Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

How to Win the Game of Talent: Firms Need Planning and Persistence to Survive on the Most Competitive Battlefield in Recent Memory for Hiring Skilled Accountants

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

How to Win the Game of Talent: Firms Need Planning and Persistence to Survive on the Most Competitive Battlefield in Recent Memory for Hiring Skilled Accountants

Article excerpt

The HBO show Game of Thrones has generated huge ratings thanks to a fervent fan following that can't get enough of the story's many protagonists fiercely fighting for the power and prestige of the Iron Throne.

The world of public accounting has its own skirmish underway. Call it the Game of Talent--and the competition in that arena has been heating up.

"The white gloves are off, and the boxing gloves are on," said Allan D. Koltin, CPA, the CEO of Koltin Consulting Group, a Chicago-based firm that advises accounting firms on issues including mergers and acquisitions, practice management, and talent recruitment and development. Earlier this year, the head of a large Midwest firm showed Koltin a recruiting letter that all of his staff and partners had received from another firm.

"It used to be that accounting firms would hire search firms" to recruit professionals away from other firms, he said. "Now they hire their own people internally, and they don't even disguise it anymore."

Yes, the rules are changing in the Game of Talent. While accounting firms are no strangers to battling for skilled professionals, a trio of factors have contributed to making today's labor market perhaps the most competitive in recent memory. This article looks at the state of the market and outlines approaches firms can employ to win what Koltin calls "the War for Talent."


When the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) released the results of its biennial CPA Firm Top Issues Survey earlier this year, staffing concerns topped the list for all firm sizes except sole practitioners (see the JofA news article "Staffing Issues Surge to Forefront of Accounting Firm Concerns," Finding qualified talent ranked as the top concern of firms with two to 10 professionals and as the No. 2 issue, behind talent retention, for firms with 11 or more professionals (see "CPA Firm PCPS Top Issues Survey Results" chart).

Longtime observers of the PCPS survey were not surprised to see talent acquisition and retention at the top of the Top Issues charts. Staffing issues were at the forefront of accounting firm concerns for the first 10 years of the survey, from its inception in 1997 through 2007. The recession pushed client retention to the top of the list in the 2009 survey, while client acquisition became the top priority in 2011 and 2013 as the fight for survival transitioned into the race for growth.

Today, the cycle has come full circle. Talent is again the name of the game, though the competition has taken on a new edge as the playing field has changed.

"The market is tight. Super tight," said Jennifer Wilson, co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC and a veteran consultant to accounting firm management teams. "Accounting employment is virtually a full-employment environment."

Wilson points to blog posts written by her ConvergenceCoaching colleague Renee Moelders, who reported that the estimated average unemployment rate for accountants was lower than 3%, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegging it at 2.2%.

The accounting profession has long enjoyed low unemployment, but a couple of factors have produced a talent shortage that experts including Mark Koziel, CPA, CGMA, AJCPA vice president-Firm Services & Global Alliances, describe as more intense than they've seen in the past.

The first factor is increased workload compression. The 2014 and 2015 busy seasons were two of the toughest on record due to late changes to tax rules by Congress and inadequate IRS support that made it painfully difficult, if not impossible, for CPAs to get questions answered. Long, frustrating hours during tax season and beyond may be one factor contributing to CPAs'leaving public accounting.

The second factor is demographics. Baby Boomers heading into retirement and Millennials seeking better work/life balance represent the largest streams of accountants out of public accounting. …

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