Challenges Facing Accountancy: From Perception to Talent Management

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The accounting industry is grappling with significant challenges, particularly a dwindling public image and difficulties managing talent. This was the central message that Xero Australia manager Will Buckley delivered, who emphasised the pressing need for change.

For many, accountants are perceived merely as “numbers people”. This narrow viewpoint obstructs the industry’s growth and makes attracting new talent increasingly difficult. 

However, Mr Buckley sees accountants differently, describing them as “financial storytellers” and “relationship builders”. This more holistic view of the profession should be championed more broadly.

“For every kid that says they want to be a ballet dancer, an artist, an astronaut, a tennis player, we do want one to say that they want to become a bookkeeper or an accountant,” he said.

Recent figures underscore the recruitment problem: CPA Australia reported a concerning 19% drop in the number of graduates entering accounting firms over the decade leading up to 2020. Conversely, the banking and finance sectors witnessed a 23% uptick in recruits.

According to Buckley, rectifying these trends requires a two-pronged approach. First, the profession needs to embark on a public relations campaign to showcase accountants’ broader roles. Educating the public and potential recruits about the intrinsic value of accountants could go a long way in combating existing misconceptions.

Secondly, there’s a pressing need to overhaul traditional practices within the profession. For example, the prevailing “partner track” system often doesn’t adequately nurture or retain talent. 

This has been described by some within the industry as a “leaky bucket” approach. Instead, Buckley proposes that firms consider adopting flat organisational structures. Such systems would emphasise less the age-old graduate-to-partner progression, potentially fostering better talent retention.

An exciting development in the industry is the growing integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This technology can take over repetitive tasks, enabling accountants to focus on more impactful, data-informed conversations with clients. Contrary to some fears, Buckley was clear: “AI should not take anyone’s job in this profession”.Moreover, he pointed to statistics showing businesses that embrace technology can double their revenues compared to late adopters. Continuous learning and development are beneficial and crucial for modern accounting practices.

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