Corporate Finance Salary Outlook

Robert Half report predicts return to modest pay gains in 2011.

In corporate finance these days it pays to specialize. A look at anticipated starting salaries for 2011 shows positions that are more niche than generalist in flavor are likely to see the biggest pay gains compared with 2010.


“The more specialized you are, the more desirable you are,” said Carol Scott, CPA, vice president–Business, Industry & Government for the AICPA. “The greater opportunity for finance professionals is in specialized roles: regulatory compliance, tax accountants, fraud and forensic accountants.”


The largest projected increase in the 2011 Salary Guide published by Robert Half International (RHI) for corporate finance positions is a 5% climb for senior business analysts, who could see starting pay ranging from $66,500 to $85,500. (See Exhibit 1; the 2011 Salary Guide can be downloaded from


Across all corporate finance job titles, the starting salary forecast for this year is sunnier than it was in 2010. Robert Half predicted an average increase of 3.1%—a significant improvement over last year’s negligible 0.6% rise. See Exhibit 2 for data on other positions of interest (link opens in new window).


Historical trends reflected in the guide, which has been published every year since 1950, suggest the industry may be recovering from the economic crisis at a faster rate than it did after the burst of the dot-com bubble. During the technology run-up, the 2001 Salary Guide predicted a 7.2% increase in the average starting salaries for finance and accounting professionals employed in corporate positions. But by 2002, the forecast was a modest 1.5% increase, and in the next two years the Robert Half guides predicted starting salaries would decrease year over year, dropping 0.3% in 2003 and another 1.1% in 2004. It wasn’t until the 2006 forecast, five years after the onslaught of that recession, that accounting and finance starting salaries in corporate settings were expected to increase 3.1%, the same average projected for 2011.


“Accountants are more critical to business than they’ve ever been,” said Dawn Fay, district president for Robert Half’s New York/New Jersey market. “Not much changed in accounting for a long time, but then Sarbanes-Oxley happened, new regulations came out of this last downturn, and there has been growing emphasis on the integrity of data and [an undercurrent] of corporate mistrust. All of these factors put added pressure on accounting and finance to report accurate numbers and maintain excellent business practices.”


The RHI survey suggested jobs would be added across all levels of corporate finance, Fay said. The challenge, she said, is finding candidates with diverse capabilities, from technical expertise to systems knowledge and soft skills. “Employers need individuals with strong communications skills who can articulate forecasts and report numbers in meetings,” she said.



Business analysts are among the most sought-after corporate finance professionals, according to Robert Half. Companies of all sizes are seeking business analysts at every level, largely because these positions marry technology and accounting.


“This is the person who bridges the gap between emerging technologies, internal computer systems, and accounting and finance,” Fay said. Ideally business analysts leverage the technology infrastructure to drive the company’s efficiencies and profitability.


For 2011, business analysts in businesses of all sizes can expect starting salaries and year-over-year increases as follows:


Entry level, up to 1 year of experience:

$43,000 to $55,000

4% increase

Junior level, 1 to 3 years of experience:

$51,000 to $68,750

4.4% increase

Senior level:

$66,500 to $85,500

5% increase

Manager level:

$78,250 to $102,500

4.5% increase


Financial analysts are likewise in high demand, especially at midsize companies ($25 million to $250 million in sales) and at large companies (sales exceeding $250 million), according to the 2011 Salary Guide, primarily because identifying opportunities to increase profits is a priority for companies.


“Before a company can launch a new product or expand its services, it has to do extensive research to see if the numbers make sense,” Fay said. “Financial analysts identify what the business should be doing to perform ahead of competitors.”


Predicted starting salaries for financial analysts for 2011 are expected to fall within the following ranges (with the year-over-year increase noted as well):


Entry level, up to 1 year of experience:

Midsize companies: $39,500 to $48,000   

4.5% increase

Large companies: $41,000 to $51,750   

4.2% increase


Junior level, 1 to 3 years of experience:

Midsize companies: $46,750 to $61,500   

4.6% increase

Large companies: $50,000 to $66,250

3.6% increase


Senior level:

Midsize companies: $60,000 to $78,000   

4.7% increase

Large companies: $66,000 to $85,250

4.5% increase


Manager level:

Midsize companies: $72,750 to $95,000   

4.8% increase

Large companies: $81,500 to $109,750

4.8% increase


Tax accountants also are hot properties. “Becoming compliant with all of the new accounting regulations, particularly FIN 48, has driven the need for tax accountants. Although these [professionals] are always critical to businesses, the new standards have escalated the need for tax specialists,” Fay said.


For tax accountants, predicted 2011 starting salaries and the increase over 2010 are:


Entry level, up to 1 year of experience:

Midsize companies: $40,250 to $49,000   

4.4% increase

Large companies: $41,500 to $51,250

4.2% increase


Junior level, 1 to 3 years of experience:

Midsize companies: $46,000 to $59,250  

4.7% increase

Large companies: $48,500 to $64,250

4.4% increase


Senior level:

Midsize companies: $54,750 to $73,500  

4.5% increase

Large companies: $65,250 to $82,500

4.6% increase


Manager level:

Midsize companies: $69,500 to $92,500

4.9% increase

Large companies: $81,250 to $108,750  

4.8% increase



Among CFOs, starting salaries are expected to increase this year from 1.8% (in companies with sales under $50 million) to 3.3% (in companies with sales of $250 million to $500 million).


For controllers—who are in high demand as companies work to enhance accounting and internal control systems and assist with growth initiatives—starting salaries should increase an average of 2.9% across companies of all sizes, the Robert Half survey said.


Although pay will fluctuate depending on the individual’s experience and the company’s size, starting salaries for general accountants will increase an average of 3% in small companies with sales under $25 million, as well as in larger companies with sales exceeding $250 million. However, starting salaries for general accountants are projected to increase more substantially, on average 4%, in midsize companies (sales of $25 million to $250 million).


Across the spectrum of all companies, senior accountants can expect starting salaries from $47,750 to $76,250; junior accountants, with one to three years of experience, will start at $38,750 to $59,500.


Positions with the lowest anticipated increases in starting salaries, ranging from 0.7% to 1.8%, include the treasurer and vice president of finance across companies of all sizes, as well as credit and collections associates in small companies.


The report reflects national average starting salaries across a spectrum of finance and accounting positions and is based on thousands of job placements managed by Robert Half. The ranges and projected increases do not include bonuses, incentives or other benefits included in a total compensation package. Additionally, the report does not distinguish CPA vs. non-CPA salaries except to note those individuals with professional certifications or graduate degrees can earn an average of 5% to 10% more than the listed figure when the position does not inherently assume advanced degrees or professional certification. “Even if a job description doesn’t specify CPA as a requirement, being a CPA will get you in the right stack on the recruiter’s desk, and it will get you greater compensation, in some cases 10% to 15% higher,” said the AICPA’s Scott.



Despite signs of wage traction, it is still an employer’s market, observers said. “What I’m hearing in the marketplace is that things are easing a bit for finance and accounting professionals, but overall it’s still pretty tight, and starting salaries aren’t as high as they once were,” said Scott. “Companies will give small salary increases, and those that are prospering will also give bonuses.”


Among unemployed or underemployed finance and accounting professionals, those over 50 who were previously in senior-level positions are having the hardest time finding jobs. The tight job market is the biggest factor, but another contributor is that senior-level finance professionals can and do remain in positions beyond typical retirement age, said Matt Bud, chairman of The Financial Executives Networking Group (The FENG), a global networking organization with more than 38,000 members. To join The FENG, financial professionals (predominantly CFOs, controllers, treasurers, vice presidents of finance, tax, etc.) must earn at least a six-figure annual salary and have 15 or more years of experience (most have more than 20 years of experience).

The FENG sends daily e-mails of potential job opportunities to its members. “Eighteen months ago, I was sending 100 pages each Sunday, now we’re lucky to have 30 pages,” Bud said. Another factor hampering a seasoned CFO’s search for new employment is that, while many were previously with a large company, chances of returning to a large corporation are slim since larger companies typically promote from within. Bud suggested senior executives might find more opportunities in middle market firms and small startups that need the expertise—although salaries in that realm might not compare to what senior executives are accustomed to.


Securing a job requires more open-minded flexibility than in the past. The hottest job markets may require relocation, and starting salaries can fluctuate dramatically between local markets. For instance, a CFO joining a small company in Dallas could expect a starting salary between $98,963 and $137,025, according to Robert Half, but in Detroit the same CFO’s starting salary at a small company would range from $91,046 to $126,063. (See, “Customizing Salaries for Local Markets,” page 19 of the 2011 Salary Guide.)


Based on RHI’s research, the most promising regions for job growth are the West South Central and, to some extent, the Pacific region. CFOs seemed most optimistic about hiring in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and select areas of California and Oregon. Financial services, manufacturing and health care are among the more active industries for job openings.





  Across all corporate finance job titles, Robert Half International predicts a 3.1% increase in starting salaries for 2011. That year-over-year progress is up considerably from last year’s 0.6% forecast.


  The largest projected climb for corporate finance positions in Robert Half’s 2011 Salary Guide is 5% for senior business analysts, who could see starting pay ranging from $66,500 to $85,500.


  Other jobs showing strong year-over-year salary increase predictions include financial analysts and tax accountants.


  Among CFOs, starting salaries are expected to increase this year from 1.8% (in companies under $50 million) to 3.3% (in companies with sales of $250 million to $500 million).


Connie R. Gentry ( is a freelance writer and editor.


To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Kim Nilsen, editorial director, at or 919-402-4048.






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