Human Capital & Careers

Rank-and-File See Bleak Future

Pessimism about jobs among accounting and finance workers hits an all-time high, but ironically the recession may offer opportunities.
David McCannJanuary 22, 2009

Not only has CFOs’ optimism sunk to an all-time low, as reported in the most recent CFO Magazine/Duke University Global Business Outlook Survey, but their gloom is shared by their staffs.

The Accounting and Finance Employee Confidence Index, a barometer tracked by recruiting firm The Mergis Group, decreased to to 42.6 in the fourth quarter of 2008, the lowest level in the the index’s four-and-a-half-year history.

The rating reflects responses to survey questions about respondents’ jobs and job prospects on a 0-100 scale where 100 indicates complete confidence. In last year’s third quarter, the index was 5.9 points higher, at 48.5, which itself was quite a falloff from a 12-month high of  56.9.

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In the most recent survey, which included responses from 397 accounting and finance workers, 74 percent of the respondents said they perceived fewer jobs to be available, a big spike from the 55 percent who said so the previous quarter. Only 45 percent said they were confident in their ability to find a new job, down from 48 percent. That likely was why the percentage who said they were likely to look for a new job dropped from 41 percent to 34 percent.

Still, most respondents felt it was unlikely they would lose their jobs; only 16 percent said so, up one point from the third quarter. And two-thirds, the same as in the prior quarter, said they were confident about the future of their current employer.

Not surprisingly, the percentage who believed the economy was weakening climbed sharply, from 64 percent to 76 percent.

Accounting and finance employees, however, were neither more nor less confident than other types of workers. Altogether Mergis surveyed 8,617 respondents in a variety of professions, and the overall results tracked closely with those for accounting and finance.

That was a departure from the norm, according to Brendan Courtney, senior vice president and group executive for Mergis. Usually, he told, finance and IT professionals are more optimistic than the field, because they are in high demand no matter what the market is like. And they remain in high demand now — but the financial crisis is so severe that “now everybody is pessimistic,” Courtney said.

Ironically, the recession will provide significant new employment opportunities for accounting and finance professionals in 2009 and beyond, Courtney predicted.

In the short term, he said, Mergis is anticipating a spike in demand for interim finance executives to help businesses through the financial downturn. Also expected is job creation in verticle markets impacted by the Troubled Assets Relief Program and other  government bailout initiatives, including financial services, credit collections, and legal.

“There is a bunch of work that’s ready to burst — a pent-up logjam of workout, stimulus, and bailout activity that’s going to require a lot of people to be thrown at the problem in order to work our way out of this,” Courtney said.

Most of the stimulus money to date has been geared toward recapitalizing the financial, insurance, and auto industries, he noted. “But as more TARP money becomes available and financial institutions begin to deal with their non-performing loan portfolios, the workout of those loans and of corporations that are in different stages of failure is going to be a professional-level, people-intensive project that literally will take years to deal with,” Courtney said.



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