IMA survey finds slight increase in salaries for finance and accounting professionals

Jul 7th 2011
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By Anne Rosivach

The Institute of Management Accountants' (IMA) 22nd annual salary survey of its members, How's that recovery workin' for you?, found that while salary increases were moderate in 2010, accountants holding professional certification have greater earning power than those with no certification. There was no indication that IMA members have been unemployed through the recession, but the survey concluded that women lagged men in overall compensation, a finding that has been consistent over time.

The IMA, the association of accountants and financial professionals in business, grants the Certified Management Accountant credential.

The number of IMA members reporting salary increases rose in 2010 over 2009, but has not returned to pre-recession levels. "We are on the path to recovery; there is definitely some improvement", said Jeff Thomson CMA, president and CEO of IMA, who discussed the survey results with AccountingWEB. "But pockets of concern in the global economy remain in the short term, and there is long-term concern about whether the U.S. will solve its fiscal problems."

Value of certification

IMA's Salary Survey confirms the value of certification. "Accounting and finance professionals with a certification such as the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) enjoy a premium, based on their total compensation, of 20 – 30 percent", Thomson said. "This salary advantage begins with entry level jobs and remains constant throughout their career." Approximately 72 percent of IMA's 60,000 members have one or more certifications.

Major survey findings for 2010 show:

  • The average total compensation for those holding the CMA certification is $131,395; 21 percent more than those without a certification ($108,938).
  • Overall, average salaries in 2010 increased slightly from $105,850 to $109,265 – a 3.1 percent increase. Average total compensation increased $5,129 from $123,357 to $128,486 – a 4.2 percent increase.
  • Younger professionals, in the 19 to 29 age group, benefit from obtaining professional certifications, with CMAs earning 14 percent more than their noncertified peers.

"The accounting and finance profession is pretty resilient during tough economic times", Thomson said. "Companies need competent accountants and financial professionals. It is not surprising that there is relatively less unemployment in accounting departments within organizations. Accounting and finance managers typically run lean departments even during good times. They are the ones who are asking everyone else to manage costs."

Disparity between earnings of men and women

Women respondents reported lower average salary and average total compensation than men respondents at each management level. Average additional compensation (bonuses, profit sharing) was significantly lower for women than for men.

"The difference between the earnings of men and women has appeared, unfortunately, in every IMA Salary Survey during the past 22 years", Thomson told AccountingWEB. "However, 66 percent of respondents reported receiving salary increases in 2010, with more women than men reporting them."

The survey examines salaries at four levels of management. Differences in compensation between men and women were greatest at the top level of management with top-level men receiving $49,000 more in salary than top-level women, and $73,000 more in total compensation. At the senior and middle levels the salary gap between men and women is $13,000 to $15,000; men earned $25,000 to $26,000 more on average in total compensation than women.

Traditionally, the salary gap has been smallest in the younger categories and then has widened over age ranges.

The disparity between the earnings of male and female IMA members may be related in part to broad gender issues, but the survey identified some specific factors that could contribute to the difference:

  • Women respondents are younger than men (46.2 vs. 48.4), which is statistically significant.
  • Fewer women than men possess a professional certification (64% vs. 72%).

At least 7 percent fewer women than men have a certification at all levels except middle management, where both men and women have about a 71 percent certification rate.

Thomson noted that another sign of a recovering economy is that more women than men report taking advantage of alternative or flexible career options, which include positions with reduced hours for reduced pay. During the past two years the number of professionals taking advantage of these options had declined.

While women earned less than men in all situations in 2010, they did not lose ground. For the second year in a row, however, in what the survey authors say could be a troubling trend, women had more than 10 percent fewer certified respondents in the entry/lower levels.

Demographic shifts in salary increases

The survey found that the economic recovery appears to be impacting the generations quite differently. Certified respondents in their 40s and 50s reported the highest increases in salaries and total compensation. Those in their 20s, 30s, and 60s reported flat or decreases in salaries and compensation, with respondents in their 60s showing the largest decreases.

Average compensation increased at all age levels up to the "60 and over" category for the past five years. Prior to 2005 the "60 and over" age group earned more than the "50-59" age group, but these categories have swapped their positions.

This year, there are 27 percent more respondents aged 60 and over than last year, which could indicate the recovery kept and maybe even brought back older IMA members into the workforce.

"It is hard to understand why there has been a decrease in salaries for those over 59 years of age", Thomson said. "It may be that some professionals have been asked to reduce hours or have changed roles."

Salary increases by organization size and structure

Salaries for accounting professionals employed in smaller organizations bounced back from a decline in 2009. This year the smaller categories showed an increase of 13.3 percent by location and 7.5 percent by organization. The survey defines the number of employees at one location as "location" and number of people employed by the entire organization as "organization."

Over the past five years, the two highest-paid structures had been publicly traded corporations and partnerships, which would include those working in public accounting. Salaries of respondents working for theses employers did not increase significantly in 2010.

Certification and opportunity

Thomson emphasized that the value of certification was not limited to compensation. "The value of certification extends beyond the salary premium to the tremendous career opportunities for accounting and finance professionals in both tactical and strategic areas. Individuals who enjoy technical analysis can become involved in auditing, transaction processing, and the analysis of monthly reports. In more strategic roles, they assume responsibilities outside the historical recording of what happened. They might present a financial analysis on a new acquisition to a corporate board. They exercise leadership and create the business."

Professionals should consider becoming certified in more than one area, Thomson said. "The more credible certifications a person has, the better. Just as companies are looking to differentiate themselves in a very competitive global economy, students and young professionals need to find ways to differential themselves. Working toward a certification such as the CMA or CPA shows that the professional is willing to take the time to study for a rigorous advanced degree and has made that additional level of commitment."

IMA's 22nd Annual Salary Survey was mailed to a random sample of 5,201 IMA members in early December 2010. The sample was designed to represent the IMA membership in the United States geographically. The survey was based on responses from 1,674 IMA members.

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