Finance staff general accounting duties level off

By Ken Tysiac

The percentage of company financial staff devoted to general accounting leveled off in 2017, according to a new report, but the reasons are uncertain.

Companies devoted 16% of their finance staff resources to general accounting in 2017, identical to the percentage the previous year, according to data from a newly released 2017 benchmarking report by staffing services provider Robert Half.

The percentage of staff resources dedicated to general accounting had declined significantly from 23% in 2014 to 16% in 2016. The leveling off over the past year, according to the report based on a survey of more than 1,400 U.S. and Canadian finance organization leaders, may be occurring because companies may have reached a point where they cannot or do not want to automate any more general accounting duties.

Nonetheless, the report shows evidence of continuing technological advancement in company finance and accounting departments. Almost three-fourths (72%) of U.S. companies surveyed are either using cloud-based solutions or plan to do so in the future, compared with 62% in 2016.

Accounting and finance staff spend the largest portion of their time working on general accounting, accounts payable (16%), accounts receivable (13%), financial reporting (11%), and budgets and analysis (9%), according to the report.

Finding skilled accounting personnel clearly remains a challenge for companies. Sixty-two percent of the largest organizations in the survey ($5 billion in revenue or higher) reported that their finance and accounting teams are at least somewhat understaffed.

In the United States, the average workweek on a company finance and accounting team is 47 hours for managers and 41 hours for nonmanagers; in Canada, it’s slightly less (45 hours for managers and 39 hours for nonmanagers), the report shows.

In Canada, the report found a substantial rise (from 24% to 32%) over the previous year in the portion of companies that use temporary or project professionals for accounting and finance work. The percentage of U.S. companies that use work by temporary or project professionals remained steady at 28%.

The most common duties filled by temporary or project professionals are accounts payable (24%), general accounting (18%), and accounts receivable (14%). Tax and payroll, meanwhile, remain the most common accounting and finance functions performed by outsource providers.

Despite recent trends in automation, well over half (58%) of U.S. companies and about two-thirds (66%) of Canadian companies report performing reconciliation of their accounts manually. The average monthly close takes nine days in the United States and eight days in Canada, according to the report.

Ken Tysiac (Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com) is a JofA editorial director.

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