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Combating the shrinking accountant talent pool

Three ways accountants and bookkeeping professionals can usher in the next generation of accounting talent to help curb the ongoing crisis in hiring staff

Author: Ben Richmond
Ben Richmond
Ben Richmond is Managing Director, North America at Xero.

AT THE HEIGHT of tax season this year, a survey found that 90 per cent of accounting and finance firm hiring managers were battling talent acquisition challenges due to the continued, widespread shortage of accountants in North America. At the time, the respondents reported that the shrinking accounting talent pool has resulted in real, negative industry-wide impacts, such as: 

  • Staff burnout at firms, largely due to the small number of new hires during high-volume seasons.
  • Inefficiencies impacting workflow and client services, which often lead to lesser client satisfaction and retention.
  • An increase in errors throughout the accounting process as a result of overburdened staff and managers, again leading to an eventual impact on client retention and, in turn, employee turnover. 

Over the years, the number of students signing up for and completing accounting degrees and programs has dropped significantly. As a result of this decline, the Association of International Chartered Professional Accountants (AICPA) saw a 40 per cent drop in new students sitting for the CPA exam between 2016 and 2022. Some sources within the industry point to the barriers that CPA hopefuls face, such as years of course work, high fees and poor work-life balance, as well as the less-than-exciting stereotypes of the profession as partial explanations for this decline. 

Notably, the shortage is now causing real-world consequences for Canadian businesses, and it’s up to the industry as a whole to help swing the pendulum back in the right direction. 

Let’s explore how accountants and bookkeeping professionals can usher in the next generation of accounting talent to help curb the ongoing hiring crisis. Read on for examples to highlight when recruiting new talent or giving advice to people looking to change their career paths.

#1. Accounting is a stable profession.

The premier benefit to focus on when sharing information about the profession with younger people surrounds its stability. Many consider accounting roles to be “recession-proof,” for instance. Firms of all sizes are always on the lookout for new team members to bring into their business, and across all sectors, companies are searching for intelligent financial professionals to work with to ensure their books are in order. This is especially true during tough economic times when many businesses literally can’t afford to have inefficient accounting and bookkeeping processes, as the risk of stumbling upon an unexpected expense is too high to ignore.

#2. Accounting is a broad career path.

Despite the pop-culture stereotype that accounting is boring and monotonous, accounting is an incredibly dynamic and diverse field in terms of the various pathways the profession can produce. While a lot of accountants and bookkeepers do spend time in spreadsheets, people considering the profession should know that accountants have become important to businesses for additional, and oftentimes more dynamic, support.

For example, in the modern corporate world, accountants are looked to for robust financial forecasting needs, for the implementation of game-changing technology to assist with strategic planning, and much more. As a result of the growing breadth of this profession, many accountants make their way up the ladder and ultimately become CFOs. Once in the C-Suite, they are relied upon for making strategic business decisions for their organizations, like where and when to open a new office, whether or not to acquire another company, and more.

#3. The accounting workplace is becoming more flexible.

Of course, as with most organizations in highly regulated legacy industries, accounting firms have been historically reluctant to adhere to more flexible workplace policies when compared to other corporate entities. However, firms of all sizes are coming to realize that this static way of thinking isn’t doing them any favours—especially when it comes to talent acquisition. Firms can attract new hires more easily if they offer flexible work options, so their team members can maintain a healthy work-life balance and know that they are trusted by their employers. 

Offering remote or hybrid work is really just the starting point in terms of what modern employers of choice are doing to retain talent in the accounting industry. Many firms that are competing for talent also offer robust overtime banking policies, so team members are compensated for their hard work during busy season and are able to properly recharge when things slow down. Accountant candidates should know that they can expect flexibility from modern firms.

A glimpse into the future of accounting

Careers in accounting have near-always offered a certain degree of career stability and security (and the potential for promising financial returns), but the industry is evolving quickly, and so are the opportunities for accounting hopefuls. 

The role of an accountant has expanded beyond balance sheets and payroll, especially with more firms adopting extended client advisory services, enabling them to grow alongside their clients. Technology is also playing an increasingly important role in the accounting field, particularly with cloud service adoption and machine learning tools. As firms become more efficient, new accountants can also look forward to more flexible working arrangements and increased employee benefits - indirect benefits of a thriving industry. 

Compared to previous times, the future of accounting is looking flexible and bright. By encouraging aspiring accountants and curious students to explore the breadth of opportunities and advantages a career in accounting can offer, the talent pool is sure to fill back up again.

Ben Richmond is Managing Director, North America at Xero. He is responsible for driving Xero’s growth in the United States and Canada. In 2013, he joined Xero as New Zealand sales director where he led the business' national growth and spearheaded Xero's global agriculture strategy. Prior to joining Xero, Ben worked in a large regional accounting practice before joining New Zealand's largest telecommunications company in a senior accounting role. He was also one of the founding board members of the Spark Foundation. Ben is a chartered accountant and earned a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in accounting, finance and information systems from the University of Canterbury.

Title image: iStock. Author photo courtesy Xero. Advertising feature produced by Xero.

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