In one of the classic episodes of “The Honeymooners,” the Ed Norton character is despondent over getting fired from his long-tenured position as a sewer worker.

When his pal Ralph Kramden suggests that he look for a similar post, Norton quickly educates him on the scarcity of openings for “subterranean engineers.”

“Sewer workers are like brain surgeons,” he declares. “We’re both specialists!”

While few would confuse the pedigree needed to practice either, a recent survey from CCH lends some credence to the blue-collar Norton’s claim of specialization.

At least in the accounting profession.

The study showed that two-thirds of the firms polled indicated that their specialized service arms were growing, while roughly the same percentage said they plan to “drill deeper” into their current specialty niches. Meanwhile, more than half said they planned to become more specialized in select practice areas.

The days of clients who want audit firms to perform their best impressions of Costco are apparently waning, despite legions of past surveys that demonstrated client retention rates rise commensurate with the number of services provided for them.

That may have been a “given” several years ago, but it was also in a very different economic reality than the one we currently find ourselves in.

In fact, I suspect you’ll see even more specialization efforts in the near future and beyond. After all, one man’s crisis is another’s opportunity. And to be sure, firms are scrambling to seize opportunities as the financial markets continue their manic ride.

Take for example a recent announcement by super-regional firm J.H. Cohn, which revealed that it was forming a “Client Economic Recovery Team” — a cross-disciplinary cadre of firm members who will advise financial institutions and public companies affected by the financial crisis.

According to Cohn, the group was formed with the intention of assisting senior executives and board members with risk management and regulatory compliance requirements associated with the recent federal bailout.

The services associated with the group include: forensic accounting, litigation support and financial recovery.

Ditto for Protiviti, the national risk-assessment consultant, which also assembled its own Financial Crisis Team, which much like Cohn’s, comprises multiple disciplined individuals with backgrounds in financial-risk management, restructuring and litigation support resumes.

Certainly a tad more specialized than “plain vanilla” tax and audit services, but we aren’t exactly in a plain-vanilla  economy anymore.

If only Ed Norton had peddled his specialty knowledge a half-century later he would have found himself in a seller’s market.

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