Attracting and Retaining Talent a Challenge

BY CHAIM YUDKOWSKY

The timing and content of “Stopping the Brain Drain” ( JofA, Sept.99, page 69) was great.

The problem of attracting and retaining future talent in the public accounting profession is greatest in small and midsize regional firms that have been around for a while. Some of these firms have senior partners who are focused on underfunded retirement, the rising cost of low-level staff and the hard work today’s competitive environment requires to maintain even modest growth. In some cases, they do not really feel comfortable with the evolution of public accounting, but think it’s too late in the game to get out. Selling out to consolidators, however, is a choice they refuse to consider.

As a result, these firms, scared to death the nest egg of equity in their firm may be worthless, may have a strategic plan in presentation only. This attitude could lead to shortsightedness about new opportunities available to the profession, discounting the long-term economic value of mid-level staff and young partners to the firm and lethargic action.

Unfortunately, as a result of this lack of real commitment to the future, not only is the continuity of these firms in jeopardy, but the experience of partners’ apathy and realization of the artificial nature of that commitment discourages firm staff from remaining in public accounting. This is especially true for specialists who recognize many opportunities, not in public accounting, but in similar areas such as technology consulting.

Thus, many of the strategies described in the article to find and keep young talented CPAs cannot be addressed unless the leaders of firms have confidence in themselves and in their firms. How can partners not be critical and inflexible when, in some respects, their future is desperate? Desperation in this case is not like that of those on board the Titanic as it’s about to sink, but rather like that of a recently diagnosed very ill patient who has not come to terms with the disease, its treatment and its prognosis.

Although I do not have any specific ideas for improvement, I suggest dedicating additional JofA and AICPA resources to the issue of retaining talent in public accounting. Now especially, as educational requirements for the CPA designation increase nationwide and real world opportunities for using it expand, this will be a growing crisis for the future.

Chaim Yudkowsky, CPA
Baltimore, Maryland

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