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Forecast for Accounting Grads: Bright Future, Dull Reputation

June 14, 2010

With college graduations at hand, accounting majors entering the job market face a sobering reality. No, it’s not the U.S. unemployment rate, which stands at 9.7 percent. Rather, it’s the milquetoast reputation that dogs the accounting profession.

After all, the unemployment rate is in a state of constant flux and will fall to less-threatening levels soon enough. Public opinion, however, is a bit more rigid, and it paints accountants as bland and boring. The Associated Press illustrates the stereotype in a recent story that suggests iPhone users bask in an “aura of cool.” BlackBerry users, on the other hand, are so far removed from cool that anybody seen with a BlackBerry could be understandably mistaken for an accountant.

OK, so maybe a BlackBerry user is an accountant. But when it comes to governance, risk and compliance (GRC), the accountant’s reputation as milquetoast doesn’t quite square with reality. Accountants often sit at the top of the GRC mountain, and accounting graduates will soon find that recent events and technology developments are conspiring to keep them there.

World events like Wall Street’s meltdown in 2008 and this year’s Greek debt crisis are driving regulatory reforms at home and abroad. Such reforms are nothing less than efforts to restore the public’s faith in national — and global — economies by improving transparency and accountability. And while those reforms will be drafted by politicians, compliance with those reforms will be established and enforced by accountants.

Meanwhile, continuous monitoring technologies are emerging to facilitate transparency and mitigate the burdens of demonstrating regulatory compliance. The technologies can also automate data acquisition to provide the information backbone for risk and governance strategies. That is, analytics solutions interpret the continuously monitored data and generate options for mitigating identified risks. Then governance solutions evaluate those options and determine the best course of action.

This year’s crop of freshly minted accountants will find that they — and their colleagues in the finance department — are no longer just responsible for preparing financial statements and compliance reports. Increasingly, the finance department will also provide input used for guiding business operations and growth, addressing such issues as where to take the business, how to maximize revenues, and how to minimize risks.

The evolution of the accountant and the finance department as a whole may be best exemplified by the rise of the corporate governance officer (CGO). This recent addition to the executive team isn’t just a glorified admin who fills out paper work. The CGO is responsible for blending risk with corporate strategy, and can challenge the chief financial officer and other C-level executives when those executives advocate any strategy that carries excessive risk.

Of course, the business process re-engineering and emerging corporate strategies noted above probably won’t do much to alter the accountant stereotype held by the general public. But anybody entering — or contemplating — the fields of accounting and finance will find that world events, technology developments, and changing responsibilities are making accounting one of the most important and exciting professions in the enterprise.

Jay Muelhoefer is vice president of marketing at Lumigent Technologies, Inc., a governace, risk and compliance business apps company . Learn more about Lumigent at, follow Lumigent on Twitter at @Lumigent or Facebook at, and contact Jay at

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