- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

The stereotype of an accountant as a boring, middle-aged man sitting in a back office with a calculator and a stack of quarterly reports is getting an overhaul.

Accounting students graduate today to some of the highest paying jobs. They are courted by firms that offer a challenging work environment replete with office happy hours and corporate perks.

Accounting is cool … and young accountants say it’s even fun.

“It’s much more dynamic than it used to be, said Seamus Bresnahan, 24, an audit senior accountant at Deloitte & Touche LLP’s McLean office. “It used to be you showed up and counted what was there. Businesses are more complex now.”

Mr. Bresnahan has enjoyed the puzzles of complex business arrangements, access to chief financial officers and coveted experience.

There is more than just a fulfilling workload. Recruiters are selling a renewed image of an accounting firm.

Jennifer Busse, a corporate recruiter at Clifton Gunderson LLP, highlights her office’s “fun group,” which puts together happy hours, bowling events and baseball outings, when she pitches potential recruits on colleges campuses.

Accounting firms across the District have recognized the value of breaks from the office.

“We’re always doing things to keep morale and spirit up. You’ll want to work hard if you’re having more fun doing it,” Mrs. Busse said.

The “work hard, play hard” mentality surprised Laura Connors, 22, when she began as an associate at Clifton.

“I knew it would be a timely job, you spend a lot of time on your work. But I didn’t realize there would be a cookout on a Friday,” Miss Connors said.

Even the physical office is updated.

Meyners and Co.’s office building in Albuquerque, N.M., is filled with natural light and leather features. A flat-screen television shows CNN. Bamboo plants and water fountains, more likely to be found in a day spa than an accounting office, provide a positive atmosphere.

Mrs. Busse attributes the changes in accounting to the people coming into the field.

“[This] generation now is big into quality of life. If you take that, you deter them from giving 130 percent at their job,” she said.

Mrs. Busse and other recruiters are hiring well-rounded people with business development skills, people skills, savvy and spirit, she said.

Even though Ryan Hauck has “never heard cool and accounting in the same sentence,” the senior accountant at Beers & Cutler PLLC in Tysons Corner said the people with whom he works don’t fit the stereotype.

During the two years he has been at the firm, he has met smart, ambitious and interesting people of all ages, he said.

Some thought the profession would get a permanent black eye from its link to the huge frauds and bankruptcies at Enron, WorldCom and other companies.

“I don’t think it will deter anyone from the industry. If anything, it will bring more. It kind of adds a level of excitement,” said Stephen Coppolino, a 23-year-old associate at KPMG LLP in the District.

The Enron and WorldCom scandals prompted Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which created tougher accounting and oversight standards to bolster the accuracy and integrity of corporate financial statements at public companies.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act and general economic growth prompted extra work, and a bull market for accountants.

Competing for graduates are large public accounting firms such as Grant Thornton and KPMG, smaller public-accounting firms and countless private companies. Also in the picture are national players such as IBM, the Gap and Lockheed Martin.

Public-accounting firms provide audit, tax and financial assurance services while industry uses accountants for internal financial work.

“It’s still a candidate-driven market,” Mrs. Busse said. “If you have talent, you can name your price. Everybody is hiring, everybody is busy.”

The money is good. Entry-level accounting jobs in the Northeast average about $40,000 per year. Ten to 15 years later, accountants can be making $65,000 a year.

This article was based in part on a Scripps Howard News Service report

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