This is a guest post from our partner BlackLine, examining the drivers behind the mass exodus in accounting roles.
Like everything else in accounting, the numbers tell the story.
The profession is experiencing a steep decline in qualified personnel, as many trained accounting professionals are choosing to leave their careers for another line of work. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 300,000 U.S. accountants and auditors have left their jobs in the past two years, representing a 17% decline.
While the timing of these numbers makes them easily dismissible as yet another fallout from the 2-years long battle against COVID-19, the trend actually began before the global pandemic prompted so many people to re-evaluate their lives and their work. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a trend of departure that started in 2019, well before the pandemic began.
In a related pattern, recent grads with accounting degrees are having second thoughts about the profession, and many of these would-be accountants are choosing to go into a different line of work before they even get started. Furthermore, fewer college students are enrolling in accounting programs to begin with.
The number of U.S. students who completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting declined nearly 9% to about 52,500 in 2020, down from almost 57,500 in 2012, according to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA).
Both trends lead to fewer qualified candidates entering the field. AICPA data confirm these trends, showing notable declines in recent years both in the number of students completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting and of candidates taking the CPA exam.
Why Are Accountants Quitting?
The reasons for this decline are many and varied. Long, grueling hours, especially during month- and year-end close top the list. While standard 40-hour weeks are the norm for most accountants, that figure can go as high as 70 to 80 hours per week during certain periods.
Repetitive work can also wear on those who have spent time in the profession. Many accountants feel bored, tired, unchallenged, and lacking growth opportunities in their positions. It can take up to 15 years to become a partner in larger accounting firms—that’s a long time to endure the demands of the job. Many feel that they have learned all they can from their jobs and are looking for a new challenge.
Another factor is contributing to the decline in the number of accountants in the U.S. As it has for so many other industries and professions, technology has drastically altered day-to-day jobs, and many accountants cite technology as a reason for leaving the profession.
Accounting professionals’ relationship with technology is complex. Some don’t want to learn new technology while others feel that technology has made them irrelevant. Finally, some feel that their employer has not embraced technology enough, or has not provided them with adequate training, leaving them to toil in the manual dark ages or fumble with a software platform they don’t know how to use properly.
Enter Accounting Process Automation
Good news! Technology doesn’t have to be the bane of accounting or of those who have made it their profession. In fact, it can be a resource to make the profession more productive, efficient, and fulfilling.
Accounting has traditionally been a process of manual data entry, review, and revisions, which can be tedious and time-consuming activities.
With the advent of software as a solution, much of this process can now be done with the aid of computers, which can receive and store data, perform financial calculations, and produce balance sheets and other closing reports. A more recent development, artificial intelligence (AI) further simplifies data capture, reduces error, and minimizes repetitive manual tasks.
With the right approach to automation, businesses can reduce and even eliminate activities in the closing process that traditionally rely on manual steps. They can reduce risk, error, and fraud by strengthening controls and improving accuracy. Businesses can become more strategic, holistic, and forward-thinking.
All of this leads to improved productivity. Instead of overburdening employees, it frees them up to perform more high-level and high-valued tasks. It allows them to participate in more strategic and analytic thinking. This makes them more engaged and fulfilled in the job.
Employees who are involved in the process of change and improvement that technology has to offer feel more vested in their work and the results.
Far from alienating or overburdening employees, these improvements can help increase retention by making the closing process more efficient and enhancing the value of the employees involved. Employees feel like they have gained a new set of skills, elevated their level of work, increased their importance to the organization, and improved the process which they administer.
A Smart Approach to Accounting Software
Adopting accounting automation software is not a simple task, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming either. True, if done improperly or in haste, it won’t be effective, and employees can feel alienated. The process requires its own unique approach that involves thinking, strategy, and evaluation. Each business is distinct, and the successful adoption of software will reflect this truth.
As an industry leader in financial close automation, BlackLine has taken steps to help businesses transition to automation by developing a Modern Accounting Playbook (MAP) for steering finance through the Great Resignation. This expertly curated strategic framework helps organizations modernize their accounting and finance functions by establishing a deliberate and stepwise process for the adoption of software solutions.
Businesses start with core functionality to help automation address some of the basic elements of their close process. Improvements include a central workspace with automated trial balance import, standardizing reconciliations with automation, rule-based transaction matching for bank files, and other changes.
Building on these improvements, they can expand adoption in alignment with other elements of their business strategy with such enhancements as direct ERP journal posting, automated flux analysis with proactive alerting, and complex matching scenarios.
The MAP allows businesses to adopt technology in a strategic, forward-thinking approach by helping them identify their most pressing accounting challenges. Software is applied in a way that suits their needs specifically.
This sets the stage for future growth and integration of the technology into the close process. This thoughtful approach enables businesses to close faster, increase efficiency, reduce risk, and continuously improve their closing process.
Get your copy of this playbook to learn how to win the new war on retaining and attracting talent. You will learn five strategies to reimagine F&A for the future of work, including how to:
- Design a digital hybrid workplace that Accounting will love
- Equip your organization to fight digital burnout
- Automate away the soul-sapping work that makes accountants leave
This blog post was originally published on the BlackLine blog.