Talent Retention: Five Tips for an Audit Adjustment
December 2, 2022
Dodge the perfect storm of quiet quitting, the great resignation and busy season
December 27, 2022 – Irvine, CA – The accounting industry is facing a growth in demand but suffering a squeeze on available talent.
Bloomberg Tax calculates that the number of accountants and auditors employed fell 17 percent between 2019 and 2021. The shortage starts on the supply side: The number of U.S. students completing bachelor’s degrees in accounting declined from 2016 to 2020, according to the AICPA’s 2021 Trends Report. The short supply is aggravated by high turnover and growing demand. Accountants have been leaving corporations and audit firms in record numbers. Though it’s been expected for some time that baby boomer retirements would produce a talent crunch, the crunch has been earlier and tighter than expected because of the great resignation.
As firms contemplate how to deliver first quarter 2023 audits, we all need to reinvent our approach to perennial problems and rethink the way we manage our people and the process of auditing itself. Forward-thinking firms are taking steps now to shore up their processes and reset their expectations to make the coming busy season less stormy for all.
- Utilize advanced audit technology. The proliferation of audit technology has grown from a passing thought to reality at a rapid pace, but few midsize firms have taken advantage of it. Yes, the benefits are greater efficiency, but from a human capital standpoint, audit technology alleviates much of the menial and mind-numbing work that causes your audit staff to wonder why they went into public accounting to begin with. Firms of all sizes can now leverage advanced technology for everything from audit data analytics to automated work papers.
- Improve client parameters and communications. The realization rates on most audits are far from desirable, often stemming from clients not providing the required documentation to perform the testing to conclude the audit. The result is your staff end up warming the bench and not billing their time, but still have the burden of billable hour goals looming over them. Killing the billable hour is the preferred solution, but for many firms, that may be too much shock and awe too soon. This is the perfect example of a situation where the staff bear responsibility but exert no control. It’s a dangerous model that will just frustrate a smart young staff member and offer another reason to abandon the public accounting partner track for a less-hectic position in industry.
- Think outside the adult-supervision box. The consensus among our CPA firm members is that the greatest need in audit departments is for seniors and senior managers – it’s as if an entire generation of supervisors somehow went missing. The traditional model is to replace or bolster your teams in the same way you’ve always done it. Yes, our adversary SALY (same as last year) even impacts staffing. The offshoring model might work in some instances, but middle-market firms are reluctant to make that move, mostly because it usually only addresses the gaps in staff and isn’t without its challenges.AuditClub is reinventing the audit process with a model that alleviates staffing headaches. Based entirely in the United States, AuditClub provides flexible, on-demand access to experienced audit professionals only in the months when you need them. This access model requires a different mindset for firms solving their staffing needs, but more firms are finding this approach a viable alternative to overworking their people and causing them to jump ship in the storm of busy season in hopes of surviving elsewhere.
- Plan better. AuditClub supports dozens of CPA firms of all sizes, from top 10 to local firms, and fewer than 20 percent had their staffing plans for early 2023 in place as late as November. I’ve been in public accounting for more than 20 years, and it’s clear that our industry does a terrible job, not only in planning the staffing for busy season, but also in building contingencies to address the inevitable obstacles in the road. We are reinventing the traditional approach to resource allocation planning. The traditional approach – keeping people on the bench, picking favorites from the available labor pool, hoarding “the good ones” for your engagements – is no longer tenable in this perfect storm. Planning is more than just counting heads, because what you’re really counting is access to brainpower. So, your review of your processes should be a 360-degree examination of supply, demand and fluctuation, which we as smart auditors should be able to address.
- Implement audit adjustments. Our profession needs its own audit adjustment. Auditors are skilled at finding adjustments for their clients but terrible at making adjustments themselves. The people, processes and technology of the past 100 years are all different. It took more than 70 years for the audit report to finally change. But it hasn’t taken nearly as long to see that staff expectations within today’s firms have shifted with the times. We are reinventing the audit business model to meet the unique demands of today’s talented CPAs. The baby boomers who ran firms for most of this century now only represent 25 percent of the U.S. workforce, and the next generations have radically different expectations and definitions of work, life and motivation. In a nutshell, it’s more about emotional intelligence than artificial intelligence.
The definition of insanity, depending on your point of view, is either going into public accounting or doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Facing a perfect storm of the great resignation, quiet quitting and busy season on the horizon, it’s time for our profession to reinvent our approach to audits and finally book that audit adjustment.