High-Potential CPAs, the BIG Picture


Editor's note: Also read "The Lowdown on High Potentials" in the December 2011 issue of the JofA.

With the 2011 edition of its Top Talent Survey, the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section took a look for the first time at high-potential CPAs working in the business, industry and government (BIG) category (See Exhibit 1).

The poll received 335 responses from up-and-coming CPAs in the BIG category. Their demographic breakdown is as follows:

  • 57% are male and 43% are female.
  • 85% are married, 9% are single, and 6% are separated or divorced.
  • They have, on average, two children.
  • They have been CPAs for almost 18 years.
  • They have been with their current organization for seven years.
  • They are, on average, 45 years old.

In general, high-potential CPAs in the BIG category are older and more experienced than their counterparts in public accounting. This is not surprising, considering the career pathway in corporate America generally is longer than the career pathway at a CPA firm. More often than not, a high-potential employee at a corporation won’t reach a C-level position until at least his or her middle to late 40s. In comparison, top talent at CPA firms usually are made partner at a younger age.

CPAs in business, industry and government differ from their public practice peers in other ways. CPAs in BIG report higher stress levels and fewer mentoring opportunities and are more likely to say that they sometimes aren’t challenged in their jobs. On the other hand, BIG high potentials are much more likely than their public-practice peers to consider “interesting, challenging internal projects” as a prime reason for staying at their company. In addition, BIG CPAs:

  • Are not nearly as concerned about the size of their organization.
    Are almost 40% more likely than their peers in CPA firms to make a different career choice in the next five years.
  • Are about 45% less likely to believe that they are being groomed for a senior position than their peers in CPA firms.
  • Rate dependent medical benefits and a retirement savings plan as more important in accepting a position—and comp time and paid overtime as less important—than top talent at CPA firms.
  • Are less likely to believe they have been adequately trained, have access to the necessary tools and technology or that their job description was accurate.

Exhibit 1: Top 20 Attraction Factors for CPAs Who Work in Business, Industry and Government

Rank Top Attraction Factors 2011
1 Salary 91%
2 Paid personal/vacation time 85%
3 Medical benefits 84%
4 Career growth opportunities 80%
5 Interesting, challenging internal projects 79%
6 Retirement savings plan 78%
7 Open-door/accessible management 77%
8 Comfortable office atmosphere 77%
9 Firm's reputation or prestige 74%
10 Bonus incentives 66%
11 Dependent medical benefits 66%
12 Paid sick days 60%
13 CPE credit reimbursement 58%
14 Team-orientation of firm 57%
15 Respect for company mission statement or vision 54%
16 Flexible work schedule 54%
17 Access to the latest, cutting-edge technology 45%
18 Training & professional development opportunities in soft skills or areas beyond traditional, technical CPE requirements 42%
19 Telecommuting/work-from-home options 36%
20 Regular performance reviews/feedback 36%

Source: PCPS 2011 Top Talent Survey.

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