Andria Capps and Amy Dye are hot, and they know it.
The Arizona State University students are pursuing careers in accounting, one of the hottest professions of 2005, and recruiters started courting them long before graduation.
Capps of Chandler and Dye of Tempe are both interning at the Phoenix office of McGladrey & Pullen. Capps plans to pursing a career in auditing, while Dye is interested in taxation.
"The Big Four (accounting firms) are coming after us, we’ve got small firms, big firms, everybody wants to hire accountancy majors even before we graduate," Capps said. "They’re coming after even freshmen just fresh in to the college. It’s great and we know the jobs are out there."
"I think many of the students really look for job security . . . they know that the job is secure and also there’s obviously high demand," Dye said. "So I think that’s why a lot of students choose this route."
Both plan on pursuing master’s degrees.
"You really can’t climb your way up unless you have your master’s," Capps said. "Most people, if you have your master’s, will look at you and you have more opportunities with that company."
With the demise of Arthur Andersen well in the past and increased government regulation of public companies’ accounting practices, accounting professionals, particularly CPAs, are in high demand and employers are shelling out plenty to get them.
Robert Half International, the world’s largest specialized staffing service, lists accounting as the hottest job in 2005 in the Valley.
"Both public and private companies are looking for qualified accounting professionals in order to help them through the corporate governance issues and establish better internal controls over their financial reporting," said Libby Thomas, branch manager for Robert Half in Phoenix.
ASU’s School of Accountancy is limited to admitting 200 undergraduate students and about 50 graduate students per year, said Jim Boatsman, KPMG professor and the school’s director.
"The competition is intense," he said. "The bar is going up."
The increase in demand for accounting professions has been stimulated by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Boatsman said. The complex set of regulations was passed by the Congress to crack down on corporate fraud in the aftermath of Enron, World-Com and others that rocked the corporate world and severely damaged investors’ trust.
"This is a pretty significant event, this Sarbanes-Oxley Act, because Congress passed the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and then for 40 years it’s essentially done nothing that would affect the practice of accounting," Boatsman said. "This has profoundly affected the practice of accounting."
Accounting firms of all sizes are hiring, said David Boizelle, a national director of recruiting at McGladrey & Pullen in Phoenix.
"In fall 2003, we hired a total of eight people (off college campuses)," he said. "That’s four in Las Vegas and four in Phoenix. This past fall we hired 30 between the two locations. Our fall 2004 recruiting success was the highest number of people that we have hired in those two locations in the history of the firm."
The advent of Sarbanes-Oxley is causing the "Big Four" accounting firms — PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte & Touche — to focus on their largest clients and the publicly traded firms in their client base, Boizelle said.
"As a result, some of their smaller clients are being pushed out because these large firms just can’t afford to serve them as well," he said. "These firms are now being pushed down into the middle market with firms like our firm."
Middle-market firms are then releasing some of their clients to local and regional firms, thus increasing their workload and need for more staff, Boizelle said.
"The clients are now starting to align with the firms that match them in terms of scale," he said. "Since we’re picking up the extra work that the Big Four are doing, that also increases our client load, so our demand is up for talent and it just rippled all the way through the industry."
The strongest demand is for accountants who have completed graduate curriculum, Boatsman said. Recruiters now are pursuing graduate accounting students through internships, he said.
"Increasingly the vehicle of choice by which someone is employed is through an internship," he said. "That would be someone obtains an internship after their fourth year and it’s preceding a year in graduate school, and with regularity students end up working for the employer with which they had this internship."
Boizelle uses this tactic and said the firm hopes to retain its interns after graduation.
"All the firms that I’m familiar with recruit interns as if they were interviewing full-time candidates," he said.
There’s already signs of an emerging shortage of accountants while demand continues to grow, said Lorel Stevens, a recruiter at Accounting and Finance Personnel. Much of its client base — companies looking for accounting professionals and accountants looking for work — is based in the East Valley.
"The demand is there, but the number of people looking for those kind of opportunities is starting to slim down," she said. "We’re seeing that not as many students are going into this particular field or are wanting to graduate with an accounting degree because it’s a five-year program now. That’s a shame because there’s some really great opportunities out there"
Most of Accounting and Finance Personnel’s clients are mid-size companies in industries such as accounting, construction, real estate development, health care and insurance, Stevens said. "We imagine it’s going to continue to get a little tighter out there in terms of companies really, really scrambling to find good, quality people, broadening their scope and their specifications of what they’re looking for because they have to, and maybe expanding their salary ranges a bit," she said. "It’s going to be starting to head in the direction of being an employees’ market."
Compensation already is headed upward for accounting professionals at all levels, Boizelle said.
An emerging obstacle for recruiters is a growing number of accountants, particularly those with three to four years of experience, wanting to get out of public accounting, Boizelle said.
The increasing number of experienced accountants wanting to leave public accounting does open up many upper-level, leadership positions for younger, lessexperienced CPAs, he said.
WILL IT LAST?
For now, accounting professionals are a hot commodity. However, that could change when all public companies are in compliance with Sarbanes Oxley.
"How much of this is sustainable and how much of it is just ramping up for compliance?" Boatsman said. "But I think there’s a lot of it that’s sustainable. But how much is the $64 question."
Some in the industry believe that once all public companies are in compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley within the next two years, there will be more accounting professionals out there than needed, Boizelle said.
On the other hand, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, which was created by Sarbanes-Oxley to oversee the auditors of public companies, isn’t going anywhere, he said. The board is a nonsector, nonprofit corporation.
"As the PCAOB reviews the market and assesses the compliance in the market, they might determine that there is yet more work to be done or another permutation or other legislation that just continues to move forward into the future," he said.
Robert Half’s Thomas believes Sarbanes-Oxley is going to create a lasting need for more accounting professionals. "There is an immediate spike right now . . . but this will be an ongoing issue within accounting departments, so there will be an ongoing need for the internal auditors, the senior accountants and whatever other position there might be because this is not coming to an end," she said.