Friday, July 17, 2009

Hedge Fund CFO Headaches

Alternative investment chief financial officers’ five biggest headaches are regulations, transparency, complexity, investor timidity and efficiency, according to a new survey from TKS Solutions.

Tackle even one of those challenges and you’ll set yourself up to move ahead. After all, anyone with a headache automatically loves the co-worker who’s got a bottle Motrin in her desk.

The five most vexing issues for fund CFOs were:

Evolving Regulatory Requirements
A complex regulatory framework has long been a facet of fund life, but this year's abrupt changes have created new challenges for even the most sophisticated shops. Take, for instance, US Form 90.22 (or FBAR) covering both taxable and non-taxable ownership of foreign funds, feeder funds, and tax exempt entities. At least you have until fall to get it done.

Investor Demands for Greater Transparency
Reporting requests are now coming from the capital side and the portfolio front. Thanks to Madoff, investors want to see their ownership percentages in any underlying funds and managed accounts.

Managing Asset Complexity
Has your fund set up side-pocket for non-performing 2008 investments? Managing those along with the main fund may mean an upgrade from spread-sheets to investor accounting software.

Investor Timidity
Hedge funds are offering skittish investors creative liquidity gates. New offerings include: early redemptions with a fee; periodic ability to withdraw partial capital; and/or splitting a single contribution into multiple lock-up schedules.

Operational Efficiency
It may have helped the bottom line to reduce head-count, but it sure didn’t do anything for your workload problems. Brute force deployments of small armies of staff armed with spreadsheets are no longer an option for handling the many complexities of investment partnership and shareholder accounting. Demonstrate your worth by quickly getting up to speed on any new investor accounting systems and updates.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Institute of Management Accountants' 20th annual salary survey showed that despite the economic crisis:
  • the average salary for accounting professionals (among IMA members) actually increased by 2.2 percent in 2008,
  • accounting professionals with an advanced certification (like a Certified Management Accountant or Certified Public Accountant) earned 24 percent more than their non-certified colleagues and
  • respondents ages 19-29 with an advanced certification earned an average of almost $13,000 more than their non-certified colleagues in the same age.

The survey also found that the pay gap between men and women working in the field grew in 2008. “The shocking factor is that the average total compensation for women in 2008 is less than the average salary of men (i.e., without adding the additional compensation) for every age category,” study authors David L. Schroeder and Karl E. Reichardt, CMA said in a commentary about the survey.

Women start out fairly even with their male counterparts, but the longer they stay in the field, the wider the pay gap grows, the survey showed. “The average salary and average total compensation for women in top management decreased 13.6 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, in 2008, while the same figures for top-management men increased 7.5 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively,” the authors said.

The survey authors point out that women surveyed were, on average, younger than men (45.5 vs. 48.2), less likely to have advanced degrees (46% vs. 53%) or certifications (63% vs. 72%) and had fewer years in the field (17.5 vs. 20.4), in their current position (5.5 vs. 6.7), and with their current employer (9.6 vs. 10.2), all of which are statistically significant.

The survey also looked at the role certification may play in compensation. Average salary for the 69 percent of respondents who have some kind of certification was $112,068.

The 31 percent of respondents who were not certified reported an average salary of $86,225—a difference of more than $25,000.

In the 2008 survey, CMAs reported higher average salary and total compensation than CPAs in the first two age categories (19–29 and 30–39), while CPAs reported earning more in the remaining three older age categories.

“Those with both certifications have greater average compensation than those with only one certification for all age categories except the 19–29 category. Throughout the 20 years of this study, there has been no uniform pattern when comparing compensation among certifications,” the authors concluded.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon to Merge with Plante & Moran in Cincinnati

Jackson, Rolfes, Spurgeon & Co. (JRS), Cincinnati, is merging with Plante & Moran, PLLC tomorrow and plans to expand the firm in the future.

“Locally, the jobs we had here are going to stay,” said Plante & Moran’s incoming Managing Partner Gordon Krater. “If anything we’re looking to add jobs to the area, and to the city. Cincinnati is a city we intend to invest in and we’re looking to grow the office significantly over the next several years.”

JRS Managing Partner Jim Rolfs added: “We don’t anticipate any changes really in any of the jobs except some minor changes in roles and responsibilities, possibly.”

The merger brings JRS access to specialty practice professionals in international tax and consulting, corporate finance, financial advisory, healthcare, manufacturing and not-for-profit organizations.

JRS has five partners who will become Plante & Moran partners and a total of 50 staffers. It provides financial, tax and consulting services to small and mid-size companies in Southern Ohio. JRS’ specialty practices include manufacturing, real estate, construction and auto dealerships.

Plante & Moran sees the merger as a way to increase the firm’s local footprint. “Cincinnati rounds out our Ohio presence…we’ll be able to expand west and south from there,” Krater says.

Friday, June 26, 2009

CFOs, Treasurers, Staff Saw Modest Pay Hikes in 2008, AFP Survey Finds

Chief financial officers, treasurers and their staff saw their paychecks grow by an average of 3.4 percent between January 2008 and January 2009, more than the average white-collar worker, but somewhat less than the 4.5 percent increase they saw in 2007, according to the latest salary survey from the Association for Financial Professionals

The average bonus was 15 percent, unchanged from 2007.

Middle managers reported slightly larger increases in total compensation than did VPs of finance and CFOs, said AFP, which collected its data from 3,000 professionals at 2,000 primarily North American companies in February 2009.

Managers of treasury/finance reported the highest percentage increase, 5.7 percent, and an average base salary that rose from $88,000 in the 2008 survey to $93,900 in 2009.

Here’s what AFP reported for other positions’ 2009 base salaries:

  • CFO 184,300 up 3.2 percent
  • VP of finance 161,600 up 3.2 percent
  • Treasurer 161,600 up 3.9 percent
  • Controller 116,500 up 3.3 percent
  • Director treasury/finance 125,400 up 4 percent
  • Assistant treasurer 124,700 up 3.8 percent
  • Cash Manager 71,000 up 3.6 percent

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PwC's Plans for India

India is the fastest-growing market for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), and the company plans to add 3,500 staffers there over the next four years, up from the current 6,500, PwC Chairman Dennis Nally said during a recent tour of the country.

In an interview with The Economic Times, Nally talked about the use of non-Indian auditors in the wake of the Satyam debacle, how the growth of the Indian economy has increased demand for auditing and off-shoring:

Q: PwC recently decided to bring in auditors from its various international/outside affiliates to run a check on the audit work done in India. Is it to maintain consistent audit standards?

A: It is based on the whole idea of cross-border expertise, where we take individuals with skill sets in one country and share that expertise in another country. The idea is to make the firm stronger.

Q: What are your plans for India?

A: China, India and Vietnam are important markets for us, as the growth in such regions is very positive. We have over 6,500 employees in India, and plan to take the number to 10,000 in three to four years. We also plan to add a significant number of jobs from our sourcing strategy.

About 4 percent of PwC’s employees are based in India.

Nally told The Times of India that the company regrets its failure to detect the fraud at Satyam Computer Services. Two of PwC’s partners were arrested earlier this year in the case:

PwC has particularly brought about changes in the process of recruitment, in terms of looking out for qualities of ethics and values in an individual. "If we don't have those type of attributes from day one, it is pretty difficult to build them down the road. So this is what we really look for in our recruits and make those judgments right upfront on day one even before those individuals are offered to join the firm,'' said Nally.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

CFOs Try to Avoid Layoffs

To avoid layoffs, nearly half (47 percent) of chief financial officers are trying other options ranging from salary freezes to shortened work weeks, according to the most recent quarterly survey conducted by Financial Executives International (FEI) and Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business.

About a fifth (21 percent) of the 334 CFOs surveyed said they expanded early pensions and other retirement incentives, while 17 percent implemented furloughs.

Forty-seven percent of respondents were trying other tactics, including salary reductions, unpaid vacations, pay raise stalls and preferences to hold onto experienced personnel:

• Salary freeze – 51 percent
• Redistribution of responsibilities – 29 percent
• Elimination of bonuses – 29 percent
• Restructuring – 29 percent
• Salary decreases – 20 percent
• Shortened work week – 16 percent
• Mandatory unpaid time off – 11 percent
• Option to telecommute – 3 percent

On a more optimistic note, over a quarter (28 percent) of CFOs are witnessing signs of stabilization at companies where layoffs did not occur this quarter (30 percent).

The job outlook for recent graduates and interns was still challenging when the survey was conducted at the end of March. Nearly all (95 percent) of the CFOs whose companies traditionally hire students had either hired fewer, or the same amount as the previous year. A scant 5 percent of the CFOs had increased graduate hiring.

Among companies that have historically hired paid summer interns, 61 percent planned to hire fewer interns, and only 8 percent said they would hire more interns this summer.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Redundancies at Large UK Accounting Firms

The 50 largest accounting firms in the United Kingdom have reduced their headcount by about 3,000, or 5 percent, over the past year, according to an annual survey from Accountancy Age.

The top 50 firms by revenue now employ 56,669 qualified accountants, the survey found.

“Experts expect the job cuts to continue as firms try to slash costs in response to a sharp slowdown in demand for corporate finance and other services,” Accountancy Age predicts.

Even KPMG, which last winter reduced UK staffers to a four-day work week to avoid layoffs was planning to cut 200 jobs.

Phil Shohet, director of Kato Consultancy, told Accountancy Age firms are cutting managers and recruiting graduates:
This has forced partners to "trade-down" and handle more technical work, Shohet said, meaning that clients are often relying on inexperienced graduates to help them survive the recession. "You need more rounded managers who are technically very good, but who can also manage staff better," he said. "In independent firms there is very little management training."
Here in the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports CPA firms employed 438,600 people in April of 2009, down 4,800 people from April of 2008.

The BLS also offers seasonally-adjusted numbers for the broader accounting and bookkeeping industry. Those figures show 5,100 fewer people working in the field in May of 2009 than were working in May of 2008.

Anecdotally, our viewers continue to share the news about layoffs in many cities by accounting firms, including the Big 4, as they comment on our blog What's Behind Layoffs at the Big Four.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bay Area Job Market Better Than In Other California Areas

Accountants on the job hunt in California should pay extra attention to the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley areas. Robert Half International’s head of recruiting for the state said opportunities are likely to remain more plentiful in the northern California hubs over the next six months than other parts of the state. Brett Good, Half’s District President Southern California/Arizona, says that San Francisco and Silicon Valley were less affected by slowing real estate development than other areas. Moreover, Good also said that technology firms that are a staple of the Bay Area economy have kept busy on projects that started before the meltdown, not to mention supplementary assignments targeting efficiency. “From a technology perspective, for organizations involved in upgrades, these projects have long tails,” Good said. “You can’t just cut them off.  He added: “There are some companies that are just starting projects. (All) this has kept technology organizations puddling along. The question is whether San Francisco will (in the more distant future) fall into what the other major metropolitan areas are facing now if new projects aren’t coming along.” A recent Half survey of CFOs – released earlier this month – underscored Good’s comments. Eight percent of San Francisco CFOs responding to the quarterly Half Hiring Index said that they expected to reduce staff while 6 percent said they would probably hire employees. To be sure, an Index where fewer CFOs are likely to hire workers than make cuts generally reflects a weak job market. But the minus 2 differential for San Francisco was much better than negative 7 percent differentials in Los Angeles and San Diego and a negative 5 percent gap in Sacramento. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

Women Partners vs. Directors

Deloitte LLP’s announcement this week that it had reached the 1,000 mark for U.S. women partners, principals and directors is worthy of note for some not-so-obvious reasons.

The announcement talks about not just equity partners and non-equity partners, but directors as well – a term that’s sure to start an argument over what’s included in the category if you ask more than one firm to supply that figure. “They could all inflate their numbers if we expand the definition to include female directors,” points out Public Accounting Report (PAR) Editor Jonathan Hamilton.

If you’re just counting partners, the Big 4 run about even, according to PAR, which surveyed 171 firms about their percentage of women by staff category in mid-2008.

PAR’s results:

KPMG 18.6 percent
Plante & Moran 18.4 percent
Deloitte 18.1 pecent
CBIZ/MHMcC 18.1 percent
E&Y 17.0 percent
PwC 16.9 percent
Grant Thornton 14.9 percent
BDO Seidman 13.9 percent
RSM McGladrey 14.3 percent

Hamilton points out another potential reason for the increase in women partners: recent layoffs of partners, most of whom are older, white males, which could shift the ratio of male/female partners, even if no new female partners were created.

Going forward, accounting firms that don’t find a way to retain and promote women could find themselves facing serious retention issues due to two factors. First, the ratio of women to men in accounting programs continues to favor women in ever greater numbers, so the inflow of accountants is predominately female.

Second, there’s an exodus of older white males on the horizon. “More CPAs will retire over the next 10 years than retired in the previous 40 years combined,” Hamilton says.

Taken together, these trends mean we’re likely to see firms continue to attempt to position themselves as female-friendly.

Deloitte CEO Barry Salzberg could argue that the 1,000 number touted in this week’s press release really does reflect Deloitte commitment to developing women and minority leaders through its Initiative for the Retention and Advancement of Women.

After all, it was the first Big Four professional services firm to create an official program for the advancement of high-potential women through training, mentoring, coaching and succession-planning programs.

And, it is the first and only major professional services firm to have a woman chairman, Sharon Allen. In addition, its board of directors has six women -- a female representation of 29 percent.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Older Workers Have Seen it Before

The challenging economy has hit the psyche of younger workers hard, while older employees are showing greater resiliency in the recession-battered workplace, according to a new study by Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging & Work.

The survey, which measured attitudes about job security, supervisor support, job quality, inclusion and overall employee engagement among about 2,200 workers at 12 job sites, was done from November of 2007 until just after the Bear Stearns collapse in March of 2008 and again between June and September 2008.

Not surprisingly, employees of all ages reported a drop in employee engagement, a measure of how invested and enthusiastic employees are in their work.

Generation Y workers -- ages 26 and younger -- reported the greatest decrease in engagement, followed by Generation X -- ages 27 to 42. Baby Boomers and older Traditionalists -- ages 43 or older -- reported that their levels of engagement hardly changed at all.

"Some older workers have seen it all, and that gives them experiential resilience," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging & Work. "Younger workers just don't have the depth of experience, which leaves them feeling less engaged in their jobs. But younger workers bring energy, enthusiasm, and idealism."

The survey also found:
  • Perceptions of engagement, supervisor support, inclusion, and job quality declined after the onset of the economic downturn for employees who felt that their job security had decreased, but it stayed the same or only slightly declined for those whose job security had stayed the same or increased.

  • Those whose job security decreased or stayed the same experienced a slight increase in work overload after the onset of the economic downturn, whereas those whose job security increased experienced a slight decrease in work overload.

  • Those whose job security decreased perceived a slight decrease in team effectiveness after the onset of the economic downturn, whereas those whose job security increased experienced a slight increase in their perceptions of team effectiveness.

  • While younger workers felt the effectiveness of their work team as a whole dropped as their job security declined, older workers felt the effectiveness of their team held steady even though they too reported a decreased sense of job security.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Before you Agree to Cut Your Hours...

If your company asks employees to reduce their hours to avoid layoffs, would you stay on the job?

In the United Kingdom, where employers such as KPMG reduced hours rather than cutting staff, KPMG People Strategy Director Tim Payne recently wrote a feature The Telegraph that’s a nice laundry list of things to consider if you face this situation:
  • Why are the reductions necessary?
  • Can you afford it?
  • How long with the cut-backs last?
  • When do they start?
  • How will my salary change?
  • What will my take-home pay be?
  • What happens to my retirement and other benefits?
  • How would I spend the extra free time?
  • Can I trust management?
  • Who decides how far to cut back hours?

“Handing over control of your work schedule and salary to your boss requires a certain level of trust,” Payne writes. “But, if you can pull it off, the outcome is an incredible amount of flexibility in the workforce, and a precision tool for managing costs while retaining talent.”

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Unemployment Claims Drop, Productivity Rises In Latest Reports

Over the last few weeks, there have been a few minute indications that the economy has stabilized. The latest encouraging sign comes with today’s Labor Department report that the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped slightly from last week’s 625,000 to 621,000. To be sure, that remains well above levels consistent with a strong economy. A year ago, initial claims were 370,000. In addition, a number of experts have been predicting that unemployment will rise from April’s 8.9 percent to 9.2 percent when the May figures are released tomorrow.

Still, there was other positive news in the Labor Department report. The number of people receiving jobless benefits shrank by 15,000 from 6.750 million to 6.735 million. That represented the first decline since January. Continuing benefit claims have been setting record highs in recent months. Continuing claims data follows initial claims data by a week. Also, a separate Labor Department report found that productivity – the output per working hour – rose 1.8 percent in the business sector and 1.6 percent in the non-farm business sector. Those numbers were higher than the Labor Department predicted in a May 7 report. Greater productivity has wider benefits, raising living standards as industrious employees earn more without companies having to raise prices.

Some recruiters focused on the finance sector are a little more hopeful about the near future. “I do feel it’s steady as she goes just as it has been the past three to five weeks,” says Paul Herrerias, a managing director in the San Francisco office for executive search firm Stanton Chase. “There’s more conversation about recruiting again. I’m encouraged that the stock market is steadily inching forward and that’s where we think the economy is going as well. Hiring will start to pick up.” But Herrerias added “there’s still a lot of pain out there. It’s still a long way before big financial services firms will be hiring (in large numbers) again.”

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Audit Fees Up 2.2% in 2008

Public company audit firms upped their fees 2.2 percent in 2008, according to the latest Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF) Audit Fee Survey.

However, that increase may not translate into fatter paychecks for employees since a majority of company officials also reported taking on more work internally and considering a change in audit firms.

The Audit Fee Survey polled over 360 executives from U.S. publicly held companies (76% of those were either accelerated filers or large accelerated filers), privately held companies and foreign companies to gauge the total fees companies paid to external auditors in 2008 and overall satisfaction with audit firms.

According to the survey, publicly held companies paid on average $3.7 million in total audit fees for fiscal year 2008, representing an increase of 2.2% over total audit fees paid for the prior fiscal year.

Total audit fees paid by privately held companies responding to the survey averaged $219,500, a 3.7% increase over the prior year.

Public company audits averaged approximately 9,881 hours in 2008, and their average blended audit fee rate was $216 per hour ($196 for non-accelerated filers and $217 for the accelerated filers).

Private companies averaged about 1,903 hours at a blended audit fee rate of $179 per hour ($152 for the smallest companies to $230 for the largest).

If you’re working for a regional or local firm, you know retaining clients is an on-going challenge. Nearly a quarter of the private company respondents said they re-bid their audit work every four to seven years, while only 11 percent of public companies put the engagement out for bid in the same time frame.

“In addition, 15 of the 245 private companies plan to switch auditors,” the survey says, “compared with only two of the 110 public company respondents. Companies that expressed intention to change auditors cited services issues as a primary concern."

Looking ahead, the survey turned up differences in what companies expect to pay for future audits. A scant 19 percent of public company officials expect audit fees to increase.

By contrast, half of private company respondents expect audit fee increases of 2 percent to 10 percent in 2009.

Online Job Openings Rise in May

The Conference Board reported June 1 that online advertisements for job openings rose by 250,000 to 3,367,000. It was the first increase since October’s small 21,000 ad increase and the largest since October 2006.  The New York-based Conference Board, which provides research on business trends, tracks monthly Internet job advertisements via its Help-Wanted Online Data Series.

These online postings offer one measure of the strength of the job market. The report found that 43 of 50 states posted gains in Internet job ads and that labor demand has increased or leveled off in such states as New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia and Maryland.

Gad Levanon, senior economist for The Conference Board, saw positive signs in the report. The May bounce in labor demand is a very welcome sign.” Lebanon said, “April and May are both months when businesses typically step up their demand for workers. This year, while April was weak, by May employers were placing ads for workers in numerous locations across the nation. Over the last four months, there are now about a half-dozen states where the drop in labor demand shows signs of leveling off and another handful of states show some very moderate increases. Labor demand typically leads the trend in both employment and unemployment, so positive signals on labor demand are always important."

But Lebanon also said that unemployment was likely to continue rising, albeit at “more modest levels throughout the summer.” He added: “April (the May numbers are released on June 5), there were 10.6 million more unemployed workers than advertised vacancies.”

Indeed, there were 4.4 unemployed people for every one online job advertisement – up from 4.05 to one in March. Michigan had the worst ratio of roughly nine unemployed people for every one advertised opening. Maryland and Virginia were best with two to one ratios. Those states have heavy concentrations of Federal agencies and organizations working closely with them. Government has been among the stronger sectors for hiring over the past 18 months. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Benefits Top List of CFOs, Surveys Find

What’s most on the mind of today’s cost-conscious CFO?

It’s no surprise that employee benefits top the list, according to surveys released recently by accounting firm Grant Thornton. One study found that 73 percent of CFOs from U.S. manufacturers said that benefits were their major concern. That was 11 percentage points higher than their second biggest worry, paying for raw materials, and 26 points higher than concerns over energy costs. Benefits are among the largest expenses and the most difficult to cut.

Chicago-based Grant Thornton surveyed 120 CFOs from companies with revenues ranging from $100 million to $1 billion.

The Grant Thornton survey also found that 70 percent of CFOs don’t expect to give pay raises this year, and that 59 percent won’t provide bonuses. In addition, 70 percent of the participants said they would be reducing recruiting and hiring activities.

In a separate survey of 46 CFOs and senior comptrollers from financial services firms, 74 percent of the participants said that employee benefits, including pensions and health care, created the most significant pricing pressure. In this survey, 85 percent of the respondents said the recession would last through 2009. But here’s a bright spot: 42 percent of the participants also said they expected their companies’ financial prospects to improve over the next six months, almost double the percentage of those who said their organizations’ prospects would worsen. 

Symonds, Evans Joins Delap

Delap, LLP, Lake Oswego, Oregon has merged with Symonds, Evans & Co., P.C., Portland, Oregon. The new firm, which will retain the Delap name, plans to use its 90 employees to create larger client service teams.

Delap’s current clients include healthcare, financial institution, aviation, forest products, wholesale distribution, manufacturing, automotive, employee benefit plan, construction, real estate, retail and technology companies.

“We are going to have a stronger healthcare and financial institution practice, including commercial and community banks as well as credit unions,” says Delap Business Development Manager MyKim Tran.

To serve those clients, the firm hires year-round. “We hire on campus every year, a year in advance and we are still very active in our recruiting for experienced hires,” Tran says.

RHI Survey Says: Few Hires, Few Fires Coming Next Quarter

Companies are reluctant to hire new accounting and finance professionals, but only a scant 8 percent plan third-quarter layoffs, according to the Robert Half International (RHI) Financial Hiring Index.

Five percent of the 1,400 chief financial officers surveyed by RHI expect to hire full-time employees during the third quarter. The majority, 85 percent, plan to stick with their current staffing levels.

Despite the survey’s lukewarm results, CFOs say they continue to have a hard time finding senior and staff accountants as well as auditors.

The survey did turn up regional differences in CFOs’ hiring outlooks. Those in the East South Central and West South Central states were the most optimistic.

RHI also noted differences among industry sectors. "Growth among the healthcare and hospitality sectors in some areas within the East South Central states is boosting hiring activity in the region," says RHI Chairman and CEO Max Messmer.

"In the West South Central [states], employers seek mid-career professionals who have a proven work history and are flexible and skilled enough to manage a range of accounting projects," he adds.

Read more local results here.

Monday, June 01, 2009

For Feds to Tax Carbon, Something Has to Measure It

If Congress decides to cap or tax carbon emissions, how might your firm track what it uses or owes? Chances are you’ll either get an updated SAP or a stand-alone software program to do the calculations.

As The New York Times reported today , start up firm Hara has launched a software program that helps companies track and potentially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, SAP AG last month said it would acquire Clear Standards, Inc., a privately held firm that helps organizations measure, optimize and report greenhouse gas emissions.

Evergreen Energy Inc. subsidiary C-Lock Technology, IBM and Enterprise Information Management Inc. have developed a carbon information management technology solution that currently serves agriculture and energy companies.

Expect to hear a lot of claims and counterclaims as developers mix science and technology in the quest to measure carbon emissions.

“A green economy built on carbon avoidance and cap-and-trade programs can’t be sustained with approximations or best-guesses,” said Jim Bitonti, president of C-Lock. “Existing emissions measurement tools are acknowledged to be inaccurate by as much as 30 percent, an unacceptable failure level that can cost businesses millions and threaten the credibility of nascent carbon markets.”

Rate of Layoffs at Big Companies Slowed

The Forbes Layoff Tracker finished its quietest week last Friday since it started tracking layoffs at the country’s 500 largest companies in November 2008. The Tracker recorded 650 layoffs – all at business supplies manufacturer Cintas -- for the workweek ending May 29; by comparison, for the previous workweek, five companies, including American Express and Hewlett-Packard, announced more than 12,300 layoffs. The news followed the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which found that the number of first-time unemployment claims dropped in April compared to the previous month. So did the number of mass layoffs, defined as those involving at least 50 people.

Is the economy getting ready to start a long, slow rebound, as a number of experts have suggested recently?

On the other hand, the same Labor Department report found that the unemployment rate rose from 8.5 percent in March to 8.9 percent in April, while 12 of 19 major industries reported all-time highs in terms of average weekly first-time unemployment claims in April. The industries included finance and professional services.

Still, the president of one major executive recruiting firm found some upbeat notes in the most recent data and says his firm has received a number of assignments, especially at the board and CEO level. “We’re gradually approaching some sort of change, and consumer demand seems to be saying the same thing,” said Chris Clarke of Hawthorne, N.Y.-based Boyden Global Executive Search. “The good news is we think we’re past the bottom.”

Moreover, Clarke added that a number of companies are still seeking talented CFOs and other finance executives. “Finance is one of the toughest functions right now,” he said. “These are the people who have to sort out the messes. Those good at it are much in demand.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bill Introduced To Create Paid Sick Day Policy

To show up for work or not to?

That question has resonated especially strongly amidst this spring’s swine flu scare. While the odds have been low of contracting the disease, anyone feeling a little poorly has had to decide whether they should stay home and risk falling behind on the job or risk infecting co-workers.

A bill introduced last week by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) aims to make such decisions easier. The Healthy Families Act would require companies with at least 15 employees to provide up to 56 hours – seven days – of paid sick leave a year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours of work. Employees would be able to use the time not only to recover from illness but also to obtain preventative and diagnostic treatments, care for sick family members and seek help in incidents of domestic abuse. Employers already providing leave would not have to change their existing policies provided it is used for a purpose outlined in the Healthy Families Act. In addition, employers may request documentation for any request longer than three consecutive days.

Senator Edward Kennedy is expected to introduce companion legislation.

DeLauro’s bill coincides with the release of a report on sick day policies by the the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Contagion Nation: A Comparison of Paid Sick Day Policies in 22 Countries found that the U.S. was the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in economic and human development that does not guarantee paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses. Present law doesn’t require employers to provide either; instead, companies offer this benefit on a volunteer basis. The study calculated the government- or employer-provided support for workers who missed five days because of the flu or 50 days for cancer treatment. The other countries included Germany, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand.

“Working Americans can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick because they don’t have paid sick days,” said Dr. Jody Heymann, the director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy and lead author of the report, in a press release. “The lack of paid sick days puts Americans at substantially greater risk of contagious diseases – from the flu, which kills thousands annually to diarrheal disease, respiratory infections and the threat of new diseases like the H1N1 (swine) flu virus.”

Based on two separate reports, Contagion Nation estimates that about 20 million people in the U.S. go to work sick, many of them . “The economic impact of a serious flu outbreak are potentially enormous,” says Heymann.

Not all employment related organizations support the measure. Some believe that the bill would financially burden companies that are already under pressure. “Congress could not pick a worse time to impose untested and costly new mandates on U.S. employers,” said Lisa Horn, chair of the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave and an employee of the Society for Human Resource Management’s government affairs department. SHRM would prefer legislators to focus more on the development of flexible work policies. The organization says that most U.S. employers already provide some form of paid sick leave. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Targeting International Firms? Here's Help

If you’re interested in expanding your job search beyond the United States, check out Accountancy Age’s Top 30 Accounting Networks and Associations list.

Officials from several of the networks and associations that made the list outlined their future growth plans in a feature that accompanied the list.

Using the list of networks and associations, you can work backwards to locate firms all over the globe that are members of the networks -- and potentially your next employer.

Report Highlights Benefits of Flexible Work Arrangements

Is now the time for boosting flexible work arrangements?

In a paper released earlier this month by Georgetown Law, a 22-person task force of employers, researchers, consultants and other experts answers with an emphatic yes. “…We believe the current crisis underscores the need for, and value of, flexible work arrangements,” writes the National Advisory Commission on Workplace Flexibility. “Flexible work arrangements give workers a fair chance to juggle the competing demands of personal life and work successfully, particularly during the time when older workers need to work longer to secure retirement and women’s labor force participation is on the rise. And employers want to retain their best workers both now, in order to meet their business needs and to get the job done as efficiently as possible, and in the future when the economy improves.”

The 47-page Public Policy Platform on Flexible Work Arrangements capped a year of research and interviews with leaders in the private and public sector. The project was part of a larger workplace flexibility initiative funded by the non-profit Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and encompassing not only flexible workplace arrangements but time off and career development and re-entry. The paper cites the advantages of flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and offers a blueprint for incorporating them into management strategies.

Flexible work arrangements cover such issues as compressed work weeks, job sharing, non-traditional start and stop times, phased retirement, job shares and telecommuting.

The paper recommends the creation of a national multi-media campaign outlining the benefits of flexible work arrangements, training, technical assistance and other resources for organizations to establish these programs, and support for federal and state government initiatives. “The federal government must take the lead on a full-scale, national conversation on FWAs by transforming its workplace into an example of the ‘new norm,’” the paper says.

Public Policy Platform also highlights three model flexible work programs, including Deloitte’s Mass Career Customization. The Deloitte program allows employees to make fundamental adjustments in workload, responsibilities, job location and scheduling. In the paper, Deloitte’s chairman Sharon Allen said “a culture of flexibility is a tremendous competitive advantage.” She said: “For companies, MCC fosters greater loyalty and employee retention, and for employees, more satisfaction by being able to fit their life into their work and their work into their life.”


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Productivity Expert Says Eliminate Email Distractions To Perform Better

It’s no secret: As firms slash jobs, many of the survivors, accountants and finance executives included, are having to take on more work. Finding time for these extra responsibilities has been difficult, even emotionally draining.

Yet a nationally known efficiency expert has a few suggestions for helping employees increase their productivity without spending more time in the office. Laura Stack, the author of Leave the Office Earlier and the founder of the Denver, Colo.-based consultancy The Productivity Pro, says increasing efficiency requires making compromises and changing habits, especially when it comes to using the internet. Stack will speak about time management and productivity at the annual Society for Human Resource Management conference on June 29.

She says that many workers would improve performance by using email more efficiently. For example, employees could eliminate all but essential email alerts (bosses and key customers) that buzz and ring people to distraction. She believes that email usage increases in the aftermath of layoffs as employees seek more information and comfort in one another. “Email is killing everyone,” Stack says. “It’s insane: People can’t get more than two minutes of work done without distractions.  Most people have lost the ability to focus on any one task.”

But Stack says that change must also occur on a group and organizational level. That may mean holding fewer meetings or streamlining protocols. One of Stack’s clients from the automotive industry recently shortened a monthly analysis that it submitted to a customer; the Stack client came to the decision after finding that its customer was only reading the executive summary and a chart, anyway. The vice president of finance from another Stack client, a manufacturing company, started rounding off certain numbers on reports to save time, but without compromising work quality. “You have to step back from the gerbil wheel,” Stack says. “You have to say, ‘we’re used to doing things the same way (but) we don’t have to do them the same way.’”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Marcum & Kliegman to Merge with Rachlin

New York-based Marcum & Kliegman LLP will merge June 1st with Florida-based Rachlin LLP. Marcum & Kliegman LLP will change its name to Marcum LLP in the Northeast and MarcumRachlin, a division of Marcum LLP, in the South.

The merger of the two Accounting Today Top 100 firms creates a company with 800 professionals including 84 partners in 10 offices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida and Grand Cayman. Marcum Group Chairman Jeffrey M. Weiner expects the combined firm to rank in the top 20 on the next edition of Accounting Today top firms list.

Marcum & Kliegman specializes in SEC registrants, alternative investment partnerships and family office services, while Rachlin targets the government, public and not-for-profit sectors, and also offers bankruptcy and receivership services. It will also continue to offer nontraditional services such as the staffing and executive placement division it opened last year as well as marketing and graphic design.

MarcumRachlin Managing Partner Lawrence Blum says the merger will enable the firm to provide financial and investment services, information technology solutions and network security.

Friday, May 22, 2009

California Conference To Cover Skills For Young CPAs

There may be minute signs of improvement in the economy but organizations are still looking for ways to save money and work with budget-conscious clientele.

The CalCPA Education Foundation this year elected to hold only one edition of its Young & Emerging Professionals conference, which has drawn some of the largest attendance among its many events. The conference will take place June 5.

Last year’s Young Professionals Conference attracted a total of more than 600 participants to its two separate but equal events a day apart in Northern and Southern California. The agendas for the two locations – and some of the speakers – were identical.

The CalCPA Education Foundation, the continuing education arm of the state’s largest accounting trade organization, has favored the separate-but-equal format to make it easier for people to attend its most popular conferences. But Gary Hammond, a program director for CalCPA, said that this year the organization had concerns that fewer accountants would be willing to pay the registration fees, which can range as high as $469 for CalCPA non-members (Members with 0-5 years of experience pay $225 unless they registered for a year-long economy package entitling them to steep discounts on conferences). So the Education Foundation decided to hold just one conference at the San Francisco Hilton, where it figured participation was likely to be strongest. Hammond still isn’t sure how many people will come. “I may not have an idea until the day before,” he says.

The agenda will cover some familiar ground. Past Young Professionals conferences have addressed such evergreen issues as career advancement and leadership skills.

But this year’s event will focus more on current trends, including social networking in the workplace and survival tactics for the recession. The agenda itself also will have fewer sessions than usual. In the past, attendees had to choose between concurrent presentations at certain hours. Conference Co-Chair Amy Ainsworth, a manager at Palo Alto-based financial consulting firm Paraclae, said that a planning committee wanted to make the conference more user friendly. “We found that people wanted to attend simultaneous sessions,” Ainsworth said. “We focused on keeping the best so that no one would have to be torn.”

Ainsworth hopes that the conference will foster “a sense of solidarity” at a difficult time as speakers and attendees network and swap stories. Although less hard hit than other industries, the accounting profession in California has seen business and the hiring market slacken, discouraging some CPAs. “We hope people entering the field and already in the field see the long-range plan of what we do,” Ainsworth said. “Our profession is here to stay. There’s still a lot of innovation out there and leads.” 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Way For Candidates To Improve Interviewing Technique

Want to score big points in a job interview?

Be prepared to discuss the position you’ve lost or other unfavorable career events in depth, says Korn/Ferry International recruiter Cheryl Buxton.

A candidate who can show how he or she has learned from a negative work experience will demonstrate analytical thinking and the ability to grow from professional adversity. Korn/Ferry dubs these skills Learning Agility and trademarked the term it defines as the ability “to extract” knowledge from experience “and apply it to new situations.” The Princeton-based Buxton, a pharmaceuticals specialist and global managing director, client services for Korn/Ferry, says Learning Agility has always been valued but more so of late as organizations seek leaders to guide them through difficult times.

Los Angeles-headquartered Korn/Ferry is a leading executive search firm and respected observer of recruiting trends. In a paper on the company’s Web site, entitled Distinguishing Yourself as a True Leader During Behavioral Competency Interviews, Buxton and other Korn/Ferry recruiters offer a blueprint for interviewing better. Behavioral interviewing attempts to gauge how someone is likely to react to varied, often difficult situations. While the paper’s target audience is largely high-level executives, its suggestions apply to all ranks.

To be sure, hiring experts have long counseled job seekers to handle questions about such issues as job loss directly and in an upbeat manner; this approach reflects well on their candidacy. Still, Buxton says if interviewees go further, they’ll leave a stronger impression.

For example, Buxton says that even a CFO ousted by a new CEO eager to install his own team might suggest areas where he could have performed better and saved his job. This ability to identify weaknesses offers strong evidence that a candidate is looking to improve. Moreover, she says that it suggests that the individual will perform well not only in one position but in future, higher-level jobs.  “I want to know what that CFO thinks (he or she) could have done to build the relationship with the incoming CEO, to have been more secure in the firm.” She adds: “What companies are looking for is not just a history of success, but what someone has learned and how they’ve applied it to their careers.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Top Accounting Firms Snag More Diversity Recognition

In recent years, accounting firms of different sizes, trade associations and academic programs have made diversity one of their priorities. They’ve seen not just moral but increasingly business imperatives for adding women and minorities to their workforce, and working with more diverse suppliers. They understand that their customers are growing more diverse.

A related group of ranking lists released this year by a leading diversity research organization suggests that at least the largest accounting firms have been making headway. The most recent list announced by Diversity Inc. found that PricewaterhouseCoopers is the top firm when it comes to global diversity. PwC ranked first among 10 firms. Deloitte was sixth. Technology giants IBM and Cisco, Proctor & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive – all considered corporate leaders on diversity -- were also on the list.

Companies on the list must have at least 10 percent of their employees outside the U.S. and offer health benefits to same-sex partners. PwC won kudos for its cross-border employee groups for women and minorities and work to change laws globally that Diversity Inc. called “oppressive.” Among major diversity efforts over the past five years, the company created a worldwide gender advisory council of 14 men and women executives to increase the representation of women in its workforce. “Diversity is at the heart of our business,” said Samuel DiPiazza, PwC’s global CEO, in a press release. “It impacts client satisfaction, the quality of our services and thinking, innovation, and the overall engagement of our people.”

The top ranking follows PwC’s inclusion by Diversity Inc. in its annual top 50 companies for diversity list and top 10 firms for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender employees.

Both lists were released over the past two months and are based on the same comprehensive survey that generated the global diversity rankings. But Diversity Inc. considers different criteria for different lists. For example, for the top 50 list, the research group didn’t focus on international initiatives, instead weighing a combination of recruiting and retention success, vendor diversity, with which firms work, the ability of firms to expand diversity efforts through internal and external communications and marketing, and most of all, CEO involvement.

PwC ranked fifth on the top 50 list and third on the LGBT list, which looks at companies’ commitment to hiring and retaining LGBT employees.

Deloitte ranked 33rd on the top 50 list and number nine among the top 10 firms for Asian Americans list, which was also released earlier this year. Ernst & Young ranked third among the top 50 firms for diversity list and KPMG 21st


BKD, LLP, Dallas is merging with KBA Group, LLP, Springfield, Mo. on June 1.

KBA's 8 partners and 95 staffers will bring $16 million in annual revenue to BKD, which posted $354 million in revenue and has 250 partners and 1,750 staffers working in 32 offices in 12 states.

BKD Chief Executive Officer Neal Spencer says the firm is “always looking to add people to our firm if it is a benefit to the market … we are looking to add services in Dallas related to health care, financial institutions and not-for-profit and government.”

KBA Group offers audit, tax, risk management and transaction advisory services as well as family-owned business services to private companies.

BKD, meanwhile, provides consulting, tax, assurance, accounting outsourcing, information technology, investment advisory and corporate finance services.

Separating the Online You From the Work Day You

When it comes to social networking, employers and employees, especially younger workers, draw the privacy line in two different places, according to this year’s Deloitte LLP Ethics & Workplace survey.

While 60 percent of business executives say they have the right to know how employees portray themselves and their organization in online networks, more than half (53 percent) of employees disagree.

What’s more, a whopping 63 percent of the 18-34-year-olds who answered the survey said employers have no business monitoring their online activity.

It’s not as though workers don’t understand how their online actions can embarrass an employer -- about three-quarters of the 2,008 employees who answered the survey agreed that social networks make it easier to damage a company’s reputation – but rather than they don’t think that what they do on their own time should reflect on their employer.

If you’re among those who think employers should mind their own business, you’ll be happy to note that only 17 percent of the 500 executives surveyed have programs in place to monitor their employees' social network postings.

Now that Deloitte is raising the issue and suggesting companies have “reputational risk” discussions at “the highest level,” more companies may put formal policies in place.

But even that may not convince people to watch what they post online.

When the survey asked respondents if they’d change their online behavior because their company had defined social networking guidelines, 49 percent said no.

"One-third of employees surveyed never consider what their boss or customers might think before posting material online," says Sharon Allen, chairman of the board, Deloitte LLP. "This fact alone reinforces how vulnerable brands are as a result of the increased use of social networks. As business leaders, it is critical that we continue to foster solid values-based cultures that encourage employees to behave ethically regardless of the venue."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Leading Recruiter Sees Opportunity for Finance Executives

It’s easy to stay where you are in tough times. But to the risk-takers come rewards, says a leading recruiter of high-level finance executives.

Scott Simmons, a founding partner of Chicago-based Crist/Kolder Associates, says that may mean leaving secure positions at stable companies for struggling organizations. Crist/Kolder places chief financial officers and other senior executives at large, publicly traded firms. Simmons says that managers who can help turn around these companies in the present recession will boost their careers more than they would staying put. “You go to a place where the share price is low and you pull the business out of tough times – even if it means the sale of the business – it’s a great career builder,” Simmons says. He says that many finance executives are “understandably” reluctant to switch firms in tough economic times. “In a recession, people lose focus on career development,” Simmons says, adding that some executives are reluctant to leave even firms that are unlikely to offer career growth possibilities. "(They) think that they should stick with the devil because it’s the devil they know,” he says.

Crist/Kolder places about 25 CFOs per year plus direct reports, CEOs and board members in a range of industries. The economy has buffeted the firm. Revenues are flat this year, Simmons says, although Crist/Kolder has completed several high-level assignments since February, including the CFOs for Bausch & Lomb, DineEquity (parent company of the restaurant chains Applebee’s and IHOP) and Erie Insurance Group. It has also been retained to fill the chief executive/chair vacancy at the financial services company Integra. Simmons says that clients are seeking expertise in operations and cost-cutting more than experience in helping companies expand. “Market changes require different skills,” Simmons says. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

California Firm Needs Tax Managers for Non-Profit Practice

The head of the non-profit practice of Los Angeles-based Green Hasson & Janks is eager to hire at least one – preferably two – audit managers or senior audit managers. Margaret Karren has been looking to fill the positions for several months but has yet to find candidates with the right experience. Karren said that she needs someone who has focused on the sector for at least two years; occasional project work isn’t sufficient fully to understand increasingly complicated non-profit, tax law. Karren said that despite the recession and declines in non-profit funding, business is growing and that she anticipates further growth in the near future. This is partly the result of some larger firms scaling back their non-profit practices in Southern California as part of belt tightening. She believes that increasing staff will help her seize new business opportunities.

Now a partner at her firm, Karren started the non-profit practice just seven years ago. In that time, revenues have grown from $100,000 to about $2.6 million. Most of Green Hasson & Janks’s non-profit clients are Los Angeles-area-based and include social, government and educational organizations. The non-profit practice currently has two partners, two managers and five other employees. Karren says that audit manager candidates typically have seven to 10 years of experience overall. The hiring process at Green Hasson & Janks includes a phone interview and meetings with four to six employees on site. Karren says that non-profit work can be uniquely rewarding, allowing accountants to have an impact on organizations and beyond. “You get to work with the heart and soul of a community,” Karren says. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Few More CPAs are Feeling a Little Bit More Optimistic

Financial executives and CPAs are feeling a bit less pessimistic about the economy these days, according to the second quarter Economic Outlook Survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School shows.

Only about half the 1,071 CPAs surveyed in late April and early May were pessimistic about the U.S. economy over the next year, which seems like bad news until it’s compared to last quarter, when an all-time-high 82 percent of the survey respondents reported feeling “pessimistic” or “very pessimistic” about the economy.

The shift suggests a leveling of confidence, says Arleen Thomas, AICPA's senior vice president for member competency and development.

The proportion of CPAs feeling optimistic, 19 percent, was up 14 points, as well. That left 28 percent feeling “neutral” on the U.S. outlook.

"There seems to be a broad consensus that the worst of the downturn is over for the U.S. economy,” said UNC Kenan-Flagler Accounting Professor Mark Lang, Ph.D. “On the other hand, it is disconcerting that, while managers are generally more optimistic than they had been, they appear to be conservative in their investment and hiring plans. Overall, the results suggest that we may have reached a bottom, but improvements in spending and employment are likely to be very gradual."

Nearly half of those surveyed, 45 percent, said they expected a reduction in employment, down five percentage points from 50 percent who had said three months earlier that they expected the number of employees to decrease.

A Sign of a Hiring Pick-up?

An expert on recruiting and related trends says that he’s seen approximately 15 high-level, corporate staffing jobs listed over the past two weeks. Mark Mehler, a founder of CareerXroads, says that the openings from multiple organizations came as a surprise and offered one of the first encouraging signs that he’s seen in the job market in some time. “That’s a lot (of positions),” says Mehler who with his co-founder Gerry Crispin regularly advise Fortune 500 firms, including those from the financial services sector. “It’s been dry for six months to a year.”

Mehler says that movement in top-level recruiting and staffing positions often foreshadow other hiring trends. To wit, he says that a number of these types of jobs were among the first to be cut when the economy started declining. “If business is slowing down, companies don’t need recruiters,” Mehler says.

Mehler noticed the upswing during a monthly meeting that he conducts for senior staffing executives who have been out of work. About 30 of the unemployed managers attend the events, where they network and listen to outside speakers. These managers have at least a decade of experience as the number one or two executive overseeing recruiting.

In addition, Mehler said that trends identified earlier this year in CareerXroads’ eighth annual Sources of Hire survey are likely to continue. The survey found that internal promotions and referrals from employees remain the largest source of job candidates. The study of 45 large, well-known companies also found that among outside resources, independent job boards provided the greatest flow of applicants. Survey participants included firms with at least 5,000 employees from, among other industries, retail, transportation, technology and finance. Mehler considers companies’ career Web pages more a destination than a source of job leads, although he believes that companies will continue expanding efforts to reach job seekers directly. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Leads to Gender Equality

Want to work where the genders are treated equally? Look for a workplace where four factors exist:

  • company officials acknowledge that gender bias exists,
  • the men are willing to defy masculine norms,
  • women are mentors and
  • fair play is valued.

That’s the take-home message from a new Catalyst survey Engaging Men in Gender Initiatives: What Change Agents Need to Know.

People have to recognize that inequality exists before they’ll support efforts to correct the inequality and men who were more aware of gender bias were more likely to think that achieving gender equality was important, Catalyst concluded.

“Other findings revealed three key factors that predicted men’s awareness of gender bias: 1) defiance of certain masculine norms, 2) the presence or absence of women mentors, and 3) a sense of fair play,” the study found. “Of those three factors, having a strong sense of fair play, defined as a strong commitment to the ideals of fairness, was what also best differentiated men who actively championed gender equality from those who were not similarly engaged.”

The masculine norms the study is talking about include workplaces where people use phrases such as “take it like a man,” avoid all things feminine, never show fear, nervousness or sadness, and participate in stereotypical male activities such as beer drinking, strip clubs and watching sports.

The survey also uncovered three roadblocks to ending gender bias: apathy, fear and ignorance about gender issues.

When asked about what keeps men from supporting gender initiatives, some men who were interviewed for the study pointed to a “zero-sum” mentality – a belief that gains for women necessarily mean losses for men.

Companies may inadvertently encourage this line of thinking by instituting practices that increase competition between employees and put the focus on the individual first above the organization as a whole, the study says.

Other obstacles included fear of losing status or of being seen as part of the problem, and apathy – a sense that issues of gender do not concern men

Catalyst, meanwhile, counters that research shows that men gain significant personal benefits such as better health, freedom to be themselves, and the ability to share financial responsibilities with a spouse or partner when working in a place free of gender bias.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bill To Change California CPA Certification Standards Passes Committee

A bill that would simplify the educational requirements for California CPA candidates to earn their certification unanimously passed a state Senate committee earlier this month. Senate Bill 691 passed the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee. But Bill 691 is potentially still months away from becoming law. The bill would eliminate a 120-hour educational option for certification. Candidates may currently fulfill their training and educational requirements by either 1)completing 120 hours of college coursework, including 24 hours apiece of accounting and business classes, and having two years of work experience, or 2)by having 150 hours of coursework and one year of job experience. The 150-hour option is the only standard in at least 46 states. That has created problems for some veteran California-trained accountants who are trying to serve clients with headquarters or interests in other regions. Certain states have become more reluctant to accept certification from California accountants, says Conrad Davis, a partner at Sacramento-based Ueltzen & Co and supporter of the bill. Davis says that accounting groups nationally have been seeking to create a more uniform standard for certification – something akin to a state driver’s license usable nationally. California has already tried on at least one occasion over the past decade to adopt the one-option, 150-hour rule. But the effort stalled. The latest initiative has the support of a number of prominent CPA and business organizations in the state, including the California Board of Accountancy, The California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and the California Society of CPAs. Among their goals, the groups want to remove an obstacle for accountants to practice freely across state borders. “What we’re worried about is that it is becoming progressively more difficult to get into other states because we’re so outside the norm,” says Davis. “As a CPA, if we have to go through additional hoops (to be accepted), it may be expensive and time-consuming. The issue is that everyone (nationally) is going to one standard.”

RSSM Partners with Investigative Firm

Rosen Seymour Shapss Martin & Company Consulting Group LLP (RSSM), a division of New York-based middle-market accounting firm Rosen Seymour Shapss Martin & Company LLP, is forming a strategic alliance with Interfor, Inc., a corporate investigation and physical security consulting firm.

Together, the firms will offer financial due diligence and asset recovery services to fraud victims and holders of judgments who have been unable to collect on their judgments.

RSSM will provide forensic accounting, while Interfor will provide investigative resources and expertise in legal remedies for freezing and collecting assets.

Interfor does background checks for new business relationships, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, venture capital investments and large loan transactions. RSSM offers financial, accounting, tax and IT expertise to a client base that includes private equity funds, investment banks, commercial banks and mezzanine lenders.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Technology Council of Southern California has formed a new trade group for financial executives in the technology industry. The Financial Executives Society, sponsored by SingerLewak, will offer networking and continuing education to tech industry chief financial officers, controllers and business executives.

Programming will include round table discussions, guest speaker events and educational workshops covering topics such as tax, finance, accounting and more.

"Placing an increased emphasis on peer-to-peer connections provides an excellent opportunity for the Technology Council to better meet the diverse needs of all its members," said Technology Council President Rick Sharga. "We see tremendous opportunity in creating vertical-specific events that provide our members with connections, information and resources that will help them grow and succeed."

The current 2009 Financial Executives Society event schedule includes:

  • May 13 - Basics of Revenue Recognition in High Technology Industries

  • June 30 - CFO's Guide to Licensing Agreements - An Accounting

  • Sept. 29 - Tax Credits: Lost and Found in a Recovering Economy

  • Nov. 17 - Financial Reporting: A Retrospective of Changes from 2009 and What's Up and Coming for 2010

It's Always the Right Time to Join an Association

After spending years studying finance, auditing and budgeting, what should you do after graduation? In addition to finding a job, get out there and connect with the local chapter of a professional association, such as the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA).

Professional associations offer the chance to network with peers in the industry as well as stay on top of accounting trends. And if you don’t have a job yet, they can be a great source of job market information.

“Some graduates are hesitant to get involved with an association their first year out of school, but those who join see the benefits immediately,” Sandra B. Richtermeyer, Ph.D., CMA, CPA and incoming chair-elect of the IMA Board of Directors. “Meeting new contacts at various career stages can help graduates benchmark where they want to be in five to ten years.”

Those graduating in the next few years can get a head start in gaining experience by obtaining internships, getting involved on campus, or volunteering with nonprofit organizations. Most trade associations significantly discount dues for student members.

In addition, Richtermeyer suggests selecting a minor that complements studies in accounting, such as information technology. Acquiring foreign language skills or learning about entrepreneurship can also help students stand out from their peers.

Along with IMA, consider these accounting trade associations:

American College of Forensic Examiners

Friday, May 08, 2009

New Skills The Focus at Not-for-Profit Conference

An upcoming conference for accountants and financial officers working in California’s huge not-for-profit world will focus on skills for helping their organizations through the recession. Among the latest developments, accountants are playing a larger role in fund raising to bridge new budget shortfalls stemming from the downturn, say the conference co-chairs, Nancy Chandler, a partner at Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Kellogg & Andelson, and Margaret Karren of Los Angeles-based Green Hasson & Janks. Karren says that some accountants are participating more in discussions about how to shape these initiatives, which have included taxable, for-profit ventures. She says if handled improperly, these enterprises could compromise an organization’s not-for-profit status. “We get asked a lot about this,” Karren says. In addition, in some circumstances, auditing and related responsibilities are becoming more complex. This stems largely from a lengthening of 990 forms. Not-for-profits now face such questions as whether they have whistle-blower or conflict-of-interest policies. “The form is quite cumbersome,” Karren says. “Accountants will have to do training on it.”

The Not-for-Profit Organizations Conference is one of the signature events held annually by the CalCPA Education Foundation, the continuing education arm for the state’s main trade group for accountants. As is general procedure for its major conferences, the Foundation will hold separate but equal events on May 20 in Los Angeles and the following day in San Francisco – the sessions are the same at each. CalCPA members pay $349. Non-members $469. Last year’s Los Angeles event drew more than 300 people from a range of not-for-profit organizations, including religious and community groups, and accounting firms with vigorous not-for-profit practices. But the economic climate was still emerging. “People need help more but people aren’t giving as much,” says Chandler. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hiring Projections Gloomy

Having a job that’s critical and doing it well are apparently no longer enough to prevent you from being laid off. A recent Deloitte survey of about 400 large companies, Managing Talent in a Turbulent Economy, found “as layoffs get deeper and more difficult, even employees with critical skills filling key roles are at risk of losing their jobs.”

In March, 43 percent of the executives Deloitte surveyed said “role necessity” was a key factor in choosing who would go next. That’s down from 60 percent in a similar survey done in January. Nearly half, 47 percent, said “skill capability” was important, down from 55 percent in January.

“Past and current performance is no guarantee of job security with less than half of managers (45 percent) reporting this as a top factor, compared to 53 percent in January,” Deloitte found.

Those who survive layoffs can “expect to feel the impact of the difficult economy through lower compensation and benefit levels,” Deloitte predicted.

A quarter of the surveyed executives said they were likely to decrease compensation levels, 32 percent are ready to cut benefits and 39 percent plan to cut discretionary perks such as subsidized food and parking.

Financial services executives were most likely to say headcount reductions were their highest talent management priority, while life sciences, health care, energy and utility executives ranked layoffs as a lower HR priority.

The only ray of sunshine in the Deloitte report is that experienced recruits remain somewhat in demand. “Over the next year, 27 percent of executives surveyed plan to increase experienced hires…the only recruitment category showing a greater increase than decrease in focus, with campus hires, contract hires, part-time hires and offshore/outsourced hires all seeing net declines over the next 12 months.”

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fewer International MBA Students in Years Ahead?

A lot of the international students who graduated from business school this year and landed jobs with investment banks had their offers reneged when Congress passed a rule saying institutions that took bail-out money couldn’t hire foreign-born workers.

While at first glance you’re probably thinking that anything that discourages international students from competing for spots in top MBA programs is a good thing for U.S. students, there are other issues to consider, says Maury Hanigan, an MBA recruitment specialist and president of MBA Scouting Report, New York.

First, some facts about international students in MBA programs:
• They’re typically one-third of the class at top schools
• They typically pay full tuition
• They have higher GMAT scores, on average, than U.S. students.

“If international students can’t get jobs in banking, that will discourage them from applying,” Hanigan points out. Having fewer international students enroll could hurt business schools – think lower average GMAT scores and fewer full-tuition-paying students.

Less competition from international students is actually a mixed blessing for U.S. students, Hanigan says. It’s easier to get in when fewer students apply, and you’re less likely to be frustrated by study group members with limited language skills when more of your classmates are Americans.

But, you lose out by not having a global network and the diverse perspective international students create. “There can be big swings in classmates, curriculum and the networks you build,” she says. “And the job market will reflect itself the composition of your network. You could end up in a school with no internationals or 45 percent internationals.”

The Wall Street Journal argues that H-1B visa holders aren’t really a big factor on Wall Street anyway, saying:

"In fact, H-1B visa holders have been a negligible percentage of financial industry hires in recent years. In 2007, for instance, Citigroup hired 185 H-1B workers, which represented .04% of its 387,000 employees. Bank of America hired 66 H-1B workers, which represented .03% of its 210,000 employees."

That said, finance may be the latest industry where the federal government seeks to limit immigrant workers, but it might not be the last.

The two senators who created the TARP restrictions, Grassley and Durbin, have now introduced legislation that would force all U.S. employers to first try to hire a U.S. worker before they hired an H-1B visa holder.

As reports, their proposal:

"...would also prohibit displacing U.S. workers with H-1B visa holders, ban 'H-1B-only' ads and prevent employers from hiring additional H-1B and L-1 visa holders if more than half of their employees rely on those visas. The L-1 visa is used by companies to transfer foreign employees. The measure also includes a provision to give the U.S. Department of Labor more latitude and authority to initiate investigations and conduct random audits."

Regardless of what happens in Congress, if you’re shopping for an MBA program, the proportion of international students will remain an interesting difference to consider when comparing schools.

Manners Expert Identifies The Most Common Job Seeker Mistakes

Don’t treat potential employers as therapists.

A leading expert on work place etiquette says that’s exactly what too many job seekers are doing in the down economy. Ann Marie Sabath says that it’s one of the two major mistakes that they’re making in their job searches. Sabath is the author of One Minute Manners, a guidebook to appropriate behavior at work and noted speaker on manners to business groups, including major CPA organizations. She says that many job applicants see interviews as an opportunity to vent about why they’re unemployed and how it’s impacted their lives. They appear desperate. That’s hardly the spare, grounded approach that earns companies’ respect. “Instead job seekers should share how the responsibilities of their past positions have prepared them for the job for which they are applying,” Sabath says. She says that job seekers’ other major error is asking friends and family to help them attain interviews at their organizations. “While it certainly is appropriate for job seekers to ask individuals in their personal lives and business network to put in a good word for them, these people should not be confused as job seekers’ personal headhunters,” Sabath says.  

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Way to Network and Boost Job Prospects

West coast accountants looking to boost their careers in the downturn might want to consider a little volunteer work for the region’s leading trade organization. The California Society of CPAs is looking to fill a number of leadership positions at the state and local level. The posts usually involve participation on committees that address issues in such areas as taxation, auditing and the non-profit sector. The commitment can be difficult for someone with a busy practice. But the outgoing chair of CalCPA, Greg Burke, says that among the benefits of volunteer work, CPAs have a rare opportunity to network with leaders from other firms on a deeper level than in larger conferences and annual meet-and-greet events. Burke says that the contacts can help accountants draw a clearer picture about skills that will be important in the near future and may lead to job opportunities. “You have the chance to interact with leaders statewide,” Burke says. “You can tap into the information flow that’s happening.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Long-time Recruiter Recommends Targeting Growth Firms

Sometimes obvious job strategies bear repeating, says a leading West Coast recruiter of finance professionals. Among her suggestions for conducting a more efficient job search, Susan Afan of Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm Robert Half International says that job-seeking accountants in a falling economy should spend more time pinpointing growth firms. This strategy can save hours in the long run, Afan says. “You have to look for the emerging businesses, the hot industries,” she says.

After a decade heading Robert Half offices in Northern California and Hawaii, Afan recently became senior regional vice president overseeing Robert Half’s San Diego office. The office’s clientele has included a number of major healthcare organizations. Healthcare along with government and education have been among the few economic bright spots on the West Coast and nationally. Afan says job seekers looking for positions in industry might focus their search in these industries.

For prospective agency candidates, she recommends identifying accounting firms with strong practices in these sectors and perusing rankings of accounting’s largest companies. For example, Accounting Today’s most recent, annual review of leading accounting firms highlights those with the largest revenue increases from 2007 to 2008. Alexandria, Va.-based Kearney & Co., which focuses on government, topped this year’s list with 51 percent revenue growth.  Nine other firms posted at least 25 percent growth. A separate list identifies firms that were not among the top 100 in revenue but are considered rising stars. These firms included Greenfield, Ind.-based Kemper CPA Group and Salina, Kansas-based Kennedy and Coe

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt Needs Taxation Experts; Names Partners

Amidst the economic gloom, here’s a ray of light for accountants: Southern California stalwart Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt just named three new partners and needs at least seven experienced professionals in its taxation practice. The Santa Monica-based firm promoted Jason Flashberg, Curt Giles and John Kishi to partner.

Flashberg works out of Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt's Westlake Village office in tax compliance, planning and consulting for high net worth individuals, including professional athletes. Giles works out of the Orange County office in the firm’s international tax practice, while Kishi is based at headquarters and was a senior manager in the audit group. Holthouse now has 27 partners in its six offices.

In addition, Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt is seeking an international tax manager/senior associate in its Orange County office, and a combined total of six tax managers and tax seniors in its Santa Monica, Orange County, Long Beach and Westlake Village offices. Depending on the volume and types of clients, tax managers oversee about two to eight seniors. They usually possess five to seven years of experience. Seniors generally supervise about three or four staff accountants and have three to four years of experience.

The firm’s Director of Recruiting and Training, Jennifer Matsuura, said that Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt conducts a phone screening and then brings the strongest candidates on site for a day of three or four interviews with Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt employees, including at least one partner. With more than $58 million in revenue, Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt ranked third among California-based accounting firms. Revenue grew 12 percent in 2008 from 2007.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A&F Folks Staying Put

The latest Mergis Group survey shows a whopping 82 percent of accounting and finance professionals think there are fewer jobs available and 63 percent think the economy is getting weaker.

Only 40 percent of the 347 professionals who answered the Mergis survey said they were confident they could find a new position. Confidence was highest among mid-career professionals aged 45-54 (50 percent) and lowest among those aged 55 and over (30 percent).

Given those levels of uncertainty, most accounting and finance professionals that are currently employed will stay where they are, says Mergis Senior Vice President Mike Bettick. "Until the uncertainty curbs itself, these perceptions will continue to exist regardless of the perceptions as to where the economy is moving," he predicts.

While a leveling out of economic activity is the first step toward a recovery and there are indeed some positive signs of economic stabilization, there are equally as many that are indicative of a much different prognosis, adds Mergis Vice President Glenn Dubiel.

“The reality remains that the impact of TARP and other government stimulus programs have yet to completely gain enough traction to begin resulting in new job creation,” he adds.

His advice to job seekers is to look toward counter-cyclical segments of the job market and industries that are anticipating growth as a result of recently passed stimulus programs and the new administration’s focus on healthcare, energy, technology and education.

“Our anticipation is that these programs will command highly skilled finance, mortgage and legal professionals to navigate through these new regulations and loan workouts,” Dubiel says.

His advice to job seekers is to look toward counter-cyclical segments of the job market and industries that are anticipating growth as a result of recently passed stimulus programs and the new administration’s focus on healthcare, energy, technology and education.

“Our anticipation is that these programs will command highly skilled finance, mortgage and legal professionals to navigate through these new regulations and loan workouts,” Dubiel says.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Marks Paneth & Shron and Montalto Merge in New York

Marks Paneth & Shron LLP (MP&S), New York, has merged with Westchester-based Montalto CPA, LLC.

MP&S has 70 partners and principals and a total staff of 500. The combined firm does not expect to hire additional accountants outside the merger.

The merger expands MP&S' tax, family office and business management services targeting small businesses and high-net-worth individuals in Westchester, the northern suburbs and Connecticut.

Montalto Partner Anthony V. Montalto, CPA, senior tax manager Lucille Murray, and four supporting staff members will join the MP&S' Tarrytown, New York office.

Montalto CPA provides tax preparation and compliance, as well as family office and business management services to over 350 businesses, service organizations, not-for-profit organizations and individual clients.

MP&S provides auditing, accounting, tax, bankruptcy and restructuring services as well as litigation and corporate financial advisory services to domestic and international clients.

The firm also provides tax advisory and consulting for high-net-worth individuals and their families, as well as services to international, real estate, media, entertainment, nonprofit, professional and financial services and energy clients.

Don't Bargain Basement Yourself

In today’s job market, you might be tempted to offer to work for free or at a reduced salary during a trial period to prove yourself to an employer.

Don’t do it, says consultant Edward Navis of Full Spectrum HR. You’ll simply devalue yourself and set the company up for a pay discrimination suit, he says.

“From a marketing perspective, people look at free things as having no value,” Navis says. “And even if they say yes to reduced pay, they may not see you as worth more at the end of the trial period.”

Regardless of the economy, companies have to stick to the standard of equal pay for equal work and equal qualifications. If you’re a member of a federally or state-protected class based on your disability, race, religion, gender, etc. and the company lets you work for free, or at a reduced rate, you could later file a pay discrimination case against the employer.

The same theory applies when companies do layoffs and re-hires. “A recent court decision found in favor of a 60-year-old chief financial officer facing a job loss because of tough financial times,” Navis says. “He offered to take a steep pay cut, bringing his salary down to $60,000 annually. His offer was rejected, but he later found out that his replacement, much younger than he, was earning more than that. He filed an age discrimination claim, and things aren't looking too good for the employer right now.”