Accountants expecting noticeable increases in their salaries next year shouldn't get their hopes up.

Robert Half International and Ajilon Professional Staffing each released their annual salary guides in an effort to help accounting firms and companies manage compensation in a competitive market. Each offers its own explanation of what's to come in regards to salaries in finance and the public and private accounting arenas.

The results aren't particularly rosy.

Ajilon predicted that in the above-mentioned areas, salaries will decline 0.85 percent next year, while chief financial officers and treasurers will have it tougher. Their salaries are expected to drop 7.7 percent compared to 2009.

The forecast from Robert Half is a bit better, but not much. They anticipate salary increases of roughly 2 percent for the upcoming year for everyone in all positions across large, midsized and small firms.

"With the uncertain economy [and] with unemployment more than doubling in the last 12 months, you really have a situation where trends are going to mostly be flat," said Bill Driscoll, Robert Half International district president for New England.

On a somewhat brighter note, when it comes to employee motivation, it's not always about the money. According to Robert Half, the primary reason that people leave their jobs is unhappiness with management, followed by limited opportunity for advancement. Compensation ranked third, along with a lack of recognition.

JOB OUTLOOK

"The tax positions and skill sets are probably the most in demand in terms of clients hoping to achieve cost saving through management of their taxes," Driscoll added.

While those who are proficient in tax work are sought after, professionals with experience that also includes credit and collections, cash management, compliance, and financial and business analysis are more likely to vault to the front of the recruiting line - and accountants and CPAs are in a better situation than most.

According to the RHI 2010 Salary Guide, which lists starting salary information for nearly 300 accounting and finance positions across the country, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts employment for a number of accounting and finance specialties will rise as fast or faster than the average for all occupations in the coming years.

Aside from the CPA credential, which is highly valued in the job market, people who are especially in demand now possess technical expertise and global experience - such as with International Financial Reporting Standards. Those who also offer skill and knowledge in enterprise resource planning and financial reporting tools to analyze data are considered highly attractive job candidates, as well.

"There's been clearly more modest growth with [salary] increases. However, the need to attract and retain talent is probably greater than ever," said Doug Arms, chief talent officer of Ajilon Professional Staffing in Melville, N.Y. "There's niche accounting that has seen a greater uptick just because of the difficulty in finding qualified individuals, but overall, public accounting fared extremely well."

Ajilon's guide, which publishes trends and predictions on the economic climate, collected results from the Institute of Management Accountants and American Workplace Insights surveys. Those polls surveyed more than 500 accounting and finance execs and 1,000 business leaders in other industries.

Fifty-nine percent of those polled said that financial analysis, budgeting and forecasting due to the recession would create additional job opportunities for the accounting and finance profession. Fifty-eight percent said that IFRS would provide new jobs and 21 percent pointed to XBRL - the Extensible Business Reporting Language - as an area that would open up more positions.

"Anybody who has a skill set that would help in a transition to these standards [IFRS] is going to be in really high demand," Arms said. "Whether it's XBRL or IFRS, those people who come in as a subject-matter expert to teach are the ones who are going to be in large demand. The ones that make an immediate impact are the ones people are willing to pay a premium for."

DISAPPOINTING NUMBERS

But while public accounting may have held its own in the economic downturn, salary increases will be meager.

The positions that can anticipate the highest salary increase at all size firms, according to Robert Half, are tax directors and senior managers, which will realize a 1.6 percent boost. On the audit side, directors and seniors can expect less than a 0.1 percent increase.

The outlook is bleaker for those just starting their career. On the tax side, according to Robert Half, the salaries of those who have up to one year of experience in the tax area will likely stay below a 0.5 percent increase. And for those in that ranking in the area of auditing, there is no expected increase in firms - regardless of size.

Ajilon displays its results by firm size (large firms reflect more than $250 million in sales, midsized firms earn $25 to $250 million, and small firms generate up to $25 million in sales) and by seven regions in the U.S. and Canada. Partners, according to Ajilon, will experience a 6 percent decrease in salary for 2010. Staff accountants, however, or those in the job for up to one year, surprisingly, can hope for an increase, though slight, of 2 percent.

Each guide provides a way to account for regional variances to help hiring managers in specific areas of the country remain salary-competitive.

"Senior-level positions in public accounting firms will see the largest pay decreases next year," said Ajilon's Arms. "But we are still expecting a slight raise next year among lower-level positions like senior accountants and staff accountants; that is an optimistic sign."

You can request copies of the Ajilon guide by calling (866) GO-AJILON; copies of the Robert Half guide can be requested at www.roberthalfmr.com/freeresources.

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