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Managing busy season with a shortage of accountants

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

· 7 minute read

Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting  

· 7 minute read

Finding and keeping highly motivated tax and accounting industry professionals is no easy task. It is a struggle shared by firms of all sizes.

Jump to:

Automation, AI Technology: A Time and Resource Saver

  Outsourcing: Scale your business and reduce your costs 

  A flexible work model: Expand your talent pool and gain a competitive edge

  How to handle the shortage of staff in your accounting department

Recent trends have only amplified this challenge. More tax professionals are exiting the profession than are entering it. Baby Boomers are retiring and there are not enough new workers to fill the vacancies. Add to that the recent focus by many workers on improved work-life balance—something that can seem at odds with a busy tax season. Clearly, these stresses do not help in your efforts to keep your most valued employees happy and productive—and on your team.

However, there are steps most tax firms can take to combat these challenging circumstances and get a leg up when competing for industry talent. In this blog post we’ll detail three proven strategies to help you combat the shortage of accountants:

Implementing one or all of these strategies can help your firm address current talent challenges and head-off future ones.

Automation, AI technology: A time and resource saver

Automation is the most effective antidote to accounting labor shortages. That’s because it replaces work done manually by humans, reducing the number of workers you need to hire or replace. Plus, software will always cost less than salaries

The right technology can also enable clients and staff to collaborate more effectively. Technology that allows clients to share and communicate from anywhere on any device, and improves overall collaboration, lessens the strain on staff.

Scan-and-populate solutions provide much-needed relief to staff during the most stressful periods. They automatically extract data from standard documents and populate it into your tax software. Most products also bookmark and organize tax work papers into a standardized index.

The right solution can also help you automatically retrieve 1099s, 1098s and W-2s for greater convenience, integrating with the tax software to automate 1040 preparation and generally modernize the way in which your firm collects client data.

Advances in AI are making these solutions more accurate than humans. With less labor involved in your 1040 workflow, your firm can process more returns without adding staff.

The quality of a scan-and-populate solution depends on how many documents and fields it automates. SurePrep’s 1040SCAN recognizes 4–7 times as many document types as the alternatives, making it the most productive 1040 automation on the market. It’s also the only solution that uses AI to auto-verify Optical Character Recognition (OCR) data.

In other words, the OCR solution will learn to catch its own mistakes before humans need to. While OCR solutions do require some human verification to ensure the data being extracted from the documents is accurate before it is exported, AI and machine learning capabilities certainly improve results and make life easier for staff.

Outsourcing: Scale your business and reduce your costs 

Many firms are turning to third parties for assistance rather than adding full-time employees. It’s both more convenient and more cost-effective. It allows firms to handle an increased workload and take on more clients while still hitting tight deadlines, but without getting bogged down in hiring additional staff.

The market for outsourced preparation services has expanded in recent years due to the growing shortage of in-house accountants. “Partial outsourcing,” in particular, has grown in popularity. With partial outsourcing, vendors handle the busy work and pass skilled labor to in-house employees.

This frees up your most valuable employees to focus on what they do best. It helps avoid mounting frustration among these talented individuals and keeps them generally happier (ie: less likely to explore other employment opportunities).

The benefit to this arrangement is that outsourced vendors prepare returns as an extension of your firm. They use the same tax software and follow any special notes or instructions you provide. Their team will collaborate back and forth on each return until your firm is ready to sign off on a review. This improved efficiency is good for your firm and can allow you to increase capacity and profitability without increasing headcount. It can also help you improve efficiency within your firm and be pulled into the hiring cycle less frequently.

Since outsourcing demand is on the rise, many service providers fill their capacity months ahead of the deadline. If your firm is considering outsourcing, it’s important to research and contact vendors far in advance.

A flexible work model: Expand your talent pool and gain a competitive edge

Offering remote employment options is a smart way to gain access to a wider talent pool and combat the shortage of accountants. Shifting attitudes about work/life balance presents forward-thinking firms with an opportunity to snag great candidates and keep top talent. You can stand out by offering a remote work benefit as part of a total benefits package that many find more attractive than a package focused only on monetary compensation.

Currently, many firms are focusing on a return-to-office policy, tilting the scale in favor of those with more flexible employment options. A survey from April 25 – May 5, 2023, by The Conference Board finds that 54% of companies are requiring, or strongly encouraging workers to report to the office. At the same time, 28% of workers whose employers are instituting such a mandate say their intent to stay with their employer has decreased in the previous six months.

Remote options are no longer about adapting to the pandemic, but about staying competitive in the hiring market. They also widen your talent pool beyond the local office. Expanding your search to include candidates from all over the country increases your chances of finding the right hire.

How to handle the shortage of staff in your accounting department

Even if your firm isn’t looking to add staff, the industrywide accountant shortage makes it important to keep the accountants you currently have. Peak season burnout is part of the reason many tax professionals are leaving the profession. Unskilled labor is as demoralizing as it is time-consuming and can lead to costly turnover.

The good news is that you can address the talent challenge while also making improvements that strengthen your overall firm. By modernizing your 1040 workflow, outsourcing administrative tasks, and offering a flexible work-from-home benefit, you can take important steps toward attracting and keeping top talent at your firm.

What does your firm’s current workflow look like? Are your accountants stressed? Leveraging automation, outsourcing, and remote/hybrid work can improve your chances of keeping your team for years to come.


To learn more about managing the busy season with a shortage of accountants, tune into our recent webcast, The Future of Tax Automation: How to Elevate Your Firm’s Recruiting and Retention Strategies. Where we address challenges, the industry shift, and how firms can leverage automation and tax technology to elevate their practice.

On-Demand Webcast

The Future of Tax Automation: How to Elevate Your Firm’s Recruiting and Retention Strategies

  • Finding, developing, and retaining quality talent remains challenging for many firms.
  • Discover how automation and technology are transforming the industry and creating new possibilities for firms to elevate their recruitment and retention strategies.

White Paper

Find your flow: 1040 tax workflow best practices

By the end of this white paper, you’ll learn how an efficient tax practice can:

    • Modernize their collection of client documents
    • Automate data entry
    • Improve the review process
    • Enhance the delivery of completed returns





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