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US Accountants Being Asked to Think More Globally

Aug 8th 2013
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By Jason Bramwell

Having expertise in such topics as international tax laws and global regulatory requirements will be somewhat or very necessary for accounting and finance professionals five years from now, according to 69 percent of CFOs who were recently surveyed by Robert Half Management Resources.

The responses from the more than 2,100 US CFOs surveyed are in line with a previous survey conducted by Robert Half in 2008, in which 71 percent of finance executives believed international experience would be a necessary skill for accountants by 2013.

"In the past five years, the world has become more of a business marketplace for organizations of all sizes. At all levels of business and within all industries, the client demand is for more international experience", Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, told AccountingWEB. "Companies are doing business globally because there's demand for their services and because it opens up new channels for their products and services."

The research shows demand for global expertise is most pronounced at larger companies – and almost unanimously at the biggest organizations. Just 1 percent of CFOs at companies with 1,000 or more employees felt accountants didn't need international experience. Even at the smallest firms surveyed – those with twenty to forty-nine employees – two-thirds (67 percent) of finance executives said accounting and finance staff needed more of a global perspective for their job.

Demand for international expertise also varies by industry. CFOs in the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors (79 percent) as well as the manufacturing industry (75 percent) are more likely to look for this background.

"All service industries, including finance, manufacturing, and wholesale distribution, are looking for people who have international experience", McDonald said. "It will never hurt you if you gain that experience – either as a student, as a professional early in your career, middle of your career, or later in your career."

Tactics to Gain International Experience without Traveling the Globe

Accounting and finance professionals don't necessarily have to travel abroad to gain the international experience needed for their job. There are plenty of opportunities for them to garner those skills in the office or even at home.

McDonald said larger companies conduct various knowledge-based sessions to help employees who are involved in working with overseas clients build knowledge of their clients' countries, build their foreign language skills, and develop their technical skills.

"If your organization doesn't offer that, go online and seek out self-study training courses, such as for the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) certification, that might augment your skill set", he stated. "Or you could study up on a foreign language. There's a host of channels for individuals on how to learn the language of a country in which they're doing business."

McDonald also recommended that accountants and finance personnel volunteer for a project that might involve a country or a region of the world in which they might have an interest.

Another way of gaining critical international experience is finding a mentor who can coach you, according to McDonald.

"This person can help you learn the part of the world you're interested in", he said. "That person could be within your organization, or it could be a mentor within a trade group or a business association that you're a member of, such as the AICPA or the Association for Corporate Growth."

Even accounting students who are nearing graduation can gain the international experience many firms are seeking. If a student doesn't have the ability to travel abroad for a semester, McDonald recommended he or she take a foreign studies course.

"Business schools at many of the major universities and even the mid-tier universities offer international business courses", he said.

A Must-Have Skill

After talking with companies and clients that work with Robert Half, McDonald said having international experience is a must-have skill for accountants and finance personnel – now and in the future.

"The survey results for 2013 are indicative of what's being required today in the marketplace", he concluded.

About the survey:

The survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources, a provider of senior-level finance, accounting, and business systems professionals on a project and interim basis. An independent research firm conducted the survey, which is based on interviews with more than 2,100 CFOs from a stratified random sample of companies in more than twenty of the largest US metropolitan areas.

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