Accounting Gets Hip—Companies Scramble for Talent

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It's got it all: great pay, generous benefits, a fast career track and the respect of the highest executives in corporate America.

It's accounting, which is fast becoming one of the most prestigious and in-demand careers around. Thanks to a spate of corporate scandals and the flood of jobs created by the Sarbanes-Oxley reform legislation, talented accountants are being wooed with raises, bonuses and a long list of perks.

Even those just starting out are being recruited heavily. Accounting majors top the list of most desired job candidates in the United States, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Graduates can expect to make $43,370 to start, up from $40,538 in 2002. Some recruits get a month of paid vacation, before their first day on the job, the Trenton Star-Ledger reported. An accounting MBA can start at around $55,000, not counting health insurance and retirement benefits.

Jay Soled, a Rutgers accounting professor, told the newspaper that prior to Sarbanes-Oxley, “the field wasn't that sexy, but in the aftermath of Enron, it is once again a hot field. More people have come to realize that accountants call the shots in a number of important areas."

It's a frenzied scramble for talent, as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants says there are too few accountants available to fill the demand. In 1991, 60,000 students graduated with accounting degrees. Twelve years later, that number had dropped to fewer than 50,000, the AICPA says.

Accountants joke that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act should be called “the Accountants' Full Employment Act,” because it requires companies to put tough internal controls in place and CEOs must now sign off on the accuracy of financial statements. The law also requires that consulting and auditing must be kept separate, so smaller firms are growing with the new work coming their way.

Matt Feldman, 31, who next month joins PricewaterhouseCoopers after finishing his Rutgers MBA, said, "At the end of the day, morals and ethics are the most important part of the business transaction. The only downside is that the most competent accountants in the world might lose their jobs by doing the right thing. But if you are comfortable with having a backbone, this is a good time to be an accountant."

Meanwhile, Tom Lombardi, who is also set to earn his MBA from Rutgers next month, said demand for accountants has waxed and waned over his 20 years of work as a CPA.

"We've been on the front pages for all the wrong reasons," he said. He looks forward to a day when accountants are anonymous again: When you read that Exxon and Mobil have decided to merge, and all they say about accounting is that all the accounting issues are being resolved."

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