Finding and retaining staff are the top issues facing CPA firms this year, and talent pool challenges are expected to have the biggest impact on public accounting practice operations over the next five years, too, new research released at AICPA ENGAGE by the American Institute of CPAs shows.
“Finding qualified staff” was the No. 1 issue in every firm-size segment except sole practitioners, where it ranked No. 3, according to the 2017 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, sponsored by the AICPA’s firm practice management section. Likewise, “retaining qualified staff” was a Top 5 issue in every grouping except sole practitioners. Recruitment and retention were leading concerns the last time the survey was conducted in 2015, too, but the challenge appears steeper as the profession continues to gain strength in a growing economy.
“High demand for services is a great situation for CPAs as a whole,” said Carl Peterson, the AICPA’s vice president of small firms “From a firm management perspective, however, it poses some significant challenges.”
The Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) CPA Firm Top Issues Survey is conducted every two years and results are segmented by firm size, since the perspectives of a small firm CPA are often dramatically different from someone employed by a Top 100 firm. The different segment lists often reveal trends across the profession, however. Survey respondents are asked to rank the impact of 91 issues divided among seven practice areas on a 1-5 scale, with one being “minimal” and five being “extreme.” They then are asked to rank their top five issues from among their highest-scoring items.
Besides staffing, other common Top 5 issues this year include succession planning, acquisition of new clients, workload compression, and keeping up with tax law complexity. Some issues have faded in the past few surveys: “fee pressure/pricing of services”—a concern during the Great Recession—is only a top 10 issue in the 6-10 professional segment, while “retention of current clients” has fallen out of the top 10 for all groups.
For the first time, respondents were asked to rank eight issues expected to have the greatest impact on how their practice operates over the next five years. Staffing was the top answer for all segments but sole practitioners, while technology was the No. 2 answer for the same grouping. Sole practitioners, meanwhile, ranked technology No. 1 and contending with the regulatory environment No. 2.
The PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey was conducted online from April 20 to May 15, 2017, by Mktg. Incorporated. The 610 respondents represent a mix of practice types and firm sizes, from sole practitioners to large firms with 21 or more professionals.