Prospects For Audit/Accounting Professionals – Ants Keep MarchingBy Francine • Jan 16th, 2009 • Category: Your Career
“We all cynically realized that the Firm’s renewed and enthusiastic focus on “mid year evaluations” and providing “feedback” was simply a ploy to prioritize the order people are to be sent to the chopping block…”
And that’s how a note from a Deloitte professional summed up the story of ongoing reductions there. I know the story from personal experience. I’ve had meetings with two good friends in the last week, professionals who I’ve known for years, Senior Manager/Directors at Big 6 firms in the Chicago area, who were both cut during the holiday season. One seems to have received a good package, almost too good, because he’s getting organized but not feeling pushed. The other was unceremoniously cut with very little notice and not much severance. Proves the adage: You get what you negotiate…
So what do I tell a primary breadwinner, one with young children and spouse not working? Can I talk to them about thinking, breathing, really soul-searching about what they want to do next? Fortunately, both are thoughtful guys and they had the same instincts – No more Big 4, maybe even no more professional services at all. The reasons were similar:
1) Work / life balance – For the right organization, they had been willing and able to travel, work the hours, even continue to think partnership was the light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back, they realize they have a choice. If they don’t make it thoughtfully now, they’ll jump back on the gerbil wheel in a very difficult business environment.
2) Lack of interest and perhaps aptitude for the sales requirements of a partner track position. This means too that the numerous jobs always out there for local MDs of staffing firm start ups are also probably off the table. Too hard to be that perfect combination of technical subject matter expert, community leader, and business development leader. The folks who can be successful at those jobs are a rare breed. Which is why they are always available and always turning over.
3) Disillusionment with the audit firm model. And no, it’s not because they’re reading my blog every day. I respect these guys for their staying power in the past, their professionalism, their pragmatic attitude about the pluses and minuses of the Big 4 partnership model. But again, looking in the rear view mirror, they see the writing on the wall. The model is broken and the warts show so obviously in a down market. It’s not pretty and they’re done perpetuating the myth with young people coming into the firms.
4) A vague awareness of the possibility of using their skills in different, new, exciting ways. Desire for, not fear of, a little bit more of risk for the reward they see as overdue. But they lack knowledge of what’s out there, given the heads down attitude they had prior.
The discussions with each were different. Personal needs, age, salary requirements, travel and relocation availability all factor in to what I suggest. Suffice to say there are lots of ways senior professionals, especially with significant experience in top firms, managing engagements in the controls, compliance, security and IT governance arena, can use their skills and experience. Just not perhaps obvious ways,unless you spend 24/7 talking and writing about it as I do.
Both were given a to-do list before we meet again. Both heard me evangelize about Twitter. That’s a given, given my happiness with the tool for broadening my contacts and perspective. And both were promised professional and emotional support as time went on. Because it’s tough out there.
Another opportunity that was discounted for both was a Chief Internal Audit Executive or Director of Internal Audit position at a Chicago area public or large private company. It’s not because those positions don’t exist, but because, unfortunately, I think Internal Audit has missed the boat in making those jobs worthwhile. Salaries did not go up to compensate for greater risk and their stature was not raised post-Sarbanes-Oxley. In addition, many companies went in reverse, outsourcing the function to a Big 4 firm that manages it as a staff augmentation assignment rather than a strategic controls and compliance function.
So few companies value the role of internal audit and less so now. They don’t see it as a required, necessary control mechanism, but still the “flexible” workforce to be used for pet consulting projects of business leaders and where professionals have to continue to curry the favor of business heads so they can rotate back into the business after doing their tour of duty. The internal audit staff and their budgets have been cut while at the same time governance requirements have shone a negative spotlight on the “bendable” internal audit activity. If they’re strong, they get phased out for the Big 4 vendor who will “work with management.” If they’re weak, they get blamed for not being on the job when problems occur. It’s a no-win situation and a high risk assignment in so many cases.
“Partners who have been struggling to sell are now being demoted to Directors, under the theory that a Director is easier to terminate than a Partner. This in turn has a serious negative morale effect on staff. When their teams ask Partners and Directors for answers, they are faced with either the party line, corporate communications-speak or the obvious, horrible sight of someone who fears for their job as much, if not more, than the person asking the question.
Some of the “new product/services” that are being launched are just retread, repackaging of make work solutions that will not provide any enhanced value or ROI for those companies. It’s demoralizing to spend so much time, spinning our wheels, trying to get in front of clients to sell them a “pig in a poke.” These are supposed to be our “trust relationships,” clients who look to us as advisors.
As usual, and frankly as it must be in a partnership, partner profitability is #1 and the partners will try to work staff, seniors and managers to death, while reducing if not totally eliminating any proportionate monetary reward. The standard line is, “we didn’t hit our numbers / forecast”, which everyone who is anyone knows is both false in some cases and most often based on unrealistic forecasts to begin with.”
Someone said it best in one a comment somewhere in your blog: Being a partner is not about client service, it is about sell sell sell. The one aspect missed, however, is that normal salesman / saleswomen understand that they have to continue to sell and continue to deliver to maintain their compensation. They also recognize there will be both good and bad times. Partners of the audit firms don’t grasp this. They don’t like to compete, they hate having to continue sell. Their attitude is often, “Well, I am a partner, I worked hard before to get here, I made X dollars last year and I’m entitled to make x dollars this year.”