Brendan Courtney

Strategic Staffing for the Tax Department: Boosting Cost-Efficiency With a Flexible Model

Most employers are familiar with the concept of “flex” staffing, but many associate it with simply outsourcing their HR needs to a temp agency.

September 13, 2007
Sponsored by Spherion Professional Services

by Brendan Courtney, senior vice president, Professional Services Group

Companies of all shapes and sizes today are strategically using flexible staffing to not only react to surges in workloads, but to also more closely monitor their staff size and costs. This new game plan results in greater levels of flexibility, productivity, and competitiveness.

You may be surprised to learn that strategic staffing can be an excellent model for talent deployment in corporate tax departments and in the tax divisions of accounting firms. But when you consider the peaks and valleys of workload in the corporate tax department, the connection becomes more intuitive.

For starters, consider the frequency of changes in tax regulatory compliance and audit requirements. Meeting Sarbanes-Oxley's standards for “full and adequate” documentation has tax departments worriedly guessing as to just how “full and adequate” their efforts need to be. Schedule M requirements are also creating more recordkeeping demands on tax departments.

Now imagine the stresses and challenges of facing an audit. The IRS representative you work with will likely be very demanding, so it’s difficult to predict just how aggressive the documentation demands will be. Again, it could be a nightmare in workload or it could be manageable … you just don’t know.

One logical solution to the ebbs and flows caused by all these predicaments (and more) is flex staffing. The really good news with flex staffing is the quantity and quality of experienced and talented tax professionals available. Baby boomers are retiring and many are leaving full-time work and choosing early retirement. Many of these individuals are successful, seasoned professionals.

Still other tax professionals are opting for the flexibility of contract work. In fact, some surveys indicate that as many as one in three “contingent employees” now prefer temporary work over permanent work, up from 26 percent just a few years ago.

In the past, the only realistic option employers had at their disposal was to turn to the supply side of staffing by utilizing “loaner staff” from a big outside accounting firm. While that approach provided access to the deep talent pool at major accounting firms, it came with a steep price that includes the big overhead and infrastructure costs those big firms carry.

Moreover, this option includes another possible obstacle today: There are only four big accounting firms (down from eight) and those big four firms, plus the national, regional and local CPA firms, all are understaffed at precisely the same senior level you need to draw from for your flexible staffing needs. Concerns about independence between tax advice providers and auditing services subtract even more from the available pool of staff, since the individual who becomes the auditor for your company shouldn't be the same individual who handles your taxes.

The flex staffing model is a logical evolution for employers of tax professionals. This strategic approach to meeting the need for talent provides seasoned contract tax professionals at prices much lower than renting tax accountants from an accounting firm. Contract tax professionals bring all of the high-quality expertise, yet none of the legal, independence, or divided time commitment issues that must be avoided. In addition, this flexible staffing model avoids the high costs of hiring permanent workers.

So by utilizing contract professionals, employers can stop trying to predict exactly how their staffing needs will be affected by quarterly and annual closing compliance issues and audits. Instead, they can deploy highly qualified talent to provide the exact tax assistance required at the appropriate time and for the right duration.

Please understand that flexible staffing is most effectively used as a supplement to your permanent workforce, not as a drastic reaction to downsizing or budget cuts. But deploying a strategic staffing model can significantly reduce costs, improve the flexibility of your human capital, and allow you to take advantage of specific expertise from specific professionals on an as-needed basis.

For more information, visit Spherion.

Brendan A.J. Courtney, Senior Vice President & Group Executive, Professional Services Group, Spherion Corporation. Brendan Courtney serves as senior vice president and group executive of professional services for Spherion Corporation (NYSE:SFN).