Staffing

Here’s What Big 4 Accountants Need to Know About the Current Job Market

Ernst & Young’s red alert email that was shared by GC yesterday should not be taken lightly. Doesn’t matter where you work – your job is about to get harder.


Chances are your most recent busy season was relentlessly terrible. A year removed from rounds of cuts and going on two years with zilch for a raise, the masses at the Big 4 are getting antsy, as they should. It’s now or never. Raises are coming. People are leaving. What should you do?

Consider it professional osmosis – Remember high school science labs? Same theory applies to today’s financial services job market. In one Petri dish there are overworked and underpaid public accountants; the other has job openings and cash flow. It doesn’t take a lesson from your high school chemistry teacher (or me) to explain how this one works. The back offices of financial markets are increasing their numbers as investments begin to flow in again.

Better than a tax refund – The job market for tax professionals will hopefully see its typical action this summer. According to a recent FINS article, interest in making a change is at an all-time high, “43% of tax professionals are hoping to change jobs when the economy evens out, according to a survey by the large U.S. finance headhunter Ajilon Professional Staffing. ‘That’s a large number — one of the largest numbers than we’ve seen in years,’ said Jodi Chavez, a senior vice president at Ajilon.”

Does this mean 43% of your staff is jumping ship? Hell no. The job market is warm not on fire. But it does mean that you should expect to see more “Farewell” emails like this one. If your buddies skip town in a similar fashion to that letter, please share with us.

What about this E&Y thing? Well…I don’t know. Desperate times sound like they’re wrapped up in a formal message with a $7,500 ribbon on top. KPMG made a similar request for advisory reinforcements a few weeks back but they didn’t go so far to make a public plea for external hires. The E&Y situation is probably not as bad as it’s being played out here at GC; it could be a pre-emptive move to protect the practice from layoffs. How bad is it really? We need to know. Get on the horn and tell us in the comments.

What Happens When the “Numbers” People Can’t Count?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for accountant.jpgThere was some quiet chatter here at GC about Ernst & Young’s closure of its Greensboro, NC office this past December, right around the Merry Happy holidays. Thanks Ernie.
This is nothing new. Smaller offices have been getting shut down for years. Years. Years.
You’ll probably find this to be a shocker but your feelings are not the main problem facing the firms due to the combination of recent closings and endless rounds of cuts. The problem is – it’s the theme of any busy season – firms finding themselves short staffed.
Many readers have commented that engagements are understaffed heading into the cold winter months. Albeit this is typically the unofficial “norm,” but slashed fees are only compounding the problem this year. The troubles of ’09 will be used as firm scapegoats for 2010. Move along, kids. Nothing more to see here.
Serious trouble is brewing for at least one Big 4 firm, however. A source confirmed that their Big 4 Beast is outsourcing work in the Carolinas to smaller regional firms because they are so understaffed:

The combination of layoffs a year ago and people leaving now that the market is turning around is causing the firm to hire outside help just to get through busy season.


Ummm. How did this happen? Is this firm (or any other firm for that matter) initiating rotations from staff “heavy” areas like Chicago and New York to cover the lapses in smaller areas like Buffalo or Greensboro? If so spread the winter cheer, because that sounds downright awful.
The public accountant’s mind is a simple one with regards to job searching:
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The middle area is commonly referred to as “run through a venti latte on the client and debate.”

The market is moving ever so steadily from red to green. This time is now, and no one, not even leadership, is denying that. Firm leaders have been talking, talking and talking some more about the upswing of 2010. If they are handing out the Kool-aid, doesn’t SOMEONE take a moment to think, “Hey guys, should we really have cut so much staff six months ago?”
Someone, somewhere underestimated staff needs or overestimated staff loyalty. Or both. So now, cutting into the already razor thin fees will be the misguided expense of hiring outside help just to get by. The situation is only going to get worse in the coming months; money is starting to move, financial firms are beginning to reinvest, and jobs are going to be created and filled by your colleagues.
How can a firm’s leadership whose fundamental – and societal stereotyped – sole function is numbers be so off the mark? This is elementary, is it not?