Client retention dominates AICPA's Top Issues survey

The most significant challenge facing CPA firms of all sizes across the nation today is client retention, an indication of how the economy is affecting business practices for accountants and other professional service providers, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' 2009 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey.

"There is no doubt that the weakened economy has shifted CPAs' concerns from staffing to client retention," said Jim Metzler, AICPA vice president, small firm interests. "Client retention did not even make the Top 5 list in the last survey in 2007. The AICPA is vigorously working with firms to help them provide better client service and more strategic planning during this recession, as well as rolling out value-added services and tools for CPA firms," Metzler added.

The CPA Firm Top Issues Survey gathers information from a wide range of practitioners in five different size segments from sole practitioner to firms with over 21 professionals in an effort to get a snapshot of the most critical challenges facing AICPA members.

Marketing and practice growth reappeared in the AICPA's Top 5 issues list for the first time since 2005 across all five of the firm sizes that were surveyed. Technical training standards and succession issues also topped the 2009 list. The top issues varied by firm size. After client retention, tax law complexity and changes were top concerns for sole practitioners while partner accountability and succession planning are top issues for firms with more than 20 professionals.

"CPAs can use these lists to benchmark their own experiences against those of other practitioners," said Metzler. The survey is used to create additional programs and resources that meet the real needs of AICPA members and their firms. Specific AICPA resources designed to help CPA firms manage challenges are available in the Private Companies Practice Section Firm Resource Center

The survey results show:

  • While staffing dropped from the top spot since the last survey, finding qualified staff is still a top 10 concern for firms with 2 to 20 professionals;
  • New regulations and standards on small firms was a top-5 concern for firms with up to 20 professionals, and was in the top 10 for practitioners in forms with 21 or more professionals;
  • Partner accountability and succession planning continue to be top issues for firms with 21 or more professionals;
  • Tax law complexity standards was the second largest challenge for firms with 5 or fewer professionals.

The AICPA's Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) CPA Firm Top Issues survey is a bi-annual survey study that provides a unique snapshot of the most significant challenges facing practitioners across the country. The 2009 CPA Top Firm Issues Survey was conducted for the AICPA by IntelliSurvey from April 29 to May 30 by an email questionnaire sent to the AICPA's PCPS Membership. Of the 1,012 respondents, 235 are sole practitioners; 431 are from small firms with 2 to 5 professionals; 151 are from firms with 6 to 10 professionals; 99 are from firms with 11 to 20 professionals; and 96 are from firms with 21 or more professionals.

The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

More information and full poll results are available on the AICPA's PCPS Web site.

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