Global Recruitment Trends

Theresa Richardson, Chief Talent Officer, WithumSmith+Brown


Theresa Richardson

Theresa Richardson

It is imminent! Recruiting Talent in the accounting industry is being impacted by artificial intelligence (AI). Global trends reveal that AI will automate or eliminate up to 40% of transactions in accounting work by 2020.

Automation will allow accounting teams to spend more time interpreting data and providing deeper insights to clients, rather than performing manual testing. With the increase in technology advancement, accounting firms will be looking to hire more talent with IT and data analytic skills. Talent hired will be a mix of undergraduates, graduates and post graduates across all degree disciplines, experienced hires and people without formal qualifications. They will have degrees in mathematics, sciences, engineering, technology, marketing, business and finance related fields, and others will highly skilled people with no degree at all. The common threads for all the tasks that will be performed will be relationship skills, communication skills, global acumen, agility and being open to change.

Across our industry today, team members are predictors, critical thinkers, entrepreneurs, business builders, communicators and change makers. With technology taking on more transactional accounting functions, competition for talent with analytical skills and strong business acumen may soon get even stronger.


AI will provide a great opportunity for CPAs to transform and differentiate themselves from the tax preparers and accountants of the world. CPAs are already considered the most trusted advisors; to succeed in the automated future, firms must transform themselves into advisory firms that give clients advice and support that only a CPA can provide.

The sense of innovation, flexibility and digital acumen is a much-needed source of change for the accounting profession. A firm that listens to its team members, is connected and open to new work practices will find new ways to reach out and recruit accountants of the new generation. This new approach will also provide a positive impact to the bottom line.


Talent acquisition will continue to be a major focus with many firms as we enter this world of AI. Accounting firms will have the challenge of recruiting talent with all the necessary skills that include technical, IT and communication skills. But it’s good to keep in mind that the challenges aren’t new. Firms that can solve these challenges will be in good shape as the issues continue to evolve in the future. Every challenge has its reward!

MP Authors New Book on Leadership

Wesley Middleton

Wesley Middleton

Wesley Middleton, MP of Houston-based MiddletonRaines+Zapata (MRZ), an $11.2 million firm, has written, “Violent Leadership: Be a Force for Change,” which outlines a style of leadership that is “ identified by a passionate, innovative, active and disruptive pursuit of success.”

Violent leadership, Middleton writes, “does not refer to fighting, anger or brutality. It is a positive and energetic pursuit of purpose and success.”

Middleton discusses leading teams with passion, strength and force. He provides examples from his experiences at the firm and explains strategies to unite a team behind a common objective.

You’ll also discover how to:

  • create a workplace culture that fosters loyalty and high performance
  • know your strengths and delegate tasks when necessary
  • harness the power of the millennial generation
  • get out of your own way
  • set the tone in your own business
  • achieve your goals more passionately and more forcefully than anyone
    around you

Middleton is also a frequent public speaker on workplace culture, taking risks and embracing change.

Guest Article: Beyond the Numbers: The CFO as a Cultural Change Agent

By Jeffrey Melnick, CFO, EisnerAmper

The idea of the traditional role of a CFO as purely a number-cruncher is as antiquated as pay phones and carbon paper. In fact, there should be little that is outside the lane of today’s CFO. A large part of this expansive view entails the ability of CFOs to drive changes to organizational culture in order to increase operational effectiveness across the entire firm. How can this transformation be achieved? It is through leadership and implementing leading-edge technology, of course.

A key goal at a professional services firm is to develop a virtuous cycle of success where the adoption of technology decreases staff friction points, which improves the employee experience, leaving their focus on helping to make our clients more successful. The CFO can be instrumental by helping overcome technology bias at an organization that may have developed over many years. But what supernatural power does the CFO have to cause this sea change? He or she can use both quantitative and qualitative metrics to show leadership – as well as stakeholders in IT, HR, marketing and practice leaders – that technology can be a powerful collaborative tool creating this virtuous cycle of success.

Jeffrey Melnick

A Journey Begins with the First Step

I followed four basics tenets as we implemented technology across the firm – mobile, easy to use, secure and transformational. My first step toward reshaping the corporate culture at EisnerAmper regarding technology began by creating a partner reporting system and dashboard to visualize the client data for which the partners are responsible. Next came mobile time recording, followed by better utilization of existing tools.

As the journey progressed, I tried a simple, but effective exercise. I charged the 37 professionals on my finance team to each provide one idea with respect to transforming, eliminating or investing in a technology. Perhaps by giving them some skin in the game, we actually came up with three times as many, 119 ideas, which we are currently prioritizing for impact and cost.

Coming to Fruition

One seed of an idea that grew out of an earlier finance brainstorming exercise pertained to expense reporting – a pain point on which we can probably all agree. Working with HR and IT, we launched a fully digital, fully mobile expense report system in December 2016 for all 1,500 EisnerAmper employees. Hearing the relief in the voices of colleagues who did their expense reports on a flight or during the train commute home because it made their lives incrementally easier, was a wonderful validation of our efforts.

We also tackled accounts payable. Our previous system was paper-based, labor-intensive and consisted of a dozen steps of transferring paper among our various offices. Our new electronic system is a digital 3-step process that offers better control and reduced staffing and storage costs.

We re-tooled and globalized our billing system with expanded capabilities. This seismic change allows our firm to “follow the sun” and utilize our infrastructure from San Francisco to Mumbai to expand client invoicing from only eight hours a day to nearly around the clock.

Other firm-wide technology initiatives include video conferencing, a more robust customer relationship management system, and a single HR system that replaced 14 separate ones. Each of these systems features apps for convenient use on a mobile phone or tablet.

As the CFO, I feel a responsibility to look at the bottom line and consider initial resistance, but then to always look at how the aforementioned cultural shifts in technology would improve employee capabilities and experiences, and the firm’s position over the long-term, which ultimately make our clients more successful.

Goin’ Mobile

A common refrain that I emphasize is mobile capability. As most people already live on their smartphones, this was more of a soft sell than a hard sell, but it did necessitate a slight change in cultural mindset. When client-facing practitioners are untethered from operations, the firm can move at a much faster pace. As such, we hired an app development team to bridge data flows. This went far beyond convenience; mobility frees staff to give more thought to their clients, which contributes to the development of our firm of the future.

The Verdict’s In

While the tenor of this article is a CFO beyond the numbers, there’s certainly no escaping them. Thankfully, all of the technology we invested in paid for itself via other cost take-outs, namely eliminating maintenance cost on legacy systems, reducing payroll, improved expense control and decreased location expenses. Perhaps, more importantly, we transitioned technologies that were formerly siloed and successfully integrated them across the entire firm – again, vesting people in the collaborative process. Other benefits included winning the “2017 When Work Works Award,” an increased Glassdoor score, and a decreased attrition rate.

What’s Next?

While we’ve made great technological strides over the past two years, we are certainly not resting on our laurels. My team will be working on a new, cloud-based, financial ERP system that will also be fully integrated across the firm. We’ll continue to invest in data streamlining in order to make it seamless companywide. Also, analytics will continue to play a big role. Firms today have mountains of data at their disposal – most of which is vastly underutilized. We need to gain a better understanding of our data to, for example, benchmark performance for clients.

Time for You to Make Some Changes

CFOs are uniquely positioned to leverage technological solutions that cut across the entire firm. Often that means being a champion for cultural change. (Lest I forget to mention that EisnerAmper has given me the tools and support to forge this change.) But the CFO’s investment in time and effort to bring about that change can result in a virtuous cycle that perpetuates success.

New Book Offers Experts’ Tech Roadmap for CPAs and Business Advisors

A new book by Sageworks provides real-world advice for preparing firms to navigate technology choices, determining which technologies are best suited for the challenges facing firms and ensuring the solutions work for a firm.

Tech Roadmap: Selecting the Ideal Solutions to Thrive in Business Advising,” features insights of 11 leading industry experts in accounting and business advising. They offer practical strategies to help firms make technology decisions that will drive growth in the today’s shifting environment.

The book’s three key chapters answer the questions:

  • What needs to happen at a firm before it begins vetting specific technology?
  • What types of technologies should be considered?
  • How can firms ensure technology is adopted successfully?

“We know the opportunities and pitfalls that technology creates,” Brian Hamilton, Sageworks chairman wrote in the book’s foreword. “We also understand what a critical choice technology is for accountants and others who advise businesses, and we get how difficult it can be to make those choices. At a time when some people are predicting that robots will replace accountants, we believe technology, instead, will allow public accountants and advisors to shift their focus from mechanical, routine work to a more analytical role that proactively helps business owners run their businesses better.”

Deloitte Study: Only 13% of U.S. Workforce Is Passionate About Their Jobs

Despite 2017 corporate spending estimated at over $100 billion for training and over $1 billion for employee engagement, 68% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged at work, a new Deloitte’s Center for the Edge study says.

Further, the study found that only 35% of the workforce had the disposition to seek out challenges in their organization; even among engaged employees, more than 60% didn’t seek challenges. This lack of passion for work exists at all levels surveyed and job types in the workforce with 64% of all workers and 50% of executives and senior management surveyed being neither passionate nor engaged in their work.

These findings indicate that employers might be focused too narrowly on employee engagement, rather than developing a workforce with the necessary passion to solve complex challenges and pursue new opportunities during this period of rapid technological change. In addition, the findings indicate a shift to new types of learning and collaboration environments could in fact address key barriers to a more engaged and passionate workforce.

“We are in the early stages of a shift in the global economy that will require us to transition from an angst economy, driven by fear and erosion of trust, to a creative economy focused on markets with expanding opportunity,” says John Hagel, managing director, Deloitte Services LP and co-chairman, Center for the Edge. “Worker engagement may no longer be sufficient for performance improvement. In an environment of mounting performance pressure and increasing unpredictability, companies need a workforce that embraces challenge. Worker passion is becoming a key attribute for employees with the skill set that will contribute to sustained performance improvement for companies in increasingly competitive markets.”

According to the study, passionate workers generally exhibit three attributes: long-term commitment to making a significant impact in a domain; questing disposition that actively seeks out new challenges in order to improve faster; and connecting disposition that seeks to build trust-based relationships with others who can help them get to a better answer.

Respondents fell into three clusters:

  • Passionate Employee – 13% of respondents have all three attributes of worker passion.
  • Contented Employee – 23% of respondents score high on an index of engagement indicators, but do not have all three attributes of worker passion.
  • Half-hearted Employee – 64% of respondents do not have all three attributes of worker passion and do not score high on engagement.

The study found that only 38% of engaged employees had the questing disposition, and nearly half of engaged workers also lacked a desire to make a significant impact in their industry, function or specialty. Engagement seemed to have the most significant effect on workers’ tendency to reach out to others to solve challenges and improve their own performance.

Of those employees who are “passionate,” the study revealed the following:

  • 71% report working extra hours.
  • 89% report feeling focused, immersed and energized in their work.
  • 68% are optimistic about the future of their company.
  • 71% feel they are encouraged to work across the company.
  • 67% the company collaborates well with customers.

Furthermore, while position had some effect, with those in senior positions being more likely to be passionate, age wasn’t a significant factor: Millennials don’t have an edge when it comes to passion.

The study showed that respondents who were not passionate reported a lack of autonomy, inability to work across teams and a lack of involvement in decision-making.

Worker passion clearly needs to be “activated” in the workplace. To begin with, business leaders should evaluate whether they are acting with passion in taking on difficult challenges and pushing boundaries in potentially exciting directions. Tapping into this kind of passion can shift individuals from the fear of change or failure – to excitement about the opportunity to test boundaries. Additionally, some workers would benefit from guidance and role models who can serve as practical examples of how to quest, connect and create impact within the context of a specific organization.

The study suggests that trends such as automation, could open up new opportunities to drive worker passion. As more and more mundane, repeatable tasks are automated, the study identified opportunities for existing employees to focus on high growth areas that tap into capabilities that are uniquely human: curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence. Ultimately this has the potential to move the U.S. workforce toward higher levels of engagement and worker passion.

How Accounting Firms Can Exceed Client Expectations

Kristy Short

Kristy Short

By: Kristy Short

High-caliber status is achieved when you transport the client experience beyond expectations.

The client experience is at the center of every astoundingly successful business. Statistics don’t lie: A recent survey by Gartner revealed that 89% of companies now expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience (versus just 36% four years ago). In the exceptionally crowded arena of competitors and overlapping brand promises, client experience has emerged as the most important competitive differentiator. And rest assured that business leaders who dedicate the time and energy required to achieve client experience of a high-caliber status are those who will dominate their market space, win over prospects and secure long-term client loyalty.

With client experience at the heart of a successful business model, simply understanding its place and importance isn’t enough. You have to put in the time to cultivate the ideal client experience and ensure its prominence over time. Reaching the level of “high caliber” requires a balance of education (guidance on how to do it), time and effort (this is a lifelong commitment), and intense motivation (lighting a fire) to enact cultural change.

What does “client experience” really mean?

It’s not just about how well your product performs, whether prospects like your ad campaigns, or if your support staff is polite and responsive. These are all laudable business qualities, of course, but not exhaustive in relation to client experience. Rather, it’s the way you engage with clients and the cumulation of every interaction they have with your firm. This means firms have to start thinking beyond standard good customer service – that is, basic elements such as outstanding products, responsive staff or magnetic communications. These are merely the fundamentals of client experience. High caliber is only reached by going above and beyond for your clients.

Don’t be fooled by a false sense of excellence either. While you may think you’ve cultivated a be-all-end-all client experience, consider the fact that 80% of companies (big and small) believe they deliver superior customer service. Yet, and here’s the rub, only 8% of customers think that these same companies deliver a superior client experience (Gartner 2016). Ouch.

These are powerful, informative stats that should motivate any business to evaluate its existing client experience, and the evaluation process must be comprehensive and analysis of results honest. To get started, firms first need to ask the right questions.

What’s my story?

It all starts with your story!

You are so much more than the products and services you provide. There’s a story there, one that’s engaging and heartfelt – a story that can draw prospects in, make a personal connection, make prospects and clients care about the relationship over the actual services provided, and differentiate your firm from a vast pool of competitors.

Consider how a well-crafted, genuine story can differentiate seemingly equal competitors in the following example.

Northern California’s Napa Valley is known for world-renown, award-winning wines and 400-plus wineries. A slow cruise through Napa brings with it endless rows of grape-heavy vines and hundreds of wineries defined by lush landscapes and elegant facades. From afar, there are no true differentiators among distributors. Why do some draw more new and returning visitors than others? The answer lies in their stories.

At Artesa Vineyards and Winery, for example, patrons receive more than a simple visit. They are invited in to experience “life beyond the label.” Visitors are greeted by orators (not sales people) who weave a vivid, engaging story about the land, the history, the winemakers and the craft. Guests become an active participant in the process – a part of the story itself – creating a personal connection and a powerful bond. Oh, and by the way, guests can also buy a few bottles of wine while they are there. Without the story, the experience begins and ends with an extraordinary product – the same message everyone is putting out.

Because your firm represents so much more than the services you provide, you must take the time to explore your story, define it and ensure that everyone is telling the same genuine tale. This is how you make that personal connection that keeps clients loyal and draws new clients in.

Does your business model support your story?

You can tell all the stories you want, but if your business model doesn’t support your claims, the client experience will suffer.

You set yourself apart from the competition by telling your story of greatness—which may include unparalleled client service, advanced technology, deep accounting expertise and/or a commitment to your community – to name a few. Whatever story you tell, you must deliver on it. A high-caliber experience requires that all the pieces are in place, including:

  • Technology –Your firm should support a cloud-based platform that delivers 24/7 access for staff and clients. You can’t begin to go beyond client expectations if you are not set up to operate at peak efficiency.
  • Staff – Do you have the best of the best working for you? Your staff is on the front line of the client experience, so ensure you’ve built an all-star team. Also make sure that you have employees in the right position – one that allows them to leverages their unique talents.
  • Training and communications – You have to be dedicated to lifelong learning for your staff. It takes a lot of effort to keep your team at the all-star level. You also have to commit to frequent and clear communication to staff, so everyone is always updated and prepared to provide high-caliber service.

Have you built a culture to support your story?

Your firm culture is the beating heart of the client experience – a direct representation of your business that will either propel you to greatness or sink you like the Titanic. Think about it – when your team is in perfect harmony, not only does your firm run like a well-oiled machine, but your clients benefit from stellar, above-and-beyond service. A superior client experience can never happen within a culture of discord and confusion.

A positive culture doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a dedicated leader – one who leads by example – and can take years to develop. Few have built a culture that equals that of The Ritz Carlton – the reigning champions of the high-caliber client experience. The Ritz Carlton has quite literally written the book on “service beyond expectation.” The following client testimonial speaks volumes:

Seconds into my first paddleboarding excursion in St. Thomas, I lost my balance and my new sunglasses. Later that afternoon a Ritz Carlton staff member approached me, inquiring if I had lost my sunglasses.  I acknowledged the mishap and was handed over a pair of Ray-Bans. They were my “lost-at-sea” sunglasses. I was stunned.

After a staff member overheard that we returned from our outing one pair of shades short, hotel staff did a little snorkeling recon and recovered them. We never mentioned the sunglasses to anyone, and we certainly didn’t expect anyone to look for them. It was beyond unexpected, and as it turns out, that is exactly the point.

Part of the Ritz-Carlton mystique is the Fulfillment of Unexpressed Wishes and Needs, and they are very specific in how to accomplish that objective with the goal of developing such strong emotional engagement between the hotels’ staff and their guests that “a guest will not consider staying anywhere else, if they have an option.” They understand that relationships precede financial results and rely on a robust data set that demonstrates the impact engaged employees and repeat customers have on the bottom line. (R. Estis, 2014).

Now that’s a culture everyone should want to get on board with!

Parting words…

A high-caliber client experience doesn’t come easy. It takes time, dedication and a keen eye to consistently identify areas for improvement and innovative ways to move beyond clients’ expectations to “fulfill unexpressed wishes and needs.” The client experience is an ever-evolving organism – so firms must adapt with the times and the changing needs and expectations of clients. Reaching the level of high-caliber client experience is one thing, staying there is a lifelong commitment.

Kristy Short is chief marketing officer at Rootworks LLC of Bloomington, Ind.

Transparency, Feedback and Mentoring: Improved Communication Goes a Long Way With Young Professionals

By Christina Camara
INSIDE Public Accounting

As the economy has improved over the last few years, the search for the best accounting professionals has heated up with it. Now, it’s safe to say, the profession is immersed in a full-fledged talent shortage, which is worsened by waves of partner retirements and staff departures.

Chris Camara

Chris Camara

Year after year, accounting firm leaders say staffing is a huge concern. According to the most recent AICPA Top Issues survey, the No. 1 issue was retaining qualified staff and No. 2 was finding qualified staff for firms with 21 or more professionals.

Demographic shifts, revealed through more than 540 responses to IPA’s annual Survey and Analysis of Firms this year, show that while the percentage of young people entering the accounting workforce is growing, those with several years of experience is shrinking.

Additional research, conducted by IPA and ConvergenceCoaching, shows that firms can take advantage of easy-to-implement, no-cost (or low-cost) solutions that young people say would greatly improve their work experience. A key theme? Communication.

RTR imageGiven the critical importance of the under-40 age group to the future of the CPA profession, IPA surveyed 723 accounting professionals aged 21 to 40. The full results can be found in “The Road to Retention: Motivators and Drivers for Young Public Accounting Professionals.”

Here are some suggestions gleaned from their comments.

Share Information

When the “Road to Retention” survey respondents were asked to name the most important pieces of information they would like the partner group to share, the top five responses were:

  • More defined career expectations – This was the highest-ranking factor, mentioned by 38% of respondents. Young professionals said they wanted a clear, written explanation of the competencies expected at each level of advancement at the firm, as well as honest feedback on their performance and appreciation for their contribution.
  • An understanding of the firm’s vision and strategy – This response suggests firm leaders may not be clearly communicating their firm’s vision. Young professionals want to know if they’re part of an enterprise that matches their own values.
  • A clear understanding of the path to partnership – Similar to the top response, this answer suggests 21- to 40-year-old professionals don’t want to simply keep their heads down and work until someone notices them. They want to know, up front, what it takes to climb the ladder to firm ownership.
  • Knowledge about the firm’s finances – How does the firm measure success? Is the firm financially healthy? What metrics are used to measure this? Young professionals would greatly appreciate more transparency around firmwide performance numbers. IPA surveyed 134 firms this year on issues specific to firm administration and found that they differ widely on the types of financial information that are shared with staff. IPA’s 2016 Firm Administration Report says that 55% share top-line numbers firmwide, while 36% share utilization figures and just 14% share data on profitability with all staff.
  • Improved communication – Under-40 CPA professionals are looking for clear, consistent and more frequent communication.

Other Communications Issues cover_2016

IPA also recently surveyed 136 firms for its 2016 Human Resources Report and found additional results that back up the concerns of the young professionals surveyed in Road to Retention.

For example, nearly a third of under-40 CPA respondents listed their firm’s mentoring program as an area of weakness. Of all firms that participated in the IPA Human Resources survey, mentoring programs are offered by 80% but only one in 10 rate effectiveness as excellent. In fact, 11% rate it as “fair” or “poor.”

Furthermore, results from both surveys show that firms can be doing a better job at communicating with their staff about their performance.

According to the IPA HR survey, professional staff are reviewed semi-annually in 37% of firms, and annually in 46% of firms. Young professionals told IPA/ConvergenceCoaching that they want feedback much more frequently than what 83% of firms in the HR survey are currently offering. The 20- to 33-year olds most often reported that they want performance feedback monthly; the 34- to 40-year-olds want quarterly feedback.

Last, firm leaders should consider yet another communication issue raised by young professionals: They say firm leaders and managers are not doing a good job of involving them in decisions, with clients or internally, that affect them. It was the No. 1 overall firm weakness cited.

Improving communication will certainly be time-consuming and will take a concerted effort, but the data shows the payoff should be well worth the investment. “The Road to Retention” offers a recommendation: Form an advisory board made up of under-40 professionals. Give the group the task of studying changes they’d like to see in the firm and recommending how to implement them. The next part is critical: Listen to their ideas and put them into practice if they make sense. The future of your firm depends upon it.

Christina Camara is managing editor of the monthly INSIDE Public Accounting newsletter.

34- to 40-year-old CPA Professionals Tell Firm Leaders What They Need

By Christina Camara
INSIDE Public Accounting

As firms help their young professional staff gain expertise and knowledge about the profession, our research shows that they may be looking for the door instead of the next step up the ladder.

Chris Camara

Chris Camara

Recruiting college graduates is a challenge unto itself, but once these young people are hired, its critical to keep them happy, involved, rewarded and able to progress in a career they consider meaningful and impactful.

In a survey of 723 young CPA firm professionals, aged 21-40, INSIDE Public Accounting and ConvergenceCoaching found some troublesome signals that young professionals are becoming less enamored with the profession as they age. While the majority surveyed indicated that they feel valued and appreciated, the numbers dip with age and experience. The results can be found in the research study, “The Road to Retention: Motivators and Drivers for Young Public Accounting Professionals.”

Respondents were broken into two groups: Millennials aged 21-33 and Generation Xers aged 34-40. Consider these differences between the two age groups:

  • Millennials felt more positive about firm leaders. When 21- to 33-year-olds were asked to list the top attributes of their current firms, “I respect my firm’s management” was No. 1. The 34- to 40-year-olds ranked respect farther down the list, with “I enjoy the clients I serve” as No. 1.
  • In the Millennials’ list of top five firm attributes, respondents included “I feel valued and appreciated at my firm,” and “My skills are getting better as a result of my firm’s investment in my learning.” Interestingly, these attributes did not make the top five list for Gen-Xers.
  • According to Millennials, the No. 1 firm weakness was involving team members in internal decisions that affect them. Gen-Xers also found the lack of involvement in decision-making to be a concern, but the No. 1 weakness was the need for ”an effective mentoring program for all staff.”

RTR imageAccording to survey respondents, as staff age, they feel less valued and appreciated, lose some respect for firm leaders and don’t believe the firm is investing in their professional development.

The good news is 34- to 40-year-olds enjoy the responsibility of client work and appreciate autonomy they are afforded, survey results show. Three of the top five firm strengths were: “I play an important role in working with clients,” “I enjoy the clients I serve,” and “My firm allows me to work in a way that I believe is most productive.” Also, the majority of the Gen X respondents, 58%, expressed their desire to join the ranks of partner.

With that being said, IPA’s just-launched 2016 National Benchmarking Report, which compiled data from more than 500 participating firms, suggests that while young professionals may desire leadership roles, they’re looking elsewhere to find them.

IPA looked at the percentages of staff at various levels, comparing this year to 2015. Among firms in the IPA 100, the largest firms in the nation, the percentage of professionals with 0 to 2 years of experience grew by 8% of the total. At the same time, the 6- to 8-year staff percentage shrunk by 5.5% of the total share, and staff with 9 or more years’ experience shrunk by 2.5% of the total.

In smaller firms, the demographic shift can also be seen, as the proportion of staff with 6-8 years of experience shrunk there as well, by an average of 7% for firms of $5 million-$15 million.

This information from the 2016 IPA National Benchmarking Report matches with turnover statistics that reflect that experienced staff, of three years or more, are leaving public accounting.

How can the profession keep experienced staff in public accounting? The Road to Retention provides some ideas:

  • Explain The Impact of Their Contribution – Help staff make the connection between their day-to-day work and the overall goals of the firm and the goals of the clients the firm serves. Provide insight into how their piece of the puzzle adds value not only to the firm but to clients, co-workers and the profession, and show appreciation for their contribution.
  • Share Big-Picture Information – The Road to Retention Report shows that young staff want open and frequent communication, including transparency on firm expectations of staff, the path to partnership, partner success stories, the firm’s overall vision and strategy for growth, and key firm metrics that matter to a professional in the accounting field. They are the future leaders, share early and trust that they will engage. One tool for discussing firm metrics is INSIDE Public Accounting’s National Benchmarking Report, which allows firms to compare their performance data against similar-sized firms around the country as well as IPA Best of the Best firms.
  • Continue to Invest in Professional Development and Expand Offerings – IPA’s Best of the Best Firms, those with excellent financial and operational performance, pour more time, money and effort into high-quality training programs for staff of ALL levels. More than 80% of the 2016 Best of the Best firms have a formal mentoring program, a need identified by Gen-Xers.
  • Improve Communications About Performance – Generation Xers need leaders to be intentional about offering thoughtful input on their work performance, not just the “great job” feedback. Generation Xers would like to receive feedback quarterly, the survey indicated, while Millennials want monthly feedback.
  • Make an Effort to Keep Work/Life Balance Issues Top of Mind – Remember that it is the No. 1 factor that determines whether young professionals will stay in public accounting, according to Road to Retention. Continue thinking of new ways to increase efficiency and flexibility so they can work in the ways they feel are most productive. Trust your staff, and ask young professionals to suggest ways to possibly make smaller changes along the way.

Learn more about the Road to Retention report.

Christina Camara is managing editor of the monthly INSIDE Public Accounting newsletter.

What You Think About Your Younger Staff May Not Be True

By Christina Camara

Chris Camara

Chris Camara

INSIDE Public Accounting

The stereotypes aren’t pretty. Younger staff may view older professionals as old-school technological dinosaurs who aren’t creative or innovative. Accounting firm owners may believe they supervise a bunch of entitled, ungrateful complainers who don’t care about their work.

Millennials (21-33 years old) and Generation X-ers (34-40 years old) took exception to these broad generalizations in a survey of 723  young CPA professionals conducted last year by INSIDE Public Accounting and ConvergenceCoaching. These professionals did more than object, however. They also made numerous constructive suggestions on how the different generations can work better together.

Young professionals are a key demographic for accounting firm leaders, with projections that by 2020, Millennials will account for half of the workforce. Turnover is high, more than 20% at many larger firms, and it’s expensive. Young professionals tell INSIDE Public Accounting that firm leaders need to find ways to offer rewarding work, a plan for professional development, 21st century tools and a flexible work environment or face seeing their pool of future talent dry up.

Here’s what we learned from young professionals in analyzing the survey results, which led to The Road to Retention report.

What are the Top Misconceptions?

The mistaken impression that young professionals are “lazy” came up over and over again, more than 150 times in fact, when survey respondents were asked, “What’s the biggest misconception about young professionals?” More than a third of respondents, 36%, said firm leaders are mistaken if they think young professionals are not willing to put in the effort needed. More than 120 times, survey respondents said they’re unfairly viewed as uncaring and unwilling to work hard. They contend they’re just as committed, they just want to work differently.

Some of their (anonymous) comments:

  • “In order to make public accounting a career, a flexible schedule is key.”
  • “I do not think that flexibility is a direct reflection of whether or not someone works hard. I believe that by allowing more flexibility, a firm can help their staff achieve more and have a greater work output since they are able to work on their own time.”
  • “Professionals my age want work to fit into their lives not work to be their life.”
  • “We grew up with parents who both worked and had to miss time with their kids, or with a parent who was never home due to work, and to us it is not an ideal lifestyle.”

These professionals tell us that they do care deeply about work, but they care deeply about their families and outside activities deeply as well. Work-life balance, in fact, was the most important factor determining whether this group of emerging leaders will stay in public accounting, the survey said. When asked to comment on the needs of young professionals, Dave Finklang, a manager of tax services at Anders CPAs + Advisors of St. Louis  noted: “Just because a younger associate doesn’t want to work 2,800+ hours a year to get ahead like senior partners did, it doesn’t mean they don’t care.”

Ways For Different Generations to Work Together Better

The survey respondents also offered constructive feedback on how to overcome some of these obstacles. Firms should encourage openness, frequent communication, knowledge sharing and team work in an atmosphere that respects differences and “rewards efficiency over time put in,” as one respondent put it.

Here is a sampling of  responses to the survey question,If you could suggest ONE WAY to help the generations work together more effectively, what would it be?”mergers3

  • “If management preaches work-life balance and flexible working, don’t reprimand employees if they are not sitting at their desks from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.”
  • “Have mature partners work from home for a week and young staff work from the office 70 hours a week to see the difference.”
  • “[They] simply need to learn new tricks. Paper is ancient. Digital is the future.”
  • “The older generation needs to provide clear advancement path with benchmarks that can be measured, not nebulous concepts.”
  • “I would suggest creating outcome-based accountability measures to focus on results rather than core hours.”

Flipping the Conversation

Consider this: Perhaps young people are changing jobs because the workplace culture resists change, not because they aren’t loyal. “We are likely to stay at a firm if the culture embraces changes in technology and flexibility,” says Kim Hardy, senior audit manager at Ridgeland, Miss.-based Matthews, Cutrer & Lindsay who was also asked to comment on young professional needs. And perhaps instead of viewing young professionals as impatient, maybe they’re driven, committed and eager to grow.

Another respondent suggests that we search for understanding. “If we can understand how one another thinks, we can alter our form of communication and work style to work together more effectively.”

The Road to Retention offers a clear message to firm leaders. Listen to and seek to understand your young professionals. They have great ideas that can foster teamwork, loyalty and a strong culture that embraces all generations.

Download the report.

Christina Camara is managing editor of the monthly INSIDE Public Accounting newsletter.

Consultant Releases New Edition of ‘Quantum of Paperless’


Roman Kepczyk

Roman Kepczyk, director of consulting for Xcentric, has released a 2016 update of his book, Quantum of Paperless: Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization.

In the seventh edition of the book, Kepczyk includes 2016 IT survey results from the CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA). The survey provides actionable information on hardware, software, staffing and IT trends and allows accounting firm leaders to compare data with their peers. In addition, the 2015 Benchmarking Paperless Best Practices survey information is included.

Quantum Paperless discusses how every accounting firm is unique yet similar. Firms are unique in the production processes they have developed over time to service clients, produce tax returns, complete audits, enter time and produce billing. However, the transition from traditional manual processes to today’s digital solutions is remarkably similar and it is primarily a matter of identifying where the firm is today and implementing the next proven process that firm personnel are sufficiently capable and willing to adopt.

This guide is broken into 32 mission-critical quantum leaps where your firm production can be optimized. In each section, proven solutions that accounting firms are successfully implementing and using today is listed.

The book answers tough tech questions firms face:

  • Multiple monitors – beyond 3?
  • The Cloud?
  • Hardware selection and replacement?
  • Document management?
  • Managing and retaining data?
  • Digital tax workflow systems?
  • Audit field equipment?
  • Delivering client reports digitally?
  • Client portals?
  • Security issues?
  • Remote access technology?

Kepzyk helps firms throughout North America effectively use information technology by implementing digital best practices. He has spent the past 17 years consulting with CPA firms.

Purchase Quantum of Paperless: Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization