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The Need for New Skill Sets at CPA Firms is on the Rise


“In order for the CPA designation to survive at the public firm level, the skills to be a CPA need to evolve.” – Barry Melancon, AICPA President

Dec 10th 2019
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It’s no surprise the accounting profession is in flux, particularly when it comes to skill sets needed to be a CPA. This is thanks in large part to client expectations and of course new technology to perform those evolving needs, as well as those of core audit and other compliance work.

The aforementioned sentiments from AICPA president Barry Melancon here at the Digital CPA conference echoed throughout the event; well after his keynote address on the current state of the profession.  He stressed that in recent history, more firms are hiring outside the profession because specific skill sets not currently possessed by CPAs or accountants in general are needed. He even went so far as to say the AICPA has been working with state regulators who are on board to change the process and definition of what a CPA is.

“Companies are being expected to report on things they never had before, things that are not on a traditional financial statement. How we touch these as a profession has become critically important,” said Melancon. “We have to unlearn what we know and relearn with the audit and standards.  Tax compliance and planning, business reporting and analytics and information systems and controls will all be necessary as core learning for CPAs.”

In addition, the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy(NASBA) announced that they proposed a new CPA licensure model designed to evolve newly licensed CPAs’ knowledge and skills, protect the public interest and position the CPA profession for the future. NASBA and AICPA said this draft model will address the greatly expanding body of knowledge required of newly licensed CPAs, which includes a deeper understanding of systems, controls, SOC engagements and data analysis.

The proposed model reflects dialogue with stakeholders such as AICPA members, firms of all sizes, academia, federal regulators, students, technology experts, state CPA societies and state boards of accountancy on five guiding principles to inform the creation of a new licensure model. 

Specifically, the proposed model will:

  • Enhance public protection by producing candidates who have the deep knowledge necessary to perform high-quality work, meeting the needs of organizations, firms and the public
  • Reflect the realities of practice by requiring candidates to demonstrate deeper proven knowledge in one of three disciplines that are pillars of the profession
  • Be adaptive and flexible, helping to future-proof the CPA as the profession continues to evolve
  • Result in one CPA license

In another session during the Digital CPA event, which is hosted by, the issue of changes in recruiting at the firm level was front and center. The session, entitled Recruiting for the Future Firm focused on how firms hire now, what they’re looking for, the skills they will need in the future and where they are finding talent.

For one, panelists during the session who all work at public accounting firms agreed that CPA skills over next 3-5 years would need to be consultative, analytical and data-driven; particularly as firms of all sizes move to offer more advisory-type services.

“With the focus on needing more advisory skills in the accounting profession, mentoring will also become more and more vital for those recruits to see what's really going on,” said Samantha Mansfield, the session’s host and who’s learning and communications initiatives.  “Some recruits shadow their mentor for a year before going on their own from what I’ve seen.”

Firm representatives on the panel also focused on where they are finding new talent as well as what they’re looking for.

"The bulk of new hires still come from universities, with a core focus on skills we need,” said Karen Larsen, CPA, Baker Tilly “We have been exploring people who have STEM backgrounds right out of college, particularly for audit.”

“When offering Client Accounting Services, we are trying to find someone who is a creative problem solver and that has been a big challenge for us,” said Cindy Doyle, shareholder at ClarkNuber. Her colleague, Lizzy Rahm, a senior manager at ClarkNuber, also reiterated how traditional CPA firms need to rethink the career path from graduates in order to keep them.

"As long as you're approaching an accreditation and be flexible with life events with them, you have a better chance of keeping them at the firm."

Editor's Note: Many of you are likely at smaller firms than the panelists at this event. Are you still struggling with the same talent and hiring issues? Let us know in Comments.

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