Like the Macarena, mobile homes and indoor duck hunting, the accounting profession lacks status. It hasn’t reached the point yet where your children lie to their friends about what you do or your favorite restaurant asks if you want to sit in the "accountant or non-accountant" section, but it’s pretty bad.
This sobering state of affairs comes to us from sober research firm Harris Interactive, which measured the prestige quotients of 17 professions. The good news is that people have not lowered their rating of accountants. The bad news is that they have always rated accountants low. This year, accounting ranked 17th out of 17 professions. Only 14 percent of survey respondents said that accounting had "very great" prestige; 13 percent said it had "hardly any," and 3 percent believe accounting is a process used in dry cleaning.
This wouldn’t be so irksome if it weren’t for the incompetents, brutes, frauds, hypocrites and megalomaniacs who were rated higher. Take me: Journalists were ranked 13th. Journalists are so professional that their newspapers have special sections just for corrections. They are the worst-dressed people you will ever see, and they have an arrogance rarely seen outside of France. Yet people think they are more prestigious than accountants.
How about lawyers? They attract near-universal disdain and disgust for suing department stores because someone’s shoes hurt and for encouraging workers who walk under falling bricks to sue their employers. They have inspired countless jokes, yet are rated the 10th most prestigious profession.
How about members of Congress, those selfless public servants who sell their souls for 30 million pieces of silver to get elected to jobs that pay a tiny fraction of what it cost to get them? They rank seventh, despite those stories you’re always reading about how they spend millions of dollars on studies trying to figure out why people fall off bicycles or slip on ice.
Recent scandals involving false testimony, planted evidence and gratuitous brutality have made the police the sixth most admired profession. A population that thinks Keats is a feature on pants and Indonesia describes the condition where you become forgetful regards teachers as the third most prestigious profession in the country. Scientists, like the ones who recently figured out how to make cottontail rabbits glow in the dark, came in second. And doctors are at the top of the heap, first, number one, thanks to the work of their most visible representative, Dr. Kevorkian.
Why is it that undeserving occupations garner more prestige than accounting? Well, let’s look at the ledger. If you examine these other professions, you’ll see that all are featured on television programs. These programs can be thought of as assets. There are doctor shows (Chicago Hope), police shows (NYPD Blue), teacher shows (Boston Public) and lawyer shows (When Animals Attack). Journalists have their own shows (Action News at 10, 60 Minutes and 48 Hours). Members of Congress televise their entire proceedings, then moonlight on sitcoms (Meet the Press). But on accountants’ side of the ledger? No shows. And that, my friends, is a big liability.
But I have an idea. I envision a show like the one where people bring in objects to be appraised, hoping that the porcelain doll grandpa used to play with is in fact a priceless antique. Except on my show, people bring in financial statements, and accounting experts question them until passing some surprise judgment — for example, "Did you know that this represents an extremely rare variant of securities fraud?" The show would be even better if all the contestants were naked, but that may be asking too much.
On the other hand, who really cares if your profession doesn’t have the greatest prestige? Most people don’t get into accounting for fame or glamour; instead, they console themselves with above-average pay, self-satisfaction and the knowledge that nice guys really do finish last.
No wonder the lawyers finished ahead of you.
Dan Danbom lacks prestige.