Your accounting firm probably has a staffing crisis. Most firms do. A 2022 AICPA survey revealed that finding qualified staff was the biggest concern for both midsize and large accounting firms. It was the second biggest issue, behind working with the IRS, for firms with six to 10 accounting professionals. The reality is that staffing is hard, and it’s not going to get any easier.
In fact, numbers in the accounting profession point toward finding good employees becoming a much more difficult task in the years to come. Accountants are abandoning the profession in large numbers, largely due to burnout. And younger accountants aren’t lining up to replace them. In fact, the number of students earning accounting degrees has been trending down for a decade and continues to fall.
If your firm is going to grow, or even survive, you’re going to have to find employees somewhere, somehow. Or you’re going to have to look for alternative sources of expertise, such as outsourcing. One way to find and retain great employees, especially younger staffers, might not seem obvious, but it can be effective: implementing the right technology within your firm. How does technology affect accounting and the recruitment of younger employees? Here’s how.
How does technology affect accounting firms looking for employees?
Your most likely candidates for new employees are probably younger workers, including recent graduates in accounting or related disciplines. While it’s not impossible to find more seasoned staffers to recruit, the fact is that experienced accountants who are looking for a career change are more likely to leave the profession altogether than to move from one firm to another.
That will leave your firm looking to bring in great employees from a shrinking field of younger accountants. These recent graduates, generally in their 20s, are digital natives. They have grown up not just with the internet but with online everything, using a variety of devices and cloud-based applications for just about any task.
If your firm has out-of-date technology, you’ll struggle to recruit younger workers. And if you do manage to bring in younger workers but don’t know how to manage their technology habits, your firm could be at risk.
Start by investigating these technologies, which younger accountants not only want but expect to have:
1. Collaborative portals
Gen-Z doesn’t like picking up the phone. (That goes for clients as well as for employees, by the way.) A generation raised on texting and instant messages expects to be able to communicate with everybody electronically. If you’re asking younger prospective employees to call or email clients and colleagues, you’re likely to alienate them.
You need a portal that enables your employees and your clients to communicate easily, safely and electronically. When you run critical business and tax applications, including QuickBooks® Desktop, in the cloud, you can establish a client portal. Through it, your employees can communicate with clients in the digital fashion they’re accustomed to as well as send and receive files securely. Younger employees feel more comfortable with a digital home at work. That’s especially true if they work at home.
The advantages of a portal go beyond attracting younger workers. Moving file sharing out of email greatly enhances security and virtually eliminates the risk of phishing and other similar cyberattacks. It also enables clients and employees to see and work in files simultaneously in real time.
2. Workflow tools for scheduling and management
Most workers just out of college aren’t accustomed to meeting constant deadlines. They have midterms and final exams in each class every semester and maybe an essay or two to complete. They’re not accustomed to meeting incessant, overlapping deadlines for different clients on a regular basis. They’ll need help adjusting to life in an accounting firm.
Project management and dedicated workflow tools can help. Employees can use those tools to track deadlines, monitor the progress of projects and plan the most efficient use of their time. Your firm can establish and build repeatable workflows recent graduates can use to perform basic client services. With project management and workflow in place, young workers can more easily acclimate themselves to the accounting profession, without fear that they’ll miss a deadline or fail to complete an important project.
If an employee is running behind on something, the system will let that staffer know the deadline is approaching. In fact, a little handholding isn’t a bad idea for younger employees. Firms should assign a technical mentor to help new hires get used to the firm’s technology and processes. A little help up front will likely pay off later if you’re able to keep a good employee who might have left otherwise.
3. Digital timesheets and expense reports
If your firm is still using spreadsheets to track expenses and hours worked, you need a more efficient system. Recent graduates probably have little to no experience tracking billable hours, particularly for multiple clients. Digital tools for time tracking are more familiar and easier to use for them than old-fashioned methods.
The rule should really be digital everything. Billing, expense reports, employee reviews—whatever you document and track, do it digitally. Again, the best way to find and keep good young employees is to make them comfortable…and they’re most comfortable in a digital environment.
Besides, when you track billing, expenses and other numbers electronically, you can more easily calculate the metrics you need to know to run your firm—profitability, revenue per client, utilization and realization per employee, and more. And when you store your critical data in the cloud with a trusted partner, your information is safe, easily accessible and protected in case of a disaster.
How does technology affect accounting firms once they’ve hired younger employees?
Recent graduates, though shrinking in number, can still represent an excellent source of staffing relief for your firm if you know how to court them. But be careful—once you get them into the firm, you’ll need to take some precautions you might not have considered.
The most important concerns, as always, revolve around security. Digital natives are very comfortable sharing all kinds of information publicly, on social media or in applications such as Snapchat. You do not want them sharing critical client information with anybody but the client. In your onboarding and training, be sure to specify the difference between what’s OK to share regarding confidential client information and what isn’t.
You need to limit access to information not only for young employees—but all employees—to what they need to know and nothing else. For example, if an employee works for Client A and not for Client B, that employee shouldn’t have access to Client B’s files—at all. A cloud provider can help you determine who needs to see what and which limits to set. You should also watch any new employee closely and make sure they have a very solid understanding of data confidentiality and related practices and behaviors.
A cloud provider can help you educate employees of all ages and levels of experience in how to protect client data and avoid data breaches. Training helps employees know how to recognize, avoid and report attempted cyberattacks. There is nothing more critical to your firm than cybersecurity, and it needs to be at the core of your staffing strategy.
How does technology affect the ability for accounting firms to provide a safe digital home for recent graduates?
The accounting profession is shrinking, at least in terms of the people willing to work in it. Your firm needs to do all it can to attract and retain staff. Updating and maintaining technology should be part of your plan, especially in the quest to find younger workers. A cloud provider can help by providing much of the infrastructure digital natives crave and a safe digital home within your firm for recent graduates.
If you want the technology you need to bring in great employees, you need to be in the cloud. Take the first step today.