International Accounting Opportunities
by Rita Jones
Take a foreign country--any country--and you will probably find a United
States-based company involved in a business venture there. One such company,
Delta and Pine Land (D&PL), is the U.S.¨ªs top breeder, producer,
and seller of cotton seed. Although its corporate headquarters is located
in the small town of Scott, Mississippi, it has operations in a number
of foreign countries including Argentina, Australia, China, Costa Rica,
Mexico, Greece, and South Africa.
D&PL moved into the international arena to take advantage of the different
growing seasons in locations of the world outside the United States. It
also saw an advantage in combining its research efforts with those of
other companies to produce new products to expand internationally.
Every company, including D&PL, has a great need for accounting services.
Therefore, companies must decide whether they prefer to hire accountants
to work as employees or whether they want to contract with external accounting-service-providers.
They may choose some combination of the two options. To be hired as an
accountant by either type of company, one typically would have earned
a bachelor¨ªs degree with a major in accounting from a four-year
college or university.
Firms that sell accounting services on a contract basis are referred to
as public accounting firms or CPA (Certified Public Accounting) firms.
Typically, these firms offer a wide variety of accounting and management
services and are major employers of accountants.
D&PL contracts with public accounting firms for special project work
and year-end audits, but hires accountants as employees to handle the
day-to-day accounting functions of the company. The company also employs
junior and senior accounting students from area colleges and universities
to work on a part-time basis. Several of these positions, called internships,
allow students to earn college credit by learning and performing job functions
at the employer¨ªs place of business. Schools granting college credit
for internships have established guidelines which specify exactly the
responsibilities of the student, as well as the employer, for the student
to earn college credit. That is how Tim Snyder was first employed at D&PL.
In July of 1996, Tim interviewed with D&PL for an internship position.
He was hired and went to work later that same month. Initially, he performed
such duties as posting journal entries, creating spreadsheets for reporting
financial information from foreign operations, and was given special project
assignments. In all aspects of his work, he found there was a strong emphasis
on the computing skills he brought to the job. In addition to computerized
spreadsheet applications, his knowledge of word processing software and
exposure to accounting system software were essential.
Tim graduated with a bachelor¨ªs degree in accounting in May 1997
and accepted a full-time accounting position in its international division.
He was advised to get a passport because he might need to travel abroad
on short notice at some time in the future.
As of August 1997, D&PL International had an accounting staff of 70
in its domestic and international locations. Currently, Tim continues
to work in the international accounting position and is responsible for
collecting financial information from foreign locations, converting the
foreign currencies to U.S. dollars, and preparing numerous reports from
the data generated. Although he communicates regularly with his counterparts
at over fifteen foreign offices, his job does not currently require him
to speak a foreign language. To offset the language barrier, a translator
or bi-lingual accountant is employed in the foreign offices where English
is not the primary language. D&PL employs two full-time translators
(one Spanish and one Chinese) at the corporate office in Scott, Mississippi,
to translate documents. Many of the documents are accounting-related.
Tim does suggest that knowledge of a foreign language would be beneficial.
International accounting is further complicated by the absence of a set
of International Accounting Standards. Although accounting standards exist
in most countries and work toward a single set of standards has progressed
over the years, major differences in the way books are kept and financial
statements are prepared still need to be resolved. Until that time arrives,
accountants like Tim must work to reach an acceptable level of accuracy
in converting foreign financial information to U.S. format and standards.
Currency exchange challenges do exist. Tim has developed a spreadsheet
to assist him in converting each foreign currency into U.S. dollars. As
the monthly financial information is received from each country, Tim obtains
the appropriate conversion rates via the Internet, and restates the foreign
information in terms of U.S. dollars. Although inflation is not currently
a problem in the United States, the case may be quite different in other
countries. If excess or hyper-inflation is present in any of the foreign
countries, an adjustment must be made to the financial information reported
by those offices. The monthly combined (or consolidated) financial statements
are then analyzed by the D&PL company managers for differences between
budgeted and actual revenues, expenses, and profits. This information
is used as the basis for future decisions.
While Tim is still relatively new at the Company, another accountant,
Bill Arnold, was with the company for twenty years. Bill was hired as
the Assistant Controller of D&PL in 1979. Since then he has held the
positions of Controller, Vice President of Finance, and President of D&PL
International. Although Bill recently retired, his last position as President
of International Operations offered him the opportunity to travel extensively
to foreign countries. It is largely due to Bill¨ªs efforts that
D&PL projects that, within the near future, approximately 25% of the
company¨ªs revenues will come from international activities. It
was Bill¨ªs challenge to develop and cultivate the company¨ªs
The potential for advancement in the area of international accounting
for both of these individuals began with their college degrees in accounting.
The opportunities to interact on a regular basis with business associates
in foreign countries; to learn about foreign business practices, languages,
cultures, and currencies; and to travel to foreign lands are directly
related to jobs in international accounting. Best of all, these experiences
with an international flavor are available to almost everyone with a degree
in accounting. Accounting majors can take advantage of getting paid to
travel around see the world.
Rita Jones is an associate professor of accounting at Auburn University