Finance and accounting job market

With an unemployment rate of 1.9% for analysts and 2.3% for accountants, auditors and financial managers (Job Futures Canada), accounting and finance specialists are among the most sought-after professionals in Canada.

“The placement rate is about 90%,” explains Nathalie Francisci, president of Venatus Conseil, a recruiting firm specializing in finance and accounting jobs. There are many more jobs than there are candidates, and employers are doing everything they can to keep their best employees.”

This situation, which is very favourable for candidates, is due to the reinforcement of the accounting system over the past few years, along with a decrease in the labour pool. The number of new members of professional accounting associations has dropped, while demand for the profession has been steadily increasing for six years. According to the Certified General Accountants (CGA) Association of Canada, there were 4,448 young graduates in Canada in 2004, vs 3,526 in 2006.

The direct consequence of the shortage of candidates is that salaries have been continually increasing since 2001. For accountants and auditors, Job Futures Canada is announcing salary increases of twice the national average across all jobs. This increase is even faster for financial managers, whose salaries are increasing at 2.5 times the national average. Above and beyond salaries, working conditions are improving for accounting and finance specialists, as a result of their increased bargaining power with employers. Vacation periods have gotten longer, and are currently at about three to four weeks a year.

Accounting firms are experiencing the same situation. Nathalie Francisci comments that they have adapted to this new deal and have greatly improved their working conditions. “They are becoming increasingly competitive and offer much higher salaries than those in companies. Going from an accounting firm to a company is no longer automatic.” About 40% of chartered accountants today work for accounting firms (OCAQ).

THE INTERNAL CONTROL BOOM

Internal control clearly accounts for the lion’s share of needs in this market. Auditing and certification professionals are very much in demand since the adoption of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The accounting scandals at the beginning of the millennium—Enron, Nortel, Worldcom, Parmalat, etc.—led to an obligation for good governance and increased focus on control measures. North American companies had to invest massively to comply with the SOX Act: in the U.S., companies with sales of more than US$5 billion spent on average US$4.36 million for this purpose (Financial Executives International, 2004).

“Companies and accounting firms are beefing up their teams to comply with the new standards,” explains Nathalie Francisci. “The profession has not been very popular lately and there is a shortage candidates. Those with five to ten years’ experience are truly rare. Their salaries can reach $100,000 a year, sometimes more than very senior accountants, whose numbers are not so scarce.”

Generally speaking, internal control is becoming increasingly present in the day-to-day work of finance and accounting executives. Finance VPs and CFOs are spending more time on auditing, at the expense of strategic management, which is not always to their liking, and rightly so—they sign the financial statements.

SHORTAGE IN SIGHT

Will this bubble burst once the new accounting standards have been integrated? Probably not, since the coming retirement of the baby boomers is likely to absorb all newcomers and extend the shortage for the next 5 to 10 years.

The profession is not young: 13% of Canada’s 67,000 chartered accountants are over 55 years of age (National Post, 2005). In Quebec, the Ordre des comptables agréés forecasts the retirement of 578 chartered accountants a year, starting in 2020, with only 375 new members a year currently replacing them.

In addition, Nathalie Francisci has observed a trend in young people to decline accounting and finance managerial jobs left open by the retirement of the baby boomers. Some of the incumbents delay their retirement and often return as consultants, but this is not enough to fill the gaps. “Where are we going to find tomorrow’s managers if today’s young people don’t want these jobs?”

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