Too Taxing

The flood of material weaknesses related to tax reflects a lack of expertise — and the evolution of an art into a science.

Combat Pay

FAS 109 and International Tax Specialists Are in High Demand

One of the side effects of improving tax departments is that tax professionals are seeing their stars — and their paychecks — rise.

According to Kathleen Jennings, president and CEO of La Jolla, California-based ET Search Inc., the simple rules of supply and demand dictate the terms. “Tax professionals have become highly specialized and there are fewer of them,” she says. With the threat of an adverse opinion hanging over them, companies are becoming more willing to pay a premium for specific talent.

Among the specialists in hot demand are those who deal with FAS 109. They are the “new rock stars” in tax, says Tony Santiago, president of TaxSearch Inc. And they have seen their paychecks rise “anywhere from 20 to 50 percent in the past few years,” says Jennings, who until recently operated the Website Taxsalarysurvey.com. The other beneficiaries are the international specialists. Those with 10 to 15 years’ experience are earning base salaries of $150,000 to $200,000 and bonuses of up to 75 percent. Tax professionals are increasingly receiving signing bonuses and two-to-three-year guaranteed salary increases, she adds.

It is not clear how long the largesse will last, however. One of the traditional metrics for gauging a tax accountant’s performance — improving effective tax rates — has essentially been eliminated. You can’t tie bonuses to lowering tax rates any more, says Jennings. “It’s just not considered ethical.” Instead, she says, it might make sense to tie bonuses to keeping a company in compliance. “But really,” she says, “how do you know you are in compliance?” — Lori Calabro

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