Financial professionals in short supply

by John Callegari

With the acquisition of Germany’s Deutsche Card Services and its 100 employees, EVO Payments International, a payment processor, also wants to add a handful of financial and accounting professionals at its Melville headquarters.

But CEO Jim Kelly said the company is having a hard time doing that. “The market must be getting better, because we can’t find them,” Kelly said this week. “And I know it’s not a result of the salaries we’re offering them.”

He’s not alone.

Businesses across the nation are struggling to find talented accounting and finance professionals, specifically business systems analysts, tax accountants and auditors. And they’re coping by seeking out less qualified individuals or increasing the salaries they’re willing to pay.

Nationwide, almost 60 percent of companies surveyed in Robert Half International’s annual professional employment report noted it is at least somewhat challenging to find needed accounting and finance employees.

To combat the shortage, Dawn Fey, district president of New York City-based Robert Half International, which helps place accounting and finance professionals at companies in the New York metropolitan area, suggested companies limit their wish list for potential employees to only a couple of must-have skills.

“Some of the skills clients are looking for are still so new and different that few have them,” Fey said. “For example, Dodd-Frank is new for everyone, so not that many people are completely versed in it yet. Expecting job candidates to be completely up on that along with several other skills may not be realistic.”

The current 4.7 unemployment rate for accounting and finance professionals sits well below November’s 7.7 percent national unemployment rate for all occupations. For companies seeking younger talent, the supply is more readily available than for mid- to senior-level professionals, but the key is to get a first crack at them. Michael Nugent, director of the MBA and Finance program for Stony Brook University, recommended companies keep close contact with the career centers at local universities to reach potential employees before they hit the job market.

But with much of the demand for mid- to senior-level finance professionals, some companies have turned to outsourced accounting professionals to meet their needs while combing the market for permanent replacements.

And rightfully so, some would argue. A lot of these outsourced professionals will be able to work with integrating existing internal systems into software such as Salesforce (learn more about these type of integrations on the Salesforce website). This is often a skill that in-house accountants lack.

Huntington Station-based CFO Consulting Partners, a provider of interim and part-time CFO services, has seen its business increase 25 percent in the past year, according to co-founder and senior managing partner Allan Tepper, with the majority of that stemming from smaller to midsize companies and community banks.

“When the banks are feeling pressure from regulators, they must react, so they try to staff up,” Tepper said. “We usually compete with talented people who are in between jobs, but that kind of competition has been taken off the table right now.”

Accounting and financial employees are the second most in-demand jobs nationwide according to a new study by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International. The study noted 37,123 accounting and finance jobs have been added since 2010, a 3 percent increase, second only to software developers, which increased by 70,872 jobs during that same time period. And the number of jobs in accounting and finance is expected to grow between 16 and 23 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Starting salaries for accounting and finance positions, estimated at about $61,000 in 2010 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, are expected to rise an average of 3.3 percent in 2013, according to an annual employment report from Robert Half International. The report noted there will be a particular need for Financial Analysts and business analysts who can support growth opportunities, as well as staff and senior accountants.

While the need for more finance professionals continues to grow, the number of degrees conferred nationally in accounting and finance has remained relatively stable. Locally, Stony Brook University has actually been drawing down the number of students admitted to its business school from 1,200 in 2010 to 1,000 in 2011 and 900 in 2012. This comes at a time when 68 percent of accounting majors nationwide have received job offers, the highest percentage of any major according to a report from the National Association of Colleges & Employers.

Nugent said the school is making its entry requirements more stringent in an effort to lower class sizes. Stony Brook does not have enough professors to handle both the undergraduate and graduate workloads, so the school is focusing on expanding its MBA program. The decrease in undergraduate admissions should only be temporary, Nugent said.

“We’re in the process of expanding the finance and accounting faculty by between four and eight new hires in the next year,” he said. “Once we have adequate staffing, then we can again look at
increasing enrollment.”

Richard Paris, CEO of Melville-based Marcum Search, the staffing division of accounting firm Marcum, said he’s seen a large increase in demand for finance and accounting professionals
across the nation for the last six months.

“We have 75 recruiters who work for us, and we are overwhelmed with work,” said Paris, who noted the company just completed an acquisition of Connecticut-based search firm Horton
International on Dec. 1. “We’re having to turn down some work.”

Marcum has even turned to some of its own to help stem the shortage, creating a financial incentive program for all staff members who refer qualified accounting and auditing professionals. The incentive is being used to recruit tax and assurance professionals for Marcum’s offices in Melville, New York City, Pennsylvania, Boston, Connecticut, South Florida and San Francisco.

Paris said the uptick in demand for financial professionals stems from the economy’s turning around enough that companies can afford to fill vacancies in crucial positions like accountants and auditors.

“Companies wait and try to do more with less during bad times,” he said. “Then they backfill in their overhead positions when there’s a rebound. That’s what we’re seeing on the corporate side.”

Nugent agreed, saying companies locally now have to again contend with the large Wall Street firms that have recovered from the 2008 recession. “You have a lot of extra demand here because of New York City,” Nugent said.

And for larger companies with multiple offices, like EVO Payments International, if the talent market has soured in one area, it may be worthwhile to look elsewhere.

“Most of the countries we’re getting into require some work done locally, so while we’ll keep attempting to centralize some of our administrative work [on Long Island], we’ll also staff up our offices in these other countries,” Kelly said.

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