There is a ton of hype about how accountants are disappearing.
Public accounting firms, local governments, and corporations are all raising the alarm about how so few accountants are around to perform the critical work they do.
A few recent articles you might have seen:
This has been building for a while, and we are finally getting to a point where change is shifting positively… for accountants at least.
If you’re unfamiliar, accounting careers are infamous for the years of training, education, and experience required to become skilled, capable, and certified. At the same time, workplace expectations and pressures are often simultaneously sky-high.
Accountants have tried in vain to bring employers’ attention to various issues for years. Now they are being affected by what is colloquially known as “the consequences of their behaviors & actions.”
Accountants are tired, fed up, used, & abused. Things are shifting.
The reality is that accountants haven’t gone anywhere- they’re still working. Instead of an accounting shortage, employers are facing the economics of reality. Accountants are setting new terms for when, how, and for who they’ll work.
How’d We Get Here? Accountant Shortage
In most accounting jobs, organizations insist accountants work at least 40 hours a week, often much more. This is bizarre, given our specialized knowledge/skills. Various tasks are added to fill the gap between the job we are hired for vs. our perceived spare time.
On the outside, consulting companies offer the same services as internal employees, but the difference is that they emphasize value pricing. This is where the time required to complete an expert-level task is irrelevant, but rather the emphasis is on the value it provides.
But, within any organization, accountants are forced to work 40+ hours, filled with anything and everything, so employers can feel good about handing over that paycheck. For a while, this is bearable, but eventually, it grinds even the most resilient accountants down.
Take my background, for example; I specialize in helping manufacturers improve their profitability by optimizing their systems, processes, and cost accounting. This requires deep knowledge and experience doing specific things, applicable only a few times a year or for project durations.
However, in my last two full-time jobs, my time was spent mostly working on rudimentary tasks doing things the systems could and should do but, for whatever reason, weren’t. I was wasting my time and/or pretending to be busy, slowly going mad.
For many others working in public accounting & The Big 4, accountants there see themselves being billed out for hundreds of dollars, working to exhaustion while only earning a small fraction of that amount, while the partners make millions- a sense of fairness is elusive.
Accounting professionals easily relate to either scenario above- we invest heavily in becoming specialized experts. Much of our time is spent doing things we shouldn’t do, don’t want to do, or aren’t specialized in; often, feeling the balance between what we offer vs. what we are paid is insulting.
Accountants know there is a better situation elsewhere where their time and skills are better valued. So, that’s where they go.
The Final Nail for Accountants
In the last few weeks, the accounting staffing situation seems to have only gotten more dire, with fewer accountants willing to work for unfavorable terms as organizations far and wide have been revoking work-from-home policies.
Working from home, for many, was the last thing making accounting bearable by spending less time commuting and more with their families, living a healthier lifestyle.
Facing cubicle land with its drab grey wall and stained ceiling tiles, many accountants elect not to quit accounting but to do accounting on their terms.
Accountants Have Leverage- And Know It
With all the talk about AI lately, some organizations perhaps hope there will be a surefire way to replace their accountants instead of improving the job.
But, in the latest test published, ChatGPT, the software that has recently aced the GMAT, GRE, and Wharton graduate-level leadership classes, the bar exam, while producing near-perfect software code in every language, only scored a 47% on accounting exams.
Unlike software coders, accounting is well protected from AI and other technologies. The most critical work we do requires judgment, experience, and expertise, something that can’t be split into 1s and 0s.
In a previous article, I shared even more details about why accountants don’t have much to worry about – > AI automate will Accounting Jobs? The tl;dr is that accounting is difficult and subjective, compounded by organizational dysfunction.
Where Are the Accountants?
All this goes to say is that the amount of accounting work required will remain the same, if not increase, while the supply of accountants working for unfavorable terms decreases, creating opportunity.
Don’t believe the news and politicians; there isn’t an accountant shortage but rather a shortage of accountants who will accept being used and abused, striking out to work for themselves or join new, better organizations that are amenable to their terms.
For myself, striking out in November, things couldn’t be better. Today, I do much more of my specialized work for more money, with complete flexibility, working from home.
Until you change how accountants are valued and treated, the shortage of those willing to work for you will continue to decline.