In the past year (2019) have you noticed any trends in practice at your firm/organization? For example, changing workloads; challenges in recruitment and retention, training, or promotion; outsourcing of accounting services; staff shortages; or tapping into retirees?
The past few years have definitely seen a huge demand in the market for accountants at the senior (3–5 year) level, both at firms and in industry, so retention and recruitment continue to be key areas to focus on. We had the usual turnover this year, but interestingly, we also had a few people rejoin the firm after being out of public accounting for anywhere from a few months to a few years. Public accounting can be a tough career, but the grass isn’t always greener in private accounting.
According to the 2019 Rosenberg Survey, there is a huge divide between the ages of partners and professional staff. Have you seen the same divide? Do you think this has an impact on retention?
I don’t really observe this at Mazars; the partners I work with are generally early or mid-career, not close to retirement. I think the younger partners can often relate better to the staff and tend to be more interested in innovation and change, so it’s important for a firm to have age diversity among its partner group.
The 2019 Rosenberg Survey found that the percentage of women partners continues to grow very slowly, especially at large firms. What have you experienced? What explains the challenges the profession faces in achieving greater gender parity? How about racial and ethnic diversity?
I continue to be excited by the new women partners I am seeing, and disappointed that the overall percentage isn’t moving much as other women retire or leave. We continue to see the drop-off in women at the manager level, which means that the number of women in the partner pipeline remains low.
I am an office champion for our firm’s Women@Mazars group, and I think we have been doing a lot to identify, develop, and encourage women with potential, from visibility campaigns to sponsorship programs and leadership training. I look forward to making my own contribution to Mazars’ women partner stats soon enough.
Firms are paying more attention now to other measures of diversity besides gender, including race, age, and geographic location. In terms of racial diversity compared to gender diversity, the numbers look even bleaker at many firms. It’s really important for us to focus on the pipeline and look at this from all angles, including what schools we recruit at, who is performing the interviewing, whether there are any affinity groups within the firm, and whether the firm’s leaders are properly trained on unconscious biases.
According to the survey, revenue per partner and equity per partner are increasing. Leverage (the ratio of professional and administrative staff to partners) seems to impact this. Can you comment on this—do you see burnout and extra work increasing among nonpartners? Are you witnessing greater unhappiness or staff turnover?
In the perfect world, each engagement would be well leveraged, with appropriate staffing at each level. In reality, on some of our jobs the leverage model shifts, and you will see staff taking on more responsibility than on a typical engagement. This can be stressful for staff, but it also provides learning opportunities as professionals are challenged to act above their level and get experience with more complex technical areas or more exposure to client management. I do see, however, that some people can be burned out by this practice when it happens too often.
Can you weigh in on what you’ve seen in 2019 in terms of new practice areas, new regulation, legislation headaches, and new emerging technologies and practice growth areas?
At Mazars, we have been focused on driving growth in advisory services. We have strong consulting teams, but there is so much value that our experienced audit and tax professionals can bring to clients themselves, so we have been actively developing opportunities for our professionals to get more involved in the advisory mindset. This is clearly where the profession is heading, as many of our compliance services become commoditized.
What concerns do you have about the professional marketplace? Do you think there has been a dilution of the value of the CPA license?
I don’t think there has been any dilution—the CPA license is still an important differentiator in the market. Having the CPA and a few years of experience in public accounting will open many doors for you and put you ahead of other job candidates.
I’m excited to hear about the joint project between the AICPA and NASBA to revisit the exam in a way that will welcome more technology-focused professionals into the fold while still maintaining our core competencies.
How would you counsel high school or college students about careers in accounting?
There are a lot of opportunities within accounting and finance, so it really is a good profession to get into. Public accounting firms especially have really evolved and are offering diverse career paths, not just the typical audit and tax roles.
Do you find your work satisfying? Valuable? Meaningful?
I do really enjoy my job. Last year I returned from maternity leave during busy season, and even with the struggle of juggling my new family responsibilities, I found that I was really happy to be back out at clients and working with staff. I spend a lot of time with people, helping them figure out their paths, resolving issues, giving feedback, and building relationships; those kinds of interactions make the work more meaningful for me.
Historically, CPAs were responsible for protecting the public, ensuring the integrity of financial statements for all stakeholders. Do you think this is still the CPA’s role? Is this still a critically important objective?
Integrity and trust are still key pillars of the CPA profession—that is the real meaning and value behind the designation, even more so than the technical expertise we bring. In that respect, I don’t think there has been much change over the years.