Balancing the Books: Accounting Professionals Seek more Flexibility

While an accounting career can be very demanding, it can also be incredibly rewarding. The outlook for the industry is strong, but there are notable changes both in culture and technology that professionals are seeking.

Projected Growth

The number of U.S. accounting graduates has dropped across the country and that has been felt in the Nebraska market, too. But it’s not all bad news. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 4% increase in job openings from 2022 to 2032.

Scott Scheef, CPA at HBE LLP noted that growth will likely come as more companies focus on providing a more attractive work-life balance.

“Many firms in the industry are beginning to sense the constraints of the labor market and associated difficulties in hiring and retaining qualified staff,” he said. “To aid this aspect, firms are working to revolutionize the industry and its perception. For those looking at a career in accounting, now is a great time to get started within the profession.”

Robby Renshaw, human resources manager at Lutz, believes that to attract workers to public accounting, firms need to provide the right benefits.

“We’re seeing that many professionals are transitioning to private accounting roles or leaving public accounting entirely,” she said. “Focusing on strategic retention efforts along with improving benefits for employees and creating customized career path growth should be top of mind for firms.

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“Being in the public accounting industry can be incredibly rewarding and cultivate unique career opportunities but the industry overall is burdened by the compression of busy season hours and expectations. It’s no secret. Firms must take reducing hours and overall compression seriously to help employees find work/life balance and keep talented individuals in the profession. It’s not a small feat to accomplish but rather an entire mindset shift requiring proactive efforts. The work demand will exist, but reducing the load should be the end goal.”

Young professionals are also looking for flexible work environments and a focus on diversity and inclusion. When a firm can harness these values well and create a culture that appeals to those entering the workforce, the future looks bright.

“Fostering an inclusive and diverse workplace is crucial,” said Lisa Fitzgerald, chief human resources officer at Eide Bailly. “Encouraging individuals from various backgrounds and experiences to pursue careers in accounting not only promotes diversity and equality but also widens the pool of talent available to the industry. This can lead to a richer, more dynamic, and adaptive workforce.”

The Impact of Tech

It’s not likely that technological advancements will ever fully replace the role of an accountant, but one thing is certain: it will change how accountants do their jobs.

“The accounting landscape is undergoing remarkable transformations, with technology at the forefront,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re experiencing a surge in technological advancements and automation, where artificial intelligence and machine learning are taking over tasks like data entry and reconciliation.

“Data analytics is becoming increasingly sophisticated, empowering accountants to provide valuable insights. The adoption of cloud-based accounting is now the standard, providing both accessibility and collaborative capabilities. The use of technology also frees up accountants to engage in more impactful activities allowing them to naturally up-level their roles moving from transactional to leadership and transformation.”

While embracing the many changes that come with technology can be difficult at first, over time it can help give accountants their most important asset back: time. By utilizing the right technology in day-to-day practices, they can save time on routine tasks and provide key insight into how to make their firm more profitable. 

“Technology advancements and continued demand in the field have created an even stronger opportunity for aspiring or current accounting professionals to obtain a meaningful and impactful career,” Renshaw said. “It’s exciting to see the advantages of utilizing technology because, ultimately, this means less time doing the work and more time in front of the client, helping solve their complex business needs. Adapting the use of emerging technology for accountants and firms is not only going to create strong efficiencies in the work but also to foster collaboration, save time, reduce costs, and increase overall productivity.”

When it comes to certifications, continuing education, or additional credentials, there has also been a shift.

“The cornerstone of credentials within the accounting profession remains the Certified Public Accountant (CPA),” Scheef said. “Traditionally, other credentials are then built upon the foundation established with the CPA designation. 

“The industry has seen a shift toward technology specialization and certification with the rise of data analytics and technology-related service offerings. At HBE specifically, we encourage education around the area of business succession, specifically related business valuations due to the massive shift of baby boomers leaving the workforce.”

The Future

While accountants will be required to embrace change, it’s a promising time to start – or continue – a career in accounting.

“The outlook for the accounting profession has never been more positive than it is today,” Scheef said. “Due to the profession embracing technology, we are at the forefront of a revolution within the industry that allows accounting professionals to succeed both professionally and personally like no other time in history.”