Staffing concerns again top list of CPA firm issues

Talent and technology remain high-impact issues.

Finding qualified staff ranks as the top issue for U.S. accounting firms with more than one CPA, and those firms expect talent and technology to have the greatest impact on their practices over the next five years.

Those are the top takeaways from the 2017 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, as reported by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) at the AICPA's ENGAGE Conference in Las Vegas.

The biennial survey also found that "keeping up with the changes and complexity of tax laws" again ranked as the top concern with CPA firms with one professional—the fourth straight survey in which that has been the case.

For the first time this year, the survey asked respondents to rank eight issues expected to have the greatest impact on the operations of their firms over the next five years. Staffing ranked highest for four of the five size categories tracked by the survey, with technology second among those firms. Firms with one professional ranked technology No. 1 and contending with the regulatory environment No. 2.

As business has picked up in public accounting, competition for talent has escalated as well. In 2015, "finding qualified staff" emerged as the No. 1 issue for firms with between two and 10 professionals, with "retaining qualified staff" taking the top spot for firms with 11 or more professionals. This year, "finding qualified staff" ranked No. 1 in each of the four size categories besides sole practitioners.

"High demand for services is a great situation for CPAs as a whole," Carl ­Peterson, CPA, CGMA, the AICPA's vice president—Small Firm Interests, said in a news release. "From a firm management perspective, however, it poses some significant challenges."

Issues related to increased complexity and seasonality and workload compression show up among the top five issues for firms in each of the smallest three size categories. Other issues are even more universal, as evidenced by succession planning cracking the top five issues for all but the largest firms, and "bringing in new clients" ranking in the top five for sole proprietors in addition to firms with 11 or more professionals.

In addition to staffing and technology, "changing client needs" ranked highly among firms of all sizes as issues that would have the greatest effect on firms over the next five years, taking the No. 3 spots among all firm sizes except six to 10 professionals, where it ranked fourth behind "regulatory environment."

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