since it’s reiterated time and again that Mulili is ‘laid back’ and ‘humble,’ which just convinces us that he has a natural inclination to rip your arms off if you happen to disagree with him on a double-entry accounting issue.
Naturally, Mulili would like to be the next accountant-cum-MMA champion, “I want to get a couple of fights under my belt,” he told the Kalamazoo Gazette, “When the time is right, I’ll turn pro. If it doesn’t work out, I can always get back into accounting. But right now, just keep swinging and pounding.”
Swinging and pounding your face after you hardcode a spreadsheet that he spent hours on.
Forensic accounting is about as sexy as it gets these days for boutique accounting services. For starters, there’s no shortage of work. And even if you’re too inexperienced to start up your own firm, you might be able to cut your teeth at a Big 4 forensic practice or since the SEC seems to getting serious about doing its job, you could go that route.
Hell, even if you’re currently on the other side of this equation (i.e. the perp) it seems to have worked out for at least a couple people, namely Barry Minkow and Sam A e–>
The AICPA sees the potential and is on the offensive, offering a “Certified in Financial Forensics” credential starting in 2008 after demand for such a cred came from its members.
The Institute recently published Characteristics and Skills of the Forensic Accountant, a survey of attorneys, forensic CPAs and academics that presents their “views on the qualities they believed were essential in a forensic accountant.”
Surprisingly, the three groups managed to agree on the most important trait, “All three groups surveyed overwhelmingly cited analytical ability as the most essential characteristic of a forensic accountant: 78 percent of attorneys, 86 percent of CPAs and 90 percent of academics.”
And that’s where the agreement ends:
Attorneys believed oral communications to be the most important skill, reflecting the need to express an opinion effectively in a court of law. CPAs, on the other hand, identified critical and strategic thinking as most important, with written and oral communications as second and third, respectively. The academics agreed with the CPAs that critical and strategic thinking was the prime skill, but, interestingly, rated auditing skills and investigative ability as second and third.
Hard to believe this differing opinions here. Lawyers prefer blabbing? Accountants prefer keeping their heads down and academics take it to an even brainier level? Shock.
We shot a message over to Tracy Coenen, friend of GC, forensic accountant for her thoughts and she notes that all these people surveyed are missing something important – intuition:
I think what they’re missing is investigative intuition. It’s common for people to think that a good auditor makes a good forensic accountant, and that’s simply not the case. Some people have a gift for thinking outside the box and can get a gut feel for what’s wrong. Others only have a gift for reconciling numbers and using checklists. The survey addressed investigative intuition, but it didn’t even make it into the top five of core skills. I think that’s wrong on many levels.
We’d have to agree that there is something to be said for raw talent. You can try and teach someone the necessary skills but if they don’t have that sleuth mentality, forensics probably won’t be a natural fit. Sam Antar agrees, and he laid out his own crucial characteristics for us:
The AICPA likes to talk about the skills of an effective forensic accountant, but it ignores the important personality traits required for them to be successful:
• An effective forensic accountant must have a pair of double iron clad balls and a triple thick skin. Prospective forensic accountants can count on making many enemies in the course of their work and must be unhinged by the retaliation that normally follows uncovering fraud and other misconduct.
• The saying, “It takes one to know one” applies to being an effective forensic accountant. If a forensic accountant is not a convicted felon (like me), there must be at least some degree of larceny wired into their personalities. Effective forensic accountants must at least think like a scumbag to understand criminal behavior, techniques, and countermeasures.
• “Critical and strategic thinking” are relatively ineffective unless the forensic accountant exercises “professional paranoia” in the conduct of their work. Effective forensic accountants must be born cynics and skeptics and never accept any information at face value. A healthy degree of paranoia helps.
Without the personality traits enumerated above, no amount of education can help a person be an effective forensic accountant.
Regardless of the differing opinions, the AICPA wants more people getting into forensics and we think that’s a good thing. However, since the chances of a CSI: Bean Counter are nil, more traditional recruitment measures have to be employed.
AICPA Report Educates CPA Firms, Professors on Forensic Accounting [AICPA Press Release]
AICPA Forensic and Valuation Services Center [Website]
Busy season is rounding the corner and, if you look carefully, you might be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Squint. No I swear, it’s there.
My posts this week will shift from social media to the potential job market. As a public accountant, you should always be cognizant of the fact that you have the ability to continuously develop your strengths and mold your career path. Want to pursue of a career in hedge funds? Network within your firm to be staffed on the right engagements. Need to add tax experience to your resume? Seek out a rotation.
Here are three signs that you should get you thinking about exploring your options.
1. You’ve got your CPA – This might go without saying, but many people enter the public accounting industry with the “two years and done” mentality. Pass the CPA, earn some experience stripes, and get the *[email protected]% out. There’s nothing wrong with this, but don’t expect to $100K jobs to be jumping into your lap. The average salary bump for younger staff from public to the private sector can range from 5-10%, usually topping out around 15%. If this isn’t enough of a bump to seriously consider a private job, don’t lose sight of the quality of life improvement a new job can bring. No, not the smoke and mirrors your firm is promising you. The real deal.
2. Someone you know is interviewing – Believe it or not, the job market is actually improving. The hiring freezes on many financial firms is now limited largely to supporting roles (i.e. HR folks like myself). Hedge and private equity funds are picking up their hiring as the markets begin to thaw. Recruiters are not wasting their time with interviewing individuals for the sole purpose of interviewing. So take note next time your senior staff member has three doctor appointments in a week; perhaps you should be “coming down with a nasty bug,” too.
3. Recruiters call – and you listen – Speaking about recruiters, be prepared for an onslaught of calls. Their timing is no coincidence. The private sector has been shuffling around over the last few months (remember when your client contact suddenly went MIA?), and as the cycle goes, the newly opened private jobs will inevitably be filled by auditors and tax accountants from public. Listen to the cold, scripted calls; be open to a pay increase and better work hours; reclaim your weekends. It can’t hurt to listen to the (substantiated) claims that you’re undervalued in today’s market.
Newsflash: you are grossly undervalued.