Is Your Finance Job Recession-proof?

What the looming recession may mean for job security in the tax, treasury, internal audit, and controller's departments—as well as for CFOs themselves.

Internal Audit

A career in internal audit does, too. Internal audit departments should be stable in the face of an economic downturn — at least to the extent that companies appreciate the value they provide, according to David Richards, global president at the Institute of Internal Auditors.

Many internal auditors already try to prove their worth via the cost recovery they provide through their audits. “They routinely give back to the organization multiples of three, four, and five times the cost of operating the department,” Richards says. “Organizations are going to be looking at their large cost items, and internal auditing is not a major cost factor.”

Hackett’s Hall is even more bullish. “Because they can displace external audit costs, internal audit will be a very strong player for years to come,” says the consultant, who predicts it as a very stable job in the coming years.

At the same time, companies in the throes of bottom-line pressures and cost cutbacks aren’t likely to fill open positions in the near term, Richards adds. That could affect the internal audit department, he says. “The market has been very tight for internal auditors, so I’m sure there are plenty of job openings that are currently unfilled, and that is one of the first places organizations will look to from a staffing standpoint,” he says.

Indeed, Korn/Ferry’s Eldridge says that the “substantial hiring post-Sarbox” quieted down about this time last year. And while he sees a few companies beginning to hire for internal audit again after that lull, he suspects many may be looking at ways to consolidate internal audit with the risk management and compliance functions. “I don’t know that internal audit is recession-proof,” he says. “Companies have internal audit, risk, and compliance. This would be a way to streamline. There’s a good business reason, and now there may be a good economic reason.”


While there may be room for debate about whether internal audit is a consolidation target, there is general agreement that the controller’s office will be a focus of shrinkage. “Clearly the controller’s organization is at risk for cuts,” says Hall. The traditional controller, he says, splits his or her time between classic transactional accounting and a more strategic role. “As we go to globalization, we need to pull those roles apart,” he says. “If I’m controller of a business in Minneapolis and 100 percent of my accounting work is performed in Poland, then by definition I am an analyst,” he says. “This is a particularly dynamic space.”

Eldridge also sees the controller’s office as one of the most likely areas for cuts. After making substantial investments in that area to make business more efficient, the headhunter says, companies will be looking to continue the trend. “Once you’ve walked through the process to streamline, you can’t stop.” He sees the controller’s office as one of the most likely to send functions offshore. “From a headcount perspective, you might go up, but it will be 300 [employees] overseas as opposed to 100 here.”


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