Our Response to the WSJ and Others on the State of Our Profession

November 30, 2023

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Contrary to popular opinion, it is not all doom and gloom for the accounting profession.

There have been many recent posts and articles about the challenges accounting firms face in hiring and retaining accountants needed to complete the increasing amount of work. One recently published article (10/6/2023) in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “Why No One’s Going Into Accounting,” got me to thinking about whether we are focusing too much time on some of the negatives in our industry instead of moving forward to find solutions at the individual firm level. The WSJ reaches a conclusion in the title that is clearly an exaggeration and is based on an assumption that low salaries are the reason. The accounting industry is in a period of change, and the number of students entering the profession has decreased in recent years. However, the article fails to acknowledge the progressive changes occurring across the industry.

Reasons other than low salaries often cited for the decreased interest in the accounting profession include the required five years of college, a difficult CPA exam, and long, tedious hours. None of these are insurmountable. In fact, many firms that are growing and thriving have found ways to attract and retain staff. These firms offer rewarding career paths that include monetary incentives as well as personal fulfillment and flexible working arrangements. These progressive firms use technology and outsourced staff to handle the more routine aspects of the job – the tasks that most professionals find tedious. Firms using technology solutions and outsourced staff for these tedious tasks find that fewer accountants are needed and the staff they do hire can focus their time on the most rewarding aspects of being a CPA – helping clients, learning new skills and growing the business.

Smith + Howard, recognized in 2023 as one of the fastest growing accounting firms by Inside Public Accounting, has been aggressive in its approach to growth. We offer attractive salaries and bonus programs that are based on overall performance, not just on hours worked. Further, we cultivate an entrepreneurial environment, rewarding innovation and creativity. Hybrid and flexible schedules distinguish us from the current return-to-office mandates of many firms. In short, we’ve created a values-driven, rewards-based culture that resonates with today’s employees.

The industry is clearly in need of change, starting with transforming the outdated public perception of the profession in order to enhance its appeal to top talent. The influx of investments by private equity and others into the accounting industry, the use of ESOPs and alternative practice structures mark significant progress toward creating renewed excitement and opportunities for those choosing to enter the field.

Accounting continues to be an amazing profession that will support individuals throughout their career lifecycle. The fact that there are now fewer accountants entering the profession puts the responsibility to attract talent where it belongs: back on individual firms. It is our responsibility to create an interesting and rewarding place to build a career so students will want to go into accounting. 

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