When corporations expand overseas, they need more than language lessons, plane tickets and a suitcase of foreign currency. These businesses must mind trade regulations, pay taxes in multiple national jurisdictions and carry out fundamental accounting processes like audits and financial reporting that, ideally, should be transparent to the world's capital markets.
Those needs help explain how globalization is driving current demand for international accountants and creating future career opportunities for students entering the accounting field today.
Building Need for International Accountants
In their current state, some international accounting systems are more reminiscent of the Tower of Babel than the United Nations. But that may change in the foreseeable future. "I believe in perhaps a decade we will have a universal accounting language," says Rudolph Jacob, chairman of the accounting department at Pace University's Lubin School of Business in New York City.
Business leaders from many of the world's nations are working to make this dream come true. The London-based International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) was founded in 2001 to pursue the goal of getting the world's nations and businesses to settle on a unified system of financial reckoning. "The Board is committed to developing...a single set of high-quality, global accounting standards that require transparent and comparable information in general purpose financial statements," said David Tweedie, chairman of the IASB, in a statement before the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
Corporations' efforts to standardize accounting methods across their global operations are creating a labor market for experts in the complexities of international transactions.
"Among the hottest emerging specialties is international accounting," says Pam Wright, vice president of product management for Kforce Professional Staffing in Tampa. "Jobs are created simply because of the amount of foreign transactions we have today."
World of Opportunities for Accountants
What do international accountants do all day? "Generally, the accountant is involved in financial and managerial accounting, and in tax and auditing," Jacob says. In higher-level positions, international accountants perform comparative analyses of the accounting systems of different countries, often in search of strategic advantages for their employers' businesses.
Typical job postings for international accountants reflect the diversity of opportunities in this field. A high technology bioscience company seeks an experienced accountant (CPA preferred) to support US reporting of foreign business activities and to assist with international tax planning projects. A manufacturing company would welcome an accounting grad fluent in Mandarin to help maintain the organization's accounting control systems for international subsidiaries. A medical device maker needs an accountant to assist with international tax compliance and to analyze international tax issues.
The Goods on International Accounting Gigs
In addition to a four-year accounting or finance degree, most aspiring international accountants need at least a few years of work experience in accounting. But the international specialty rewards those who think globally while still in school. "An individual should study at least one foreign language," Jacob advises.
International accounting shops may also place a high value on professionals who understand cultural differences and the variety of ethical systems in the world's economies. For example, "businesses in some countries may have a lower tolerance for uncertainty," Jacob says.
What are the travel requirements and opportunities for jobs in international accounting? For some internal auditors, there may be almost no travel; they analyze financial data that flows to them from all over the globe. But if you're doing external auditing for a Big Four accounting firm, you may spend the bulk of your time crisscrossing oceans to get a firsthand look at the multinational operations of client companies. As with many aspects of international accounting, you have many choices.