How Do Audit Firms Recruit and Retain Talented People?

New figures from an FRC study show that there has been a slight increase (0.7%) in 2015/16 of individuals in the UK studying the major accountancy qualifications (ACCA, CIMA, CIPFA, ICAEW, CAI, ICAS, AIA). Yet, if you widen the outlook to cover the period from 2012 to 2016, there has been an overall decrease of 0.4% [1]. While only a modest decrease, this compares to steady revenue growth across the profession during this same period.

The overall decline, and an increasingly competitive graduate market, means firms must work harder to recruit top talent. The overall decline in student is reinforced by the recent High Fliers report on the Graduate Market, which suggests that graduate applications for accounting & professional services in 2016/17 were down 5% compared to the previous year [2].

Competitive Salaries

Accounting firms are unlikely to compete with the remuneration packages on offer from investment banks, however starting salaries in the profession are still very competitive. Almost all accounting firms offer structured training towards professional qualifications, with salaries that increase significantly once studies are completed.

These broader benefits, and clear promotion opportunities, need to be emphasised up front to graduates so they appreciate the future earnings potential that a career in accountancy offers.

Interesting Work

The world of accounting is changing. As the traditional pyramid structures of accounting firms become narrower it is increasingly important for firms to focus their effort on retaining talented junior staff. Firms must ensure the work being performed is interesting and challenging to retain the Managers and Partners of the future.

The change in the nature of the job will help. Even new graduates will spend less time performing compliance tasks akin to data entry, with more time spent interpreting data analysis and visualisations. Understanding a client’s business and providing more valuable and interesting services will enhance both skills and employee engagement.

Shift to Advisory

It is inevitable that the level of automation and advancement of capabilities such as machine learning will reduce the level of compliance work performed by accountants. Accounting firms must foresee this trend and ensure compliance skills are blended with an appreciation for advisory work.

This will in the short term add more value to client engagements. But a greater awareness of other ways accountants can advise clients will transition skills towards delivering more valuable services less susceptible to technological transformation. Familiarity with technological tools to analyse large data sets will be vital to this.

Attracting Generation Z

The new wave of graduates entering the jobs market have not experienced a time before the internet. The use of smart phones for everything from checking their bank balance to booking an Uber is second nature to them. Their desire for responsive and intuitive technology will extend into professional lives and working practices. This is likely to drive a movement away from spreadsheets and email towards cloud technology, Apps and collaborative chat.

This represents a very different path to how senior figures learned their trade. Professional bodies will need to respond to this change, adjusting qualifications to meet the changing skills needs and ensuring the profession as a whole remains attractive. Firms themselves must promote and take advantage of the hidden benefit of technology investment – attracting and retaining the talented people who will become the future of the firm.

[1] FRC, “Key Facts and Trends in the Accountancy Profession”, July 2017
[2] High Fliers Research Limited, “The Graduate Market in 2017”, January 2017