Odds are good you followed at least a portion of last month’s March Madness college basketball tournament — but did you watch the games on new large-screen TVs supplied by your employer? Accountants at one midsize firm did just that, when they weren’t getting massages or practicing yoga. With financial expertise in very short supply, public accounting firms are trotting out the sorts of perks once enjoyed by Silicon Valley software wizards — and, of course, boosting salaries as well. In short, the war for talent is on.
CFOs say that filling key finance positions is now an arduous process surpassed in difficulty only by keeping people once they’ve got them. As Alix Nyberg Stuart reports in “The People Who Count,” demand for accountants so outstrips supply that accounting firms from the Big Four to regional players are launching a vast number of new initiatives to grab and retain people. Corporate America has little choice but to keep pace, which not only drives up costs but commands an enormous amount of time as companies work hard to recruit and promote skilled controllers, auditors, and related personnel.
This Sarbanes-Oxley ripple effect will be felt for years, some say. While enrollment in college accounting programs is on the rise, the field is likely to remain a seller’s market for at least a decade. CFOs can help themselves, and maybe save their companies a little money, by creating appealing career paths for finance staffers so that they don’t play the role of, as one former Big Four staffer put it, the “accounting police,” but instead feel like they’re making a strategic contribution to the enterprise. Even with that promise, they’ll still demand a competitive salary — but you may be able to forgo the massages.