In a world where job listings often sound more like casting calls and people can hand out business cards that proudly proclaim that they're Vice Influencing Ambassador, Head Growth Hacker or a guru of any variation, is there any reason for the next generation to look to accounting – a field that's usually portrayed in shades of beige – for a challenging and fulfilling career?
That's the question we sought out to answer in our latest episode of our newest podcast.
This week on CFO Weekly, Megan Weis – VP & General Manager, FAO Services, Personiv, sat down with Cliff Edwards, the CEO and majority shareholder of Thomas Edwards Group, an award-winning, Dallas-based, accounting and finance search firm. The two of them talked about where the accounting profession has been, where it is now and their predictions for where it could be going on the first full-length episode of Personiv's finance and accounting thought leadership podcast.
Listen to Episode 1 on Apple Podcasts: Scouting for Accounting Talent with Cliff Edwards
Where Did All the CPAs Go?
Both Weis and Edwards have more than 20 years of experience in the finance and accounting fields a piece, and each have been CPAs, so they're uniquely qualified to speak to whether or not there's truly a lack of CPAs (yes), whether or not they're being replaced as quickly as they're leaving (no) and what the reasons for both are (it's complicated).
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According to Cliff, there's a combination of factors that have led to the now well-established talent shortage, especially when it comes to accountants that are fully professionally certified. Factors include an entrenched ideology that encourages new accounting grads to narrow their job search to a few options -- namely the "Big Four" accounting firms: Deloitte, Earnst & Young, PriceWaterhouseCooper and KPMG – and prepare themselves for a heavy workload and a few years of 60+ hour workweeks up front to lay the foundation for a rewarding and prosperous career.
That's not the most appealing sales pitch for a job, though both Weis and Edwards agree that they wouldn't trade their "Big Four" backgrounds in for anything. A fair amount of accountancy neophytes agree, but the supply pipeline is further narrowed, explains Edwards, by a highly variable, and often extremely stringent set of requirements for CPAs by state.
The result could very well be that new grads with a knack for numbers in a new job market look to more flexible and rewarding fields like consultancy to put their skills to use.
How The Accountancy Field Has Changed
Edwards got to see the indelible mark that the Great Recession of 2008 left on the accountancy field, particularly as someone who is very much in the business of keeping his finger on the pulse of the accounting talent pipeline today. Calling accounting "a huge equalizer", Edwards went on to say that there's still a need for the accounting talent that keeps the wheels of business turning – but that the companies who need it are managing an entirely different set of expectations.
Because the demand for accounting talent has stayed relatively steady, but the supply that feeds that demand has become less abundant over the years, he cautions organizations looking to fill the roles against expecting more work for less money. Qualified talent isn't as easy to come by as it may have been in the past, and leaders need to be ready to pay a premium – especially in high-demand tech regions like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas – to have their top choice of fewer candidates than before.
The Role of Millennial Accountants
There's been enough discussion about whether or not Millennials, who are said to come with a list of lofty demands of their chosen employment, have had anything to do with the new normal. Edwards vehemently disagrees with popular negative notions of the generation, some of whom are well into their thirties now.
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Speaking of his personal experience at Thomas Edwards Group, he chuckled a little before debunking some popular myths about younger team members. "We have had great a great experience [with Millennial workers] ... we've done a better and better job of laying the groundwork for the next generation to take over at some time. I kind of cut that short when I hear somebody complaining about it. I say, 'You know what? Send them over to me, I'll interview them, and we'll try to place them – or maybe I'll hire them!"
What the Future of Finance and Accounting Looks Like
If that sounds like doom-and-gloom, it shouldn't. Weis and Edwards talked about how in spite of all of these factors, accounting is as exciting and rewarding a field as it's ever been.
"It was a good job before," Edwards enthused, you got to deal with numbers, and you got to work with people, and to move up in accounting you still have to have those interpersonal skills." But, he added, "It's an even more interesting job now because of the analytics and big data...you have these analysis models where you can go in and help make the decisions."
What Does RPA Mean for Today's Accountants?
No conversation about how organizations hire accounting talent could be complete without an examination of the role that technology has to play, particularly when it comes to robotic process automation (RPA). Edwards wasn't afraid to tackle the concern head on, saying, "the fear has been that at some point an analyst will be able to come back and push a button and there's your financial statements; all the comments and all the variances. But it hasn't really worked out that way."
In fact, he asserts, the changes in technology are just one reason that a career in accountancy is a better bet than ever. It's dynamic, challenging, in-demand and comes with a toolset that make for strategic accounting opportunities we haven't seen before.
Taken altogether, Edwards paints a picture of a field that's changing, but hardly diminishing. As accounting professionals and employers alike seek to navigate the changing landscape of the accounting job market, there's a huge opportunity for both to make the most of their available resources – and a lot of potential for employers to find ways to leverage the valuable, often cream-of-the-crop accounting professionals they're hoping to entice by allowing them to do what they do best.
For her part, Weis is an expert at sourcing highly-qualified bookkeeping staff to help round out these powerhouse finance departments, with so be sure to connect with her on LinkedIn, and subscribe to CFO Weekly on your favorite platform.
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