With accounting standards-setters worldwide marching toward a single book of rules, now is the time to be preparing your firm, your company and yourself for the expected surge in demand for skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Half of the Fortune 500 firms are already on board. How long can you afford to wait?
A recession can be a terrible thing to waste.
But many finance and accounting professionals, their firms and companies may be doing just that if they allow their capabilities to stagnate or their skills to go stale. Take, for example, IFRS, short for International Financial Reporting Standards.
In the latest stop-and-go story of the globalized rules, it's, well, if not "stop," then at least "maybe later than last we thought." As a result, some firms and corporations are putting their IFRS hiring and training programs on hold.
But that's a big mistake. For one thing, the worldwide demand for IFRS technicians will be "huge," according to Craig Walker, accounting and finance practice director for the Mergis recruiting agency. "Bigger than SOX," he says, referring to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which remapped the accounting and auditing landscape in 2002.
IFRS will be bigger; it's global. Today, Walker figures there are 12,000 companies in 100 countries that will be on IFRS eventually. Half the Fortune 500 companies have already gotten a head start by beginning to compile a shadow set of statements based on expected IFRS rules.
The second reason ignoring IFRS puts you at peril is that the firms that are continuing to accumulate IFRS assets are only lengthening their leads over those that aren't. In general, the largest firms are the ones continuing to build, while some smaller competitors see an opportunity in the regulatory delays to also delay spending.
"There's a lot of planning and preparation that goes into getting up to speed with IFRS," Walker says. "You can't afford to fall behind, while everyone else scoops up the knowledgeable people. When you go back into the market for IFRS people, who are you gong to find? Who will be left?"
While the competition in the IFRS trenches is forecast to be fierce, the effect on the profession could be beneficial overall. "It'll be a real shot in the arm to the profession," Walker says. He doesn't need to add that it'll also keep the profession's recruiters busy, too.
"The prospects for a 25-year-old who knows IFRS with experience at a global firm," Walker says, "will be incredible."
While IFRS represents an opportunity for firms and companies willing to invest early and for 20-something upwardly mobile professionals, it also represents an opportunity, oddly enough, for today's out-of-work senior financial executives.
It's hard to count exactly how many senior finance executives and managers have been cut loose as a result of the market crash of 2007. But it may also be a good time for some of those professionals to get a jump on the IFRS boom to come.
"There are professionals out there who are studying IFRS, mastering it and actually doing consulting work in it today," Walker says. "That's going to give them options in the future — either to grow their consulting practice or go back to work in a corporate environment."
A lot of accountants today had mothers who told them something like: "become an accountant; you'll always find work." Walker agrees, and it's even better advice today applied to IFRS.
"Tell your sons and daughters," he says, "accounting is a great place to be when you get a once-in-a-generation watershed event like IFRS."
That tap-tap-tap sound you hear is opportunity knocking.
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN: What do you think about the coming global convergence of accounting standards? E-mail your comments to Rick Telberg.
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