CPAs Get Smart in Staff Crisis

'Too much to do, not enough time.’ How does your office rate? Join the survey; see the answers.

September 24, 2007
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Accounting firms and finance departments have but a few stark choices when it comes to managing the epidemic staffing crisis: Do more with less, or just do less.

In fact, too many offices are simply doing less. But there is an alternative simply to throwing in the towel. Almost as many firms are learning how to cope — even thrive — through the staffing shortage crisis.

How does YOUR office rate?

Join the study. Get the answers.

(Free. Confidential.)

More than half of the CPAs who are responding to our current survey say that their firms are so understaffed that it’s impeding business. While the reasons why firms face staffing shortage may vary, many respondents cite difficulty in finding quality associates.

“We are desperately seeking accountants [and] have been [practicing] for over a year,” said Alka Chudasama of a Redlands, Calif.-based public accounting firm.

Echoing that sentiment, Terri Hornberger of Dallas, Texas, said, “[It’s] hard to find staff.”

Unfortunately, it appears to be an industry concern that shows little sign of slowing. According to the AICPA, 75 percent of the current membership will approach retirement age in the next 15 years. The AICPA has also noted that the shortage of CPAs continues. Firms may have hired 17 percent more entry-level recruits in 2006 than they did in 2005, but the need for CPAs remains. According to the AICPA, in 2004, one in six CPAs left his or her firm — that is two percent more than in 2003.

According to the latest Bay Street Group Trendlines data, some 20 percent of CPAs work in offices with at least 20 percent annual turnover (that means one in five CPAs leave those firms each year).

Fueling the fire is an increase in the number of businesses, shifting financial regulations, an amplified scrutiny of company finances and the changing role of accountants. Today, they are offering more services than ever. They must do so in order to effectively compete in today’s challenging marketplace. The metamorphosis has sparked major growing pains for many firms in the industry.

“A new area of business will require more staff,” said Debbie Stevens of Lenexa, Kan.

“We need more staff at the mid-experience level,” said Camala Bailey at a local accounting firm in Tempe, Ariz.
Some respondents said that their firms have already seen a wave of retirements but have yet to fill the positions. Meanwhile, other professionals said they are overstaffed when looking at the numbers but are understaffed when it comes to “talent and attitude.”

“We are not trying to grow the business because of our concerns with hiring and retaining qualified staff,” said Michael Warner of the eponymous Warner & Co. in Woodstown, N.J.

Added Ann Menke in West Point, Iowa, “We can’t grow because we don’t have reliable staff.”

According to Nancy Hwang at a firm in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., budget constraints have hampered hiring efforts. They are “understaffed, over budget” and burdened by “unrealistic upper management expectations as to what it takes to run an accounting office,” said Hwang.

For those firms that believe hiring additional staff is not an option, many industry sources agree that enhancing efficiency within the workflow process could be the next best thing. Luckily for firms, software vendors are well aware of the staff shortage facing the industry, and many are bolstering their product offerings to better streamline workflow and automate data entry.

Looking ahead, such staffing issues will continue to force companies not only to find ways to attract and retain talent — whether it be through compensation or a more flexible work environment — but also to enhance workflow efficiency.

There’s “always too much to do and not enough time,” said Nancy Callahan of Carmel, Calif.

YOUR TURN: How does your office rate? Join the survey; see the answers.

COMMENTS: Questions, rants or raves? Write Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2007 Bay Street Group LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

Go to the News Center Now

Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.