Accounting Services Overview
The accounting industry is comprised of establishments primarily engaged in providing services such as auditing of accounting records, designing financial and accounting systems, preparing financial statements, developing budgets, tax planning and preparation, processing payrolls, bookkeeping, and billing.
U.S. accounting firms also increasingly offer consulting services as part of their work, with an aim to diversify revenue streams.
Like other professional services sectors, accounting is regulated at the state-level, but there is a relatively high degree of standardization at the national level. The 55 boards of accountancy in the United States, each of which regulate accounting in their respective state or territory, are represented nationally by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).
ITA’s Office of Supply Chain, Professional, and Business Services (OSCPBS) assists this sector by promoting its international priorities and initiatives, working with U.S. accountants and accounting firms seeking to practice overseas, and explaining the nuances of the U.S. accounting sector to foreign trade partners.
Obstacles faced by accounting firms when expanding or providing services overseas include differences in accounting systems, economic and political turbulence in foreign markets, corruption, cultural differences, and regulatory hurdles and government roadblocks. All of these barriers impact the ability of these firms both to compete in foreign markets and to provide services for multinational clients.
Additional barriers facing firms include:
- Local equity requirements.
- Limitation on the number of accountants that can be employed and numbers of new licenses to be issued.
- Discriminatory treatment with respect to foreign partners in a joint venture.
- Minimum requirements for local hiring.
- Overly burdensome fees and taxes on repatriation of profits and other payments.
Accountants seeking to practice overseas may also encounter barriers, such as:
- Nationality and residency requirements.
- Lack of recognition of past experience in obtaining a foreign credential.
- Restrictions on movement under a country’s immigration laws.
The U.S. accounting sector has established some mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) with foreign accounting bodies. These MRAs establish reciprocity between the United States and overseas accounting organizations by streamlining the certification process for candidates to practice in other jurisdictions. As of December 2021, leading U.S. accounting organizations have established MRAs with 9 other regulatory bodies representing countries or regions, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong, South Africa, and Bermuda.
Overall Trade in Accounting Services
For the purposes of this report, “services trade” refers to services provided cross-border between supplier and consumer (ex. remotely, virtually, or via mail), as well as services provided when a consumer or supplier travels overseas. Services supplied via affiliates, or commercial presence overseas, are not included in this data. In addition, in this report, “accounting services” refers to data classified by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) as “accounting, auditing, bookkeeping, and tax consulting services.”
In 2020, the United States exported $3.4 billion in accounting services – a increase of 31% from 2019 exports. With the exception of 2019, the United States has seen growth each year in exports of accounting services over the last decade. U.S. imports in accounting services also increased in 2020, reaching $6.4 billion, with a trade deficit of roughly $3 billion.
This dashboard is interactive – click or hover on the graph to view additional data points and details.
Accounting Services Trade by Country
The United Kingdom and Canada lead the list of top export destinations for U.S. accounting services, with $511 million in exports to the UK and $335 million in exports to Canada in 2020. Other important export markets include Switzerland ($228 million) and Mexico ($181 million).
India is by far the largest import source for the United States in accounting services, with $1.4 billion in imports in 2020. Other leading sources of imports include the United Kingdom ($899 million), the Netherlands ($504 million), Canada ($450 million), and Ireland ($407 million).
This dashboard is interactive – scroll to see additional countries, click on different years, and hover on the map and bar charts to gain further insights.
Accounting Services Trade by Region
While close to half of all U.S. exports of accounting services go to Europe, the Asia Pacific and Latin America regions also attract significant portions of U.S. exports in this sector (26.1% and 16.4% respectively). Canada is an important market for the United States, as well, receiving 9.9% of U.S. exports in 2020.
Europe and the Asia Pacific are the top two regions for U.S. imports of accounting services, providing 47.9% and 34.8% percent of U.S. imports respectively in 2020.
While the United States had trade deficits in accounting services with most regions in 2020, it had a slight trade surplus with Latin America.
This dashboard is interactive – click on different years or hover on the column and pie charts for additional information.
Are you an accountant or accounting firm seeking to provide services overseas? Are you facing a problematic barrier in another country?
ITA’s Professional and Business Services team is ready to provide expertise and guidance on accounting services trade. ITA also has a network of trade promotion and policy professionals located in more than 100 U.S. Commercial Service offices nationwide and in more than 75 international markets, to assist with additional exporting needs and questions.
Primary ITA Contact on Accounting Services:
Accounting, Legal, and Consulting Services
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