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Brainstorm This: Why is Accounting Always Short on Talent?

28 Jun 2019  |  
Tags: Outsourcing accounting accountants Staffing
Brainstorm This-Why is Accounting Always Short on Talent

Editor’s Note: This blog is the second part of a three-part series on ‘How to Scale your Practice’ featuring some proactive accountants from Receiptbank and AccountingWEB and their suggestions discussed during Receiptbank’s recent webinar.

So it turns out the UK is, in fact, the talent wasteland for the accountants of this generation. According to the 2019 Robert Half Accounting and Finance Salary Guide, recruitment still remains to be the biggest challenge in accounting for now and for the next five years.

For years English practices have enjoyed an advantage in picking the cream of the crop but these days, there are no crops in sight, only vast, barren wastelands. Don’t get me wrong – Firms are being more than just bystanders; they are working hard – upgrading into great brands, scouring through social channels like Facebook and LinkedIn, offering flexible hours – all to attract the right candidate. Yet there seems to be to something fundamentally wrong with how talent shortage is being tackled.

With automation closing in, many firms are seeking more non-tradition recruitment solutions as way of fishing for the right candidate in the post-MTD world. In a recent Receiptbank seminar, expert accountants Mel Dowie, Alastair Hayward-Wright and AccountingWEB’s Richard Hattersley dealt with some of these nuanced ideas about dealing with the “brain-drain.” Here’s a closer look at them:

Can technology solve capacity issues many firms have when scaling up?

“With youngsters coming out of uni, with their phones in their hands, technology is going to be something that they’ll look for,” said Mel Dowie, who has spent over 20 years in bookkeeping and is now using that experience to support accountants with Receiptbank.

Needless to say, the resurgence of the problem right around the digitisation wave indicates that technology might have a role to play in the recruitment process. In these times, firms need to remould and use digitisation to attract the fresh, tech-savvy crowd.

In order to accommodate the younger crowd, firms need to push the status quo and be automated enough to hire a crowd that no longer expects monotonous, bookkeeping tasks on their plates. In a 2018 piece for AccountingWEB, Hattersley mentioned that outsourcing could be a way to offload tasks for small practices by offshoring non-client-facing commoditised work in order to free up more time and space for your practice to digitise. With traditional roles in accounting taking a backseat, it’s more probable that a younger crowd would come flocking in when they’re given work that challenging, innovative and helps them grow.

In fact, firms seem to have a better bet at hiring the young over experienced accountants since technology is a big factor in a candidate’s skill set and workplace.

Hattersley quoted, “Technology has displaced traditional skills. That’s why somebody already in the marketplace won’t cut it.”

Train Your Way out of it

The recruitment shortages, that practices have struggled with, don’t often come down to the lack of available talent. It’s also about retaining the abled ones.

Right now, staffing issues have a lot to do about the internal education of accountants. In Dowie’s words, “the concentration is getting the client buy-in and the client to accept these technologies. But it should be about getting buy-in from your team.”

“You can’t scale a practice alone,” said Hayward-Wright. “There’s no point in having resistance between the team.”

It’s all about the buy-in. Training the staff to upskill them with the upcoming industry trends and opening up to the opportunities that they have in the digitised accounting world will give them new avenues to grow. Dowie points out how the problem starts with the lack of buy-in or the kind of training accountant.

“There seems to be a lack of internal education with the teams and that’s why I change management sessions with my partners teams because they don’t go to industry events, conferences, they go to webinars like these, so they’re not aware really of what’s going on in the industry, they’re just stuck doing their jobs,” said Dowie.

Opening up new avenues and keeping them at par with the industry trends, events and connections will stop them from jumping ship.

But is it just accounting skills, accounting firms are looking for?

“It’s a lot more about personality now,” said Hayward Wright, the owner of a Midlands-based accountancy firm.

An accountant’s natural strength is no more their current title or what they’ve studied in college but their instincts about the industry and maybe, their interpersonal skills too.

“Because we can automate a lot of transactional stuff in the background, I need people who can comfortably sit in front of and talk to a client,” said Hayward-Wright.

With more and more firms remoulding into advisories, the focus is now on hiring candidates who could potentially fit into the role of an analyst or some who deals with clients regularly.

In fact, for all we know, with automation taking over the repetitive tasks, desk jobs could totally go extinct. Accountants are in for a revamping their image of reclusive, desk-bound masses into more personable, sociable professionals and recruiters are looking for people who are on board with that.

“Some clients like the roundtable meetings but then there are other clients who’d like to talk around the kitchen table and chat with them on a very simple level,” he said.

Recruitment is in a slump. However, the important thing to do is to acknowledge the problem and keep digging for new solutions.

The digital wave has been an eye-opener for the profession; breaking through the old traditions and legacy of doing things. There would no better time to crack the recruitment challenge and come out strong with a solution that’s more ingenious and rather simple.

“Just ask, do they share the same beliefs as you do?” said Dowie. “That’s winning half the battle isn’t it?”

So, here’s a short recap: You must take a break, first. Then, tackle the recruitment shortage. And Stay tuned for part 3 of the series to find out what the experts think your last and final move should be to scale up your practice. Growing your practice is easier than you think it is. Read more >>

About Rishmita Aich

My name is Rishmita and I’m an aspiring journalist and blogger. I love telling stories – of people and brands. When I’m not too busy typing out incessantly on the computer, you’ll find me reading some old American classics or petting some furry stray cats.