Two types of accountants

A theory on the two types of programmers has parallels in the accounting profession:

There are two “classes” of programmers in the world of software development: I’m going to call them the 20% and the 80%.

The 20% folks are what many would call “alpha” programmers — the leaders, trailblazers, trendsetters, the kind of folks that places like Google and Fog Creek software are obsessed with hiring.

Of course bloggers are 20% folks. Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror expands on the theory in this direction:

I often think we’re wasting our time writing blogs which are largely read by the same 20%. In my experience, there’s precious little trickle-down effect from the alpha programmers to everyone else. And if there is, it takes decades. If you really want to change the software development status quo, if you want to make a difference this year, you have to help us reach outside our insular little group of alpha programmers and effect change in the other 80% of the world.

I think the rule applies in all areas of life. Roughly 20% are the go-getters, and they’ve got the drive and ambition to innovate in their careers and their lives and effect change.

There are those who are curious and always seeking to learn new things, and there are those content to scrape by with the minimum effort required. What do you think? Is this view overly simplified?

Hedge funds looking for accountants

According to this recent post on JobsintheMoney’s CareerWire blog, hedge funds are looking for accountants and paying top dollar for them:

The Rothstein Kass report, The Compensation Conundrum, makes clear that even for non-investment professionals, hedge funds pay better than both Wall Street and corporate America.

For instance, senior accountants at surveyed firms earned $71,000 median salary for 2007 and were expected to receive bonuses centering around 50 percent – adding up to total pay of $106,000. Total compensation ranged from $96,000 to $124,000, varying little with firm size.

Those are pretty impressive numbers. This is no doubt going to continue to create pressure on public accounting firms and companies trying to hang on to their professionals.

I don’t personally know anyone who has left public accounting to go to a hedge fund, but with salaries like those above, it won’t be too long before I do. Salary shouldn’t be the only reason one leaves public accounting, and indeed I don’t think it often is. There are certainly some for whom the almighty dollar is the sole reason to leave, but most go somewhere they believe offers a better long-term career opportunity, and possibly work-life balance improvement.

Work-life balance is one area where I don’t think hedge funds have an advantage, even over public accounting, which is notorious for the long hours and demoralizing “busy season”. At a hedge fund you still work for clients, as in public accounting, which is the main reason why things get as hectic as they do. My peers would be wise to keep that in mind when they consider the seemingly greener pastures of hedge funds.

Soaring price of oil leads to shortage of accountants

Scotland is beginning to sound a lot like Alberta:

The booming oil price is fuelling an accountancy recruitment crisis in Aberdeen as other firms struggle to match the salaries being paid by the cash-rich energy companies.

Multinationals such as BP, Shell and Schlumberger are taking advantage of the near-record price of a barrel to pay top dollar for professional services as the North Sea continues to thrive.

Here in Canada the tar sands in Alberta are driving incredible economic growth in that province, leading to a shortage of accounting professionals. It isn’t just accountants, of course, who are being wooed west — the region could use all kinds of labour.

It hasn’t come to the point where I’m receiving phone calls from recruiters with jobs in the oil patch, but I have a feeling those already out west are. I know there are plenty of opportunities within my firm to move west and help reinforce our offices in the province.

Ontario has been particular hard hit by the rising loonie, as it is Canada’s manufacturing heartland. Many businesses here depend on exports to the US, and these days their products are much more expensive than they used to be down south.

I have a feeling we’re just beginning to feel the effects of the rising price of oil combined with a weak US dollar, here in Canada and around the world.

Professional 2.0: beacon or buzzword?

Rick Telberg is conducting a survey of CPAs about their thoughts on the future of the profession and what they see as some challenges and issues facing professionals. He shares a few early responses in a recent post:

“An increasing number of young people do not want to seriously work toward the accounting professional status of CPA.” I wonder if there was any evidence provided to back that up, because Rick isn’t sharing (yet). It did make me question why I’ve been reading so many articles about how exciting and even sexy being an accountant had become post Sarbanes-Oxley. Am I not sexy anymore?

Others cited the shortage of new talent coming on the scene, or the barrage of regulations and complexity as their top concerns as they look to the next decade and beyond. The talent thing will sort itself out in the long run, and the worst of it is probably past us. Regulations and complexity will reward those that go the extra mile to stay educated.

“CPA 2.0” and “Profession 2.0” are used to describe the ultimate direction of the profession by a final respondent, as he suggests that it will shift into more of an industry. “Systemization will be the buzz word for the next five years. CPAs will really begin to run their firms like a business.” I don’t agree.

There will be successful entrepreneurs that can take some aspects of the services provided by accounting firms today and “systemize” them, gaining efficiencies and making a tidy profit. But the profession will endure. In many respects it will thrive because of the opposite of systemization: By differentiating based on service, by pricing based on value, and by upholding the ethics and integrity required of a professional.

If you’re interested, take part in the survey.

Work-life balance: Laptops on holiday

Work-life balance is a topic that comes up frequently in the accounting profession. Robert Half, a recruiting company, surveys accountants occasionally.

38% of accountants take the office with them on holiday in the form of either a laptop or handheld computer. The research also found that 34% of accountants globally admit to working in the evenings, while 37% respond to e-mails and take phone calls in the evening when they have pressing deadlines.

  • I left everything when I went on vacation last month. No laptops, and the phone was off the entire time!
  • Working in the evenings is a given during busy season and sometimes necessary at other times.
  • I respond to emails if I happen to check my work address, but that doesn’t happen regularly at this time of year (see above).

I may have left the computers at home because I was worried about potential surges and didn’t want to buy a protector. But I definitely cut the cord to the office. Generally you aren’t taking vacation if it is a busy time, though.

I was reading and responding to email earlier this afternoon (Sunday!) because I happened to check. It didn’t really feel like work, and certainly not burdensome. It all depends on the current workload. If I was writing this post in March, it might sound different!