How software elevates your firm’s recruitment and retention

The future of tax automation

The accounting profession is in the midst of being redefined by technological evolution and rapidly shifting business landscapes. But accounting firms are grappling with a different challenge — one that isn't rooted in numbers or compliance but in people. It is increasingly difficult to attract and retain top-tier talent.

Firms are dealing with a noticeable decrease in recent college graduates eager to join the profession, compounded by a wave of experienced accountants nearing retirement or choosing to leave the profession for other opportunities. While the reasons are multifaceted, a standard narrative emerges: the perception of the accounting profession as cumbersome, laden with repetitive tasks, and lacking work-life balance.

This white paper, drawing insights from a recent webinar hosted by Dan Kolleth and Scott Keil, both Solutions Consultants at Thomson Reuters, delves deep into this talent conundrum. It seeks to understand the origins of this perception challenge and uncover how technology can be a game-changer in reshaping firm dynamics so accounting firms can attract and retain quality talent.

Recruiting and retaining quality talent: The current state

Accounting, once seen as a stable and lucrative career choice, now faces challenges in attracting and retaining quality talent. Two distinct but interconnected trends contribute to this predicament:

1. A dwindling inflow of talent. In recent years, there's been a noticeable dip in the number of college students pursuing careers in accounting. According to the AICPA’s 2023 Trends Report, bachelor's degree completions in accounting dropped 7.8% from 2021 to 2022 after steadily declining by 1% to 3% per year since 2015 and 2016. Today's young professionals often perceive tax and accounting careers as more demanding and less exciting compared to other professions, and this perception problem has led to fewer people entering the profession.

2. A wave of retirements. At the same time, as firms are dealing with a supply issue, they also struggle to hold on to the experienced professionals in their firms. The AICPA estimates that 75% of CPAs in the U.S. met the retirement age in 2020, leading to a significant talent drain. As this generation — which once formed the backbone of many accounting firms — steps into retirement, there's more than just a talent gap left behind. There's a knowledge and experience chasm that is hard to fill.

This talent conundrum isn't limited to firms of a specific size or certain areas. Firms of all sizes across the country grapple with these issues.

This double-edged sword — reduced new entrants and an increasing number of retirees — puts immense pressure on firms to sustain their workforce quality.

Traditional solutions and their shortcomings

For years, firms have leaned on strategies like seasonal internships during peak busy seasons to plug the talent gap. While this might seem like a reasonable solution, it often brings more challenges than relief. Interns require significant training and the frequent churn can inflate budgetary and operational costs.

The solution lies not only in temporary fixes but in fundamentally reimagining how firms operate and position themselves in the talent market.

The Excel reliance and its pitfalls

It’s no secret that accountants love Excel. Large and small firms rely on Excel for many aspects of their workflow, from drafting financial statements to planning tax scenarios. 

While Excel is undeniably powerful and versatile, it isn't always the most efficient tool for complex accounting tasks. Firms that depend heavily on Excel often find it challenging to streamline workflows, inevitably affecting work/life balance. 

For the modern accountant, especially the younger generation, an endless stream of Excel sheets can be daunting and less appealing than more streamlined, automated solutions.

The allure of automation

Recognizing these challenges, forward-thinking firms are looking to technology, especially automation, to enhance their attractiveness. Automation, whether built into modern accounting solutions or achieved through APIs, offers multiple advantages:

  • Efficiency. Automated workflows can significantly reduce manual tasks, allowing accountants to focus on higher-value activities.
  • Work-life balance. With automation shouldering repetitive tasks, accountants can achieve a better work-life balance, making the profession more appealing to potential recruits.
  • Standardized processes. Automation can help create standardized, error-free processes, ensuring consistent quality across client engagements.

Given these advantages, it's evident that firms leveraging innovative technology solutions stand a better chance of recruiting and retaining quality talent.

How did we get here?

Collegiate environments often foster a love for numbers, mathematical challenges, and problem solving. Accounting is a natural career path for students excited about these facets of academia. 

However, this enthusiasm often hits a few stumbling blocks as students dig deeper.

  • The ever-shifting tax landscape. Both domestic and international tax regulations are in a constant state of flux. For college students, the prospect of continuously staying updated can be overwhelming.
  • Tales from the trenches. Word-of-mouth stories about grueling 80- to 100-hour work weeks at Top 25 firms serve as a deterrent to many would-be accounting majors. While these might be exceptional cases, their impact on potential recruits is tangible and significant.
  • Mundanity matters. Beyond the complexities and long hours, there's also a perception that much accounting work is repetitive and mundane, devoid of the excitement and challenges initially drawing students to the discipline. Students might hear of tedious hours of data-entry work from peers or experience it during summer internships at a firm.

Tech expectations of the new workforce

Generation Z — also known as Gen Z, those born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s  — is the new group of entrants to the workforce. It comes with different expectations, primarily shaped by the tech-driven world the people comprising it grew up in. For them, the ideal workplace isn't just about a good paycheck and job security. They seek:

  • Modern tech stacks. They want tools to make work more streamlined, efficient, and enjoyable. They know mundane tasks are best left to automation.
  • Flexible work. Nine out of 10 Gen Zers see remote work as a critical recruiting lever, compared to 71% of Gen Xers and 37% of Baby Boomers, according to an Upwork survey. While not all of Gen Z wants to work remotely, supporting remote and hybrid work is essential to attracting this growing workforce segment. The question is no longer about whether a firm should offer flexibility but how it can be best implemented to serve the firm's and employees' needs.
  • Continuous learning. With the rapid evolution of technology, young professionals want to work for firms that can provide them with the latest tools and training, ensuring they remain at the forefront of the profession.

The role of technology in shaping perceptions

Technology, for all its benefits, has played a dual role in the current state of the accounting profession. On one hand, it offers solutions to many challenges plaguing the industry. On the other, its rapid evolution means firms that fail to keep up risk being perceived as outdated. This technological lag can deter potential recruits, who might view such firms as stuck in the past.

The current perception challenges stem from a mix of demanding work environments, generational workforce transitions, and the breakneck speed of technological advancements. Firms need to recognize these factors and pivot accordingly to remain appealing to the new generation of accountants.

What can firms do to improve recruitment and retention?

The path is clear for firms looking to attract and retain top talent. They must invest in technologies that remove the drudgery from accounting tasks, foster collaboration, and ensure smooth, transparent workflows.

Let’s look at each of these strategies in more detail.

1. Embrace automation for mundane tasks

One of the deterrents for young talent in accounting is the hours they are expected to spend on tedious administrative work early in their careers. So, the cornerstone of an effective talent retention strategy is recognizing the tasks that can and should be automated. 

Here's how some innovative solutions are addressing this: 

  • TaxCaddy. Traditionally, one of the primary pain points in tax preparation was the endless back-and-forth with clients to gather all necessary documents. TaxCaddy has reimagined this process. Generating an automatic document request list helps professionals kickstart return preparation well in advance, avoiding the eleventh-hour rush.
  • SurePrep. Using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), SurePrep reduces hours of manual sorting and document handling. Instead of trudging through stacks of client documents, comparing data year on year and determining missing pieces, SurePrep streamlines this entire process. Such tech integrations directly tackle the aspects of the job that many find daunting and exhausting.

2. Foster client collaboration

Modern solutions are not just about making the accountant's life easier; they also focus on client experience. By integrating user-friendly portals and communication platforms, clients become collaborators. They can effortlessly upload documents, respond to queries, and view their tax returns. As a result, they feel more engaged and responsible. This heightened collaboration reduces the pressure on accounting staff and enhances overall efficiency.

  • GoFileRoom Client Center. Providing clients with fast, secure, and convenient online services is easier than you think. Client Center makes file exchange easier for clients by integrating with applications they’re likely already using, such as Google Drive, Box, and Microsoft OneDrive.

3. Integrated workflow management

Micromanagement is a concern in many firms, often leading to reduced job satisfaction and burnout. Usually, the problem isn’t personal — it’s a symptom of a tech stack that doesn’t give partners and managers visibility into the status of engagements and the workloads of each team member.

To counter this, having a transparent and efficient workflow management system becomes crucial.

  • FirmFlow. This cloud-based workflow solution standardizes business processes through routing functionality, real-time tracking, custom reporting features, and more. It lets partners and managers see how the firm really functions so they can manage their staff more efficiently and make better business decisions. Providing a clear view of every team member's workload and task progress ensures optimal resource allocation and reduces unnecessary oversight.

The real magic happens when different tools talk to each other without any hitches. FirmFlow's integration with GoFileRoom and SurePrep ensures that data flows seamlessly, reducing duplicated efforts and enhancing efficiency.

These integrations optimize processes and make the work environment more appealing to the next generation of accountants.

Navigating the talent landscape

As we've navigated the intricate landscape of recruitment and retention in a modern firm, several themes have emerged:

  • The power of flexibility. As in many professions, the future of work in accounting is flexible. Recognizing and accommodating individual preferences, whether they lean towards work-from-home, in-office, or a hybrid approach, is more than just a perk — it's a necessity.
  • Embracing technology. Technology is a critical differentiator in your recruitment and retention strategy, from automating mundane tasks to streamlining client collaboration. Firms that integrate advanced tools effectively will win the war for talent.
  • Visibility without intrusion. Micromanagement is out; visibility is in. Modern systems offer a way to maintain workflow transparency without infringing on an individual's autonomy.
  • Client and employee collaboration. The future is collaborative. By bringing clients into the process through user-friendly portals and enhanced communication tools, firms can simultaneously elevate their service quality and work environment.

Change, while inevitable, is seldom easy. Transitioning to a more flexible work model, integrating new technologies, and redefining traditional practices can be daunting. If you need help on this journey, a Thomson Reuters Solution Consultant can help you focus on the people-centric aspects of transformation.

Thomson Reuters offers integrated solutions that resonate with the needs of both the current and upcoming generation of accounting professionals. Our comprehensive suite of solutions enhances work efficiency and sends a clear message: the accounting profession is committed to fostering an exciting, flexible, and empowering work culture.

The firms that solve the talent puzzle will embrace flexibility, invest in technology that supports diverse working styles, and prioritize the employee and client experience. The road ahead might be challenging, but firms can set themselves up for a brighter, more inclusive future with the right partner and tools.

About Thomson Reuters

Thomson Reuters offers best-in-class tax and accounting software and content to help firms save time, perform efficiently, and find reliable answers to their toughest issues. 

Contact our team to learn more about our tax and accounting solutions.

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