Rise in US accounting salaries accelerates

By Ken Tysiac

Accounting professionals in the United States continue to be in high demand, and the starting salaries they can command are rising at an accelerating rate, according to new data.

Average starting salaries for U.S. accounting professionals will increase in the coming year between 4.0% and 5.3% over the previous year, depending on the job position, according the 2016 Salary Guide released this week by staffing services provider Robert Half.

These figures represent a significant jump from the increase in starting salary ranges for U.S. accountants predicted by Robert Half for recent years:

  • A range of 2.9% to 4.4% for 2015.
  • A range of 2.9% to 4.5% for 2014.
  • A range of 2.7% to 4.5% for 2013.

For 2016, starting salaries in public accounting are expected to rise slightly more than those in corporate accounting. Twenty-six of the 46 public accounting positions listed in the guide had predicted increases of 5.0% or more. The overwhelming majority of the corporate accounting positions listed in the guide had predicted increases between 4.0% and 4.9%.

Businesses’ bounce back from the recent global recession has led to significant hiring and high demand for skilled talent in accounting and finance, said Dan DeNisco, vice president of Robert Half Management Resources.

“They’re hiring at rates we hadn’t seen since pre-2008,” DeNisco said. “The whole supply and demand scale has been tipped now in the other direction, and you tie that in with some specific industry demands such as those in financial institutions with the compliance [requirements] that are hitting them, it’s just created a huge shortage of good, solid talent.”

Increases in average starting salary for Canadian accounting professionals are expected to accelerate slightly, with a rise of 3.3% to 4.7% for 2016 over the previous year. The range for Canadian public accountants for 2015 was 2.3% to 4.6%.

Difficulty in finding and retaining good talent has caused many employers to embrace flexibility for accounting professionals, DeNisco said. He said allowing remote access for employees and flexible hours may be necessary for firms and companies to attract and retain talent. Employers also are bringing back alumni from their companies and firms to work on a part-time or interim basis, DeNisco said.

“Those are things that wouldn’t have even been considered a few years ago, but that flexibility and accommodating that workforce is really important,” DeNisco said. “And it’s all about that culture of valuing the employee.”

Investing in employees’ career and professional development also is a key part of employers’ retention strategies, DeNisco said.

Despite the favorable environment for employees and job seekers, accounting professionals need to continue enhancing their skills to remain in high demand, DeNisco said.

“Things have changed so dramatically, especially in the accounting and finance world,” DeNisco said. “… The accounting professional that’s adding value today is a business partner with all the other stakeholders in that company. So I may be the best compliance auditor in the world, but if I don’t have the technology skills to go along with that, I’m not going to be as valuable.”

According to DeNisco, high-demand skill areas for accountants include:

  • A combination of audit/compliance and IT skills.
  • Senior accountant skills, such as the ability to do reconciliations and monthly closes.
  • Financial analysis skills, such as budgeting and variance analysis.

Ken Tysiac (ktysiac@aicpa.org) is a JofA editorial director.

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