How to keep your talented CPAs

Companies are improving retention, MAP survey shows.

With stiff competition for talent, firms are allowing employees to control their own schedules and shift away from the long, rigid workdays that for decades defined many CPA careers.

The ongoing shift to flexible schedules and other new policies may be working: The accounting profession is experiencing lower turnover than it did two years ago, according to a detailed, biennial survey by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section.

Retention is up at most firms, especially smaller ones, according to the AICPA National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) survey of more than 1,500 firms during 2018.

Smaller firms, those that collected less than $1.5 million in net client fees for fiscal year 2017, reported a median turnover rate of 0% in the 2018 survey (the median rate being 0% indicates that more firms reported no turnover than firms reported turnover). Those numbers went up slightly for larger firms, with median turnover of 6% for firms with $1.5 million to $5 million in net client fees and 9% for firms with $5 million to $10 million in net client fees.

Large firms with more than $10 million in net client fees saw median staff turnover levels of 10.7%, according to the MAP data.

Here are a few examples of how companies are keeping their staffs engaged:

Let your people go. The boutique accounting firm ATKG LLP in San Antonio offers a popular "WalkAbout" benefit: Staff at all levels must take off at least two consecutive weeks at five years of service and a month when they reach 10 years of service.

The mandatory vacation has a twofold purpose; staff can recharge while the firm tests its ability to cover absences.

Give employees a say. The Kane Firm, outside Buffalo, N.Y., has employees track their overtime hours during busy season.

Employees are paid for 80 hours of work every two weeks. Then, at the close of tax season, staff can choose to convert those overtime hours to paid time off for an extended vacation or to have the hours paid out.

Aim for flexibility. Staff at The Kane Firm annually discuss schedules and flexibility. The firm also has several experienced CPAs on a flexible seasonal schedule. They come in to work during the busy tax seasons but can take the summer off.

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