Recently the AICPA reported that the number of college students enrolled as accounting majors is at an all-time high. However, it also found that the number of accounting graduates who are completing their degrees and sitting for the CPA exam is declining. This is concerning because the average age span of CPA partners is 54-62 and nearly 50% of CPA partners are expected to retire in the next 5-7 years.
With the departure of so many people from the profession, demand will far exceed the supply of qualified CPAs. The competition will be fierce between firms trying to attract the best and the brightest to replace their retiring accountants. The traditional thinking is that in such an environment big salaries and name recognition will win out and the big firms will grow while many small firms are forced to shut down. However, there are a lot of ways for a small CPA firm to entice the next generation of accountants that don’t carry large price tags. This generation of CPAs is looking for a lot more than just prestige and money.
One of the top things that the Millennial Generation (those born around 1980-2000) says they are looking for in a job and career, and many rank it higher than salary, is flexibility. Many young CPAs are looking to start families or already have young children. They want to be able to be there for their children and be a part of their lives as they grow. Many of today’s young professionals grew up with a sense that they came second to their parents’ careers and are looking to do things differently with their own families. This does not mean that they don’t want to work. They just aren’t willing to pursue a lucrative career at the expense of their families.
The good news is that in today’s technologically advanced environment, a healthy work-life balance is possible. No longer should a young mother have to go several months living as a single parent because it is tax season. There is no reason a young accountant can’t work at the office until 5, then go home and have dinner with his family and still be able to get a couple of hours of work in from home after the kids are in bed. With the internet and smartphones, constant connection and engagement are possible both professionally and personally. Offering family-friendly policies, such as paternity leave, job sharing, and telecommuting, and being flexible with scheduling overall is a huge draw for young CPAs.
As you sit in your office, look around and ask yourself, “would my son or daughter want to work here?” If you have doubts, what are they? Why isn’t your office appealing to younger people? If you dig a little deeper, you might even realize that it’s not really that appealing to you either. Clearly there are things that can be improved.
Consider your dress code. Business suits and high heels are expensive and uncomfortable. Are they really necessary? Would clients and prospects really respect you less in khakis and a button-down? Having a more relaxed dress code can be very welcoming for young people who are used to spending 99% of their time in jeans.
Is your office the kind of place where people smile when they walk in the door or the kind of place that people can’t wait to leave? This can be affected by such simple things; from the desk layout or cubicle arrangements to the amount of natural light and the thermostat setting. When new CPAs come to your office for a job interview, they are scrutinizing you and your office just as much as you are evaluating them.
You don’t have to try to imitate a Silicon Valley start-up and have all-white offices and everyone sitting on exercise balls to be appealing to younger workers, but you might need to loosen your tie and rethink your music. Many Millennials want to work in a more casual and friendly environment where they feel free to be themselves and express themselves. Not only are they happier in such environments, but they are more productive and do better work as well.
Beyond the physical atmosphere of your office is the work culture, the ways of doing things and the attitudes and values implied. Thanks to the scandals of the last decade, ethical leadership tops the list for many young CPAs looking for a place to settle. Most would rather take a pay cut than be a part of the next Enron debacle. Making sure that the firm’s leadership sets a high ethical standard is paramount in attracting and retaining skilled employees.
A culture of teamwork is also very important to the younger generations. No one wants to feel alone in the world and worse yet do they want to feel that they have to be competing against their coworkers for survival. Being part of a team makes it possible for each person to feel the security that in their areas of weakness someone else has their back, and with their strengths, they can help more than just themselves. It gives them a purpose beyond just themselves and a greater sense of accountability as well. As any basketball player or orchestra musician would tell you, the synergy of being a part of a team carries you to levels of excellence and accomplishment that you would never have attained on your own.
Millennials have sometimes been referred to as “Generation Why” because they seek to find a purpose in everything they do. They do not want to perform tasks just because it is expected of them or just for a paycheck. Their strong sense of purpose carries them to seek to understand and believe in the things they are doing with their lives. Understanding the purpose behind a task is critical to their commitment and engagement. This quest for purpose is not a part of traditional accounting culture. “Do the work, pay your dues, and your paycheck and eventual partnership should be sufficient motivation” was the old way of seeing things.
Supervising staff and older CPAs need to be willing to take the time to explain the purpose behind the tasks and projects that the next generation is working on. Helping them to see the people beyond the spreadsheets will be vital to retaining and maximizing the potential of today’s young CPAs. An accountant’s work is very important and greatly impacts not only individual people but businesses that do great things for their local communities. Helping a young CPA make those connections will fuel their passion for their own job and the firm as a whole.
As evidenced in the previous point, the next generation of accountants highly values communication. They want a lot of open and honest communication. Not only do they want to know why they are doing tasks, but how well. Growing up with the internet and social media, they are accustomed to instant feedback and validation. Regular, high-quality feedback is essential to employee morale and performance.
These new CPAs, children of the information age, also want to know what is going on around them and with the company as a whole. The idea of communication on a “need to know basis” fosters mistrust and can be divisive. As people who are used to having all kinds of information at their fingertips, when something is withheld it automatically triggers an uneasy suspicion. Transparency and straightforward communication create an environment where young professionals are able to grow, flourish and be guided.
Many newer CPAs don’t even know what they need to know in the profession and would love the opportunity to have someone with more knowledge and experience guide them. They are looking for their seniors to not merely tell them what to do, but to walk with them and help them develop as accountants and business leaders. The Millenial Generation is used to relating to their parents as more of friends than authority figures, and they carry that same attitude and expectation into the workplace.
With today’s level of knowledge sharing made possible by the internet, young professionals don’t want to have to learn the hard way when others have already done so and can teach them much more quickly. They want to be able to build off of the knowledge of those who have gone before them in order to reach new heights. They want to be able to live Isaac Newton’s famous quote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To attract and retain talented young CPAs you need to be the giant that lets them stand on your shoulders and not just polish your shoes.
Part of letting them stand on your shoulders is providing opportunities for growth. With youthful exuberance, novice CPAs seek out opportunities to learn and be challenged. Providing continuing education as a policy is an excellent way of fueling that passion for personal growth and development. Also, providing opportunities to work on bigger projects that align with their interests and to try new and different things will keep young accountants engaged and productive.
One way to intrigue and challenge young CPAs is to integrate wealth management into your firm. They will find that having a whole new service area is stimulating and affords them countless opportunities for personal and professional growth. Extending the opportunity to be involved in something so unique and exciting shows a new accountant that at your firm the will never grow bored and their career will not stagnate.
Many firm owners fail to take advantage of such an obvious way to entice the next generation of CPAs. It’s not because the firm owners aren’t interested or don’t believe it is beneficial, but because they think it is too difficult. It doesn’t have to be difficult, though. In fact, with the CPA2 program, it can be quite easy. The CPA2 program is a turnkey system offered by Nobile Wealth Management to allow CPAs to integrate wealth management services into their practices without materially disrupting their current business. We have a successful track record of helping CPAs create more appealing firms by increasing their service offerings to include wealth management. With our proven model and step-by-step process, there is no easier way to expand your business beyond the traditional accounting services and make it stand out from the crowd. Please call us at 860-659-5977 ext. 204, so we can discuss how we can help you build the firm that every new CPA wants to work in.