Social status of accountants

A little while ago I started going back to school to become an accountant. Before that, I worked in the cycling industry for several years, before that I went to college and received an English degree. I always pursued things I found interesting, and actually become very interested in accounting and economic and financial analysis after owning a small business - it became apparent that accounting was the backbone of a business and that, among other things made me interested in it. I actually didn’t know that the job prospects and earning potential were so good. Anyway, it seems as if different people I meet or interact with have different reactions when I say I am taking classes so I can sit for the CPA exam; especially interesting is the way non-accounting business faculty seem to view accountants - as if they look at is it as kind of lowly and technical; but then other people seem to respect accounting as something challenging and have about as much regard for a business degree or MBA as they would for an English degree(and I can’t recall anyone ever saying to me WOW you have an ENGLISH degree). Just wondering if anyone - especially any accountants out there could weigh in.

Social status? Depends on the society. In general I’d say accountancy is a highly regarded profession, pretty much on a par with being a lawyer or a banker. In the university, though, those pursuing accountancy studies might be seen as on a very vocational track, mainly interested in increasing their earning power, as opposed to those who breath the pure and rarified air of economics.

Thanks for the input - I think you articulated very well what I am perceiving, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

CPA’s are well regarded professionals. However, in many companies, they are not valued and are considered the “bean counters” focused on reporting history. A well regarded accountant is one that views themselves as a partner to the business leaders. Most decisions in a company should be grounded in the financial impacts those decisions have. A successful accountant or financial professional will assist or even take the lead in helping those around them in making those decisions…i.e. be forward thinking, bring your skills to the decision making.

With regard to social status, accountants aren’t always regarded as being the life of the party, but you can change that paradigm as well.

I graduated with a Bachelors in Accounting in 1996. I worked as an Accountant (primarily Management Accounting, not Financial Accounting) in the Residential Construction industry for 12 years. Most people in the building industry just consider Accountants to be bean counters who exist solely to make their jobs more difficult. The kindest thing anyone ever said to me in all of that time was, “You don’t seem like an accountant.” I had to ask, “What do I seem like?” Apparently, I seemed like a “regular” guy.

I decided to make a career change after the housing market imploded and I became an insurance agent. My motivation was that I genuinely wanted to help people properly insure their homes, vehicles and businesses and understand their coverage. Instead, they just saw me as someone trying to sell something…so now I’m an Premium Auditor for Commercial General Liability and Workers Comp policies. If their business has increased sales or payroll over the previous year, I’ll be sending them a bill and they hate me (but kiss up to me) from the moment I walk in! :smiley:

This has been true even within the big accounting firms, where the stars have been the management consultants who advise on the implementation of enterprise software, etc. I’m not sure whether the downturn of the last few years has affected this dynamic.

Moderator Action

While this question can be answered factually (I’m sure someone has done some sort of scientific study about the perceptions of various professions that could be cited), I think the OP is really looking more for the experiences and opinions of other dopers. Lets move this to IMHO where all of the above type of answers are permitted.

Moving thread from General Questions to In My Humble Opinion.

Definitely so, especially when they work for accounting firms or publicly-traded companies and have to worry about SOX compliance and pesky shareholders!

There is a reason that I always worked for private companies. It’s also the reason that my focus was on Managerial Accounting. Business owners like Managerial Accounting because it helps them find ways to reduce costs and (hopefully) increase profitability. Financial accountants who produce financial statements, reconcile accounts and file tax returns get little respect, even though they were the financial backbone of the entire company!

In mobster films, the accountant is always called “The Woim” isn’t he?

I wonder if there’s a class in mobster accounting I can take; sounds more interesting than just being a bean counter . . . :smiley:

We (accountants) definitely know where the bodies are buried! (Funny…that’s usually just a metaphor…)

No, no, no! In the movies and on T.V. it’s always the poor accountant who ends up either a) being murdered or b) killing someone as part of his mob activities and then taking the fall for the whole operation.

I myself am part of two different social groups that have entirely different views of accountants:

  • In the world of assimilated American Jews, accounting is a highly respected profession, up there with medicine and law. My grandparents were accountants, which put my family on a higher social and educational track.

  • In the financial industry, accountants are on the bottom of the scale, considered part of the “back office” along with the IT and operations people, far below the traders and salespeople.

When I first read the thread title, I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, since both answers came to me simultaneously.

Yeah, I think that is sort of more along the lines the the situation I was expecting when I first started going down this path; I was actually pretty surprised that they were held in such high regard in other situations. I kind of like the the back office nature of the profession; its not really far from my comfort zone - there’s not as much pomp and circumstance as in other areas of business - especially marking. I think people in marketing are really leery of accountants in general, its like they think accountants have some sort of sucking the life out of the party disease - I don’t have much to go on with this just some minor interactions with marketing people.

I think the reason accountants are often seen as boring or not fun because, by definition, the job requires sticking to the rules and being meticulous attention to detail. Sales and marketing types can’t comprehend those traits…

I don’t know about status, but my impression is that accountants are seen as nerdy, unimaginative, and anal-retentive.

That seems to be the trend in televised British sketch comedy.

I think a lot of people react negatively to accounting just out of reflexive innumeracy. As a lawyer, I’m constantly encountering colleagues who talk about having gone to law school because they didn’t want to have anything to do with math.

My son is a CPA and makes over 6 figures when you add in the company car. He’s 32 YO right now. He knows that accounting is pretty bland stuff. I’m a database administrator and my youngest daughter is a mechanical engineer. All bland stuff. But they all pay good. Very good. If you study the ‘fun’ stuff in college, like English and History, it’s often difficult to find a good paying job in those fields. However is you study the ‘boring and technical’ stuff, like accounting, engineering, and computer science, people will pay you very well since you know stuff that other people aren’t interested in and it’s needed.

As far as how others see us, we all have a wide range of friends. My son’s best friend is a musician, for example.

Once you stop worrying about how other’s think about you, it’s very liberating. Sorta like being self-conscious about wearing skin tight lycra while riding your bicycle. After a while you don’t give a damn and just enjoy the comfort of the clothing. Having a well paying, steady job is a form of comfort.

Speaking of cycling, all three of us have done things like century rides and RAGBRAI. My engineering daughter even took a second place in college nationals a few years ago in the team time trial.

Thank you for the insight. I agree that worrying too much about what people think can be a bad thing, but this is not a situation where I am worried about what what people think about me in the sense you speak of, but I am sensitive to the social environment around me (which is something I have no interest in changing even if it is not the most liberating way to live).

For a more concrete example; as I am still in the bike industry while working my way through school I made a joke about how working in the bike industry was punishment for not studying enough in high school, and I felt as if it may have offended one of my coworkers. This is the typical kind of thing that people joke about in the industry all the time, but I think them knowing I’m planning to move on it came across different than I intended (as I got to know the guys I work with better, I found out that a large portion of the highly successful bike shops in the area are actually owned by accountants who made enough money to have bike shops as a business investment, and two of my coworkers worked for such shops, also another coworker tried to become an accountant but kept failing classes) I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people I work with, so it didn’t occur to me that this could be a little offensive:( - I have a Lit degree and then worked in the cycling industry for over a decade, so low on the totem pole is A-OK with me and what I’m used to by now. I go into my reasons for the interest in accounting in some of the previous posts on this thread BTW.

Anyhow, RAGBRAI!!! That’s awesome, I am very jealous; when you work in the cycling industry it is hard to take a week off during that time of year. I used to really like setting up bikes for Ragbrai(a lot of people in this area go). If I have time this summer I hope to do more touring and cyclocamping, and maybe try RAGBRAI in a couple years.

Yeah, you could go into forensic accounting. People make a lot of money investigating corruption and corporate wrongdoing.

The Big accounting firms are always spinning off their consulting arm (BearingPoint from KPMG, Cap Gemini from E&Y, etc). But then a few years later, they just form some new consulting or “advisory” practice.
Tax, audit and managerial accounting can be considered kind of “boring”. At least compared to finance, banking and management consulting. The main difference is that unlike the other professions where there is a lot of wheeling and dealing or project based work, accounting tends to be very “operational”. That is to say, preparing the monthly, quarterly and yearly financials, end of period closings, so on and so forth.

Although not in all cases. There are specific examples of accounting (like the aforementioned forensic accounting) that can be more interesting.

Socially, I’d say that it is viewed as a respected, stable, if somewhat dry profession. It doesn’t have the flash or income of investment banking, marketing or sales, but then again, those professions can be viewed as somewhat “shady” and “disingenuous”.