Why Staffing is a Key Concern for All Firms

Keynote Address Engage 2017
Seth Fineberg
Managing Editor
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Time was when cybersecurity, efficiency, and even ability to adopt technology were top of mind for practitioners, but the situation with finding and retaining talent has reached a boiling point.

During a morning keynote address at the AICPA Engage conference this week, AICPA President Barry Melancon called out the serious issue for firms of all sizes, which also happened to be supported by one of their own recent surveys.

Each year the AICPA’s CPA Firm Top Issues Survey highlights, as advertised, what the top-of-mind issues are for all practices, from sole practitioners to the largest firms. For the first time ever, they were all in agreement that the flow of talent coming into the profession, and keeping what talent there is, is cause for concern.

“Accounting isn’t the problem, it’s attracting [students] to different pathways that stay connected to the profession,” said Melancon. “So we need to reach Gen Z at the high school level, as with high school honors courses in accounting. The pipeline is healthy ... your toughest competitor isn’t another CPA firm, it’s other industries with eyes on your clients.”

He went on to reiterate that competition for accounting talent may also stem from businesses that don’t yet exist.

Outside of that, Melancon and his co-presenter, AICPA Board Chairman Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, remained positive about the direction that the profession is moving and the talent pool that is already here.

“I will say this, we are each individually needed so that collectively we have a hugely significant impact on the shape of our profession and the future,” said Ellison-Taylor. Adding to that, Melancon stated, “We can really position our profession to be incredibly successful in this fast-paced, uncertain, complex, changing world.”

While Ellison-Taylor and Melancon did not cover every point in the survey, it was clear that many of the same concerns that have plagued practitioners for years continue to do so. For example, succession planning (or lack of one), busy season becoming increasingly, well, busy, and keeping pace with the complexity of the tax code were all top of mind.

See the breakdown of top issues by firm size here:

Top Issues Survey

In addition, the AICPA and CPA.com took the time to let attendees know about yet another initiative to help support the profession and the changes they are dealing with in the current business environment. The latest effort comes in the form of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and CPA.com Startup Accelerator.

What this is, in essence, is funding to help support entrepreneurism and, in their words, “to accelerate the growth of early-stage companies that could have significant impact on the accounting profession. The goal is to promote innovation and give the profession early insight into disruptive technologies and services in finance and business.”

The startup accelerator will offer benefits to entrepreneurs in three ways:

  • Provide up to $20,000 in funding per finalist.
  • Access to subject-matter experts, including an advisory panel of thought leaders in the accounting technology field, who can provide coaching and mentoring on issues and opportunities unique to the profession.
  • An opportunity to showcase their product or service next June at AICPA ENGAGE 2018, which will again be in Vegas.

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