Accounting for the future

Three distinct tracks are emerging for
accountants in the Cayman Islands employment market. What caused these tracks
to emerge and where they are currently headed is a peek into the future of the
Cayman Islands’ economy. Accountants with an eye on career progression should
be asking themselves which track they are on and whether it serves their medium
and long-term ambitions, writes Steve McIntosh, CML.

The first track represents companies and
accounting roles in sectors of the financial industry that are well-anchored to
the Cayman Islands. The predominant areas are insolvency, captive insurance,
independent director services and certain areas of audit (predominantly
captives and so-called “local sign off”). These areas are here to stay, because
the services they provide can only be provided from here in the Cayman Islands
for regulatory and practical reasons. 

Although they are not exactly booming, they
are at least not in decline. And although the relatively slow growth rate
restricts promotional opportunities (which come about through only either
turnover or growth), there is no reason to believe that you would be better in
any other geographical or industrial market in 2010. What this means for
accountants in these sectors is that your job is relatively safe.

The second track represents financial
services companies and roles that are less well anchored in Cayman. The most
obvious, lamentably, is hedge fund administration, a sector employing a large
number of middle and upper-middle class Caymanians and expats. This sector has
been in decline since the watershed departure of Goldman Sachs in 2007. It is a
matter of conventional “wisdom” that the decline in the sector is directly
related to the global recession, even though some in the private sector,
including myself, were sounding the alarm to Government at least a year prior
to the credit crunch.

The reality of the decline is that for several years the
immigration environment has been eroding Cayman’s competitive edge as a
domicile for fund administration to the benefit of competitors like Canada and
Ireland, whose fund admin sectors have been nurtured and which as a result have

Redundancies have been commonplace in the
industry for the last 18 months. Paradoxically for many accountants in the
sector, this is a double-edged sword. Whilst the contraction hurts both
security and prospects, the uncertainty creates turnover that can actually
create opportunities for advancement. 
However, the bottom line is that, absent some sea-change in the business
environment (ie immigration), the medium and long term prospects on this track
are nothing short of lousy.

The third track represents accountants,
financial controllers and finance managers in companies that depend on the
local market and which, to a greater or lesser degree, are primarily exposed to
the local economy. These companies are boats bobbing on the economic tide and,
because the tide is going out, some boats will inevitably run aground.  One of the great things about the accounting
profession is that it takes as long to account for a loss as it does for a
profit. In other words, your job is secure.

Until it isn’t. What I mean is that
your job is safe only for as long as the company is safe. If there are stormy
seas ahead, at least you will be the first to know.

What any of this means for your longer-term
career depends upon three things: your international mobility, your degree of
specialism or flexibility and your salary/lifestyle expectations. 

In the meantime, if you are not certain
about the future and find yourself in either of the last two categories, I
wouldn’t necessarily start looking frantically for alternatives, but I would
start counting your own beans a little more carefully just in case.


Steve McIntosh