Financial salaries on the upswing Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Salaries for accounting and financial professionals are on the rise, with a national average increase in base compensation of 3.8 percent projected for 2007, according to the 2007 Salary Guide from Robert Half International.

“To attract and retain top performers, it’s critical for firms in the Chicago market to adjust salaries for in-demand positions,” says Toby Coffey, Chicago division director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting. “In addition, employers are more commonly offering signing and performance bonuses and enhancing benefits packages. Options like flexible scheduling, part-time work and telecommuting are becoming increasingly popular.”

Smart Business asked Coffey more about hiring and compensation trends — both in the local market and for specific areas of the financial landscape.

You’ve just published the 2007 Salary Guide. What are the trends?

Financial hiring in Chicago is booming. The market is very competitive and prospects for highly skilled accounting and finance professionals remain bright. We’re seeing salary increases nearly across the board. Business expansion is fueling hiring activity and driving the demand for skilled professionals. Employers are also hiring more professionals to assist with compliance initiatives.

Compensation levels have been on the upswing since 2004. In 2007, financial salaries are projected to increase 3.4 percent to 3.8 percent for individuals staying in the same role. For individuals changing jobs, that figure may be closer to a 10 percent to 15 percent increase. Positions that will see notable increases in 2007 include compliance specialists, internal auditors, financial analysts and public accountants.

What are examples of salary levels for accounting and finance professionals in the Chicago area?

In 2007, average starting salaries for senior manager and director positions at mid-size public accounting firms ($25 million to $250 million in sales) in Chicago are projected to climb 7.6 percent, to between $100,860 and $147,600 annually. Entry-level professionals at small firms (up to $25 million in sales) can anticipate a 5.1 percent increase in average starting salaries, to the range of $46,740 to $54,120 per year.

Chief compliance officers with large companies (more than $250 million in sales) can expect the largest percentage increase in base compensation of any position in 2007, with average starting salaries forecast to rise 14.4 percent, to between $162,975 and $222,938 in Chicago.

Internal audit managers at large Chicago-area companies may see base compensation in the range of $95,325 to $124,845, up 5.8 percent from 2006.

What do you expect in terms of job growth in 2007?

Nationwide, demand for accounting and finance professionals will be particularly strong in the financial services, manufacturing and commercial real estate sectors. In Chicago, some of the fastest-growing industries include manufacturing, commercial real estate and retail. Positions in demand include cost accountants, staff and senior accountants, and financial analysts.

Businesses — public companies in particular — need professionals with knowledge of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reporting requirements to help maintain compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulatory requirements.

Also, there is huge demand for specialized financial positions in Chicago. The needs of a large, publicly traded organization are different than those of a small, privately held firm. For instance, large companies are in great need of employees who have knowledge of how to work with 10K and 10Q reports.

Where are the shortages?

A year ago, I would have said shortages exist among ‘specialized’ employees. While that still holds true, today there is demand for a broad matrix of applicants — from entry-level to controller and CFO. There is simply a shortage of qualified individuals at all levels.

What will be the biggest recruitment challenges in 2007?

Firms are having difficulty finding skilled candidates, particularly for in-demand positions such as staff accountant and internal auditor. As a result, the hiring process is moving more swiftly than ever. It’s truly a job-seeker’s market right now, so employers need to staff strategically and act quickly to hire the ideal candidate.

Companies that provide strong compensation packages and have a history of success are at an advantage in the hiring market. Those that may not have the budget to offer premium salaries should highlight other qualities that distinguish their firms — such as strength of their management team and potential advancement opportunities. Use every option available, including working with recruiting services and internal referrals, to secure top candidates.

TOBY COFFEY is Chicago division director of Robert Half Finance & Accounting. Reach him at toby.coffey@roberthalf.com. Robert Half International has 350 locations throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. For a free copy of the 2007 Salary Guide, visit www.roberthalf.com or phone (800) 474-4253.