From XU Magazine, 
Issue 19

Why are accountants quitting?

If you’ve been too busy to notice – there’s been an outbreak of a severe itch to quit accountancy jobs. With the rise of the digital age, bookkeeping has now moved to the cloud and practices are too busy trying to metamorphose into advisories. But amidst all of the chaos your accounting staff are feeling left behind as unfortunate casualties of the modernity. But is abandoning the profession altogether the solution to the digital wave?

From January through mid-April, there’s a strange spike in junk food consumption in the Financial District of Midtown Manhattan. It’s no co-incidence, that it’s also the time of the year when accountants enter into an unspoken pact in that area: in exchange for a shot at finding solid ground in the morphing accounting landscape, they agree to endure four months of ceaseless tax processing and forgo anything resembling a normal life.

But does all the overwork really pay off in the end?

Maybe not. In fact, there’s a whole other side to the story.

While pizzas, 5-hour energy drinks and Chinese take-outs are fuel for the American tax filers; across the pond, four-in-ten British accountants are considering quitting the profession. According to the same Accountancy Age report, the reasons for quitting are mostly related to accountants worrying over jobs being obsolete in the future.

The climate at the moment is of uncertainty. And from the patterns, it seems to be a fight or flight reaction from the accounting community. It’s clear: while some are considering abandoning the profession altogether; others have adopted overwork as their credential for securing their futures.

In these seemingly nervous times, the most affected area of accounting is turning out to be – resourcing. Between overwork and abandoning the profession altogether, the industry has witnessed an overwhelming number of quitting and hiring of accountants. The constant friction between an accountant’s aspirations for their future and the reality of disruption has spewed out clouds of indecisiveness in the air – directly affecting staffing.

But what precedents, if any, are impelling accountants in their decision to quit?

The reasons to watch out for

The first driving factor is – Fear. Let’s face it – we’ve all wondered about how automation has leapt out of science-fiction novels and firmly perched at the heart of the industry. In fact, it’s funny how technology is already taking care of what human accountants are best known for – taxes. The scepticism around automation is such that for accountants – there’s a pressure to act immediately.

Advice is pouring in, unsought and unhelpful, from every nook and cranny of the world – to upskill, transform into advisories, and take up consulting. But what’s even more perplexing – there is no time for it. While there has been a lot of hype about transformation, accountants are barely getting the scope to prepare for the new business skillset or for some, the problem might be even be their current 9-to-5’s.

Repetitive work

It all leads into the second driving factor of why accountants quit – repetition.

Accountants are burnt out. Somewhere between rolling out paychecks to crunching out balance sheets, accountants are losing interest because of the repetitive workload. We are entering into an era of knowledge workers yet a lot of accounting jobs are still revolving around processing infinite numbers on reams of paper and going back and forth for errors.

Monotony is killing the mood and jobs. Quitting doesn’t sound like a bad idea after you’re made to process a few hundred tax returns for a few months at a stretch.

Staff retention

Cry me a river, you might say. Staff retention doesn’t bother us unless the overall productivity gets affected. But the truth is, we all know the pain of watching that perfect employee leave, after we’ve trained them and seen them perform their best. It’s costly, it’s a chore and the departure of a highly valuable team member causes a whole amount of unintentional hurt to the business.

Accountants have begun to think that quitting is the only way to get ahead. They seem to have lost sight of their once pre-defined futures and buying benefits won’t be enough to make them stay anymore. However, buying something more effective could do the trick.

How to buy time

Stylishly late, but it’s time to throw light on how to kill all the birds with one stone – buying time.

The common factor to quitting here is lack of time. There’s not enough time to learn, upskill or prepare for the digital wave. Accountants need time and there’s an easy way to do it – separating complex, growth related tasks from the repetitive, mundane and predictable. This can be done through myriad of methods but one that’s proven to be effective for decades is outsourcing.

Spinning off mundane accounting tasks so that it frees up time for practices to upskill their accountants by separating non-core functions from core ones can easily be done with the help of resource service providers. For instance, a Deloitte study confirmed that 57% organisations with over £770 million annual revenue outsource so that it helps them to focus on core business. Outsourcing has surpassed the stereotype of just catering to small businesses. Like a sleeper hit, outsourcing got rapidly picked up by big companies to grow even bigger.

It was right here in front of us all along. Rearranging where and how work is done has been going on ever since the first shepherd and farmer decided to barter milk for wheat on a regular basis. Outsourcing is merely an extension of the age-old story of specialisation and exchange, whether it is done within a village or country or across national borders.

Putting your needs first

For a long time outsourcing has been synonymous with words like cheap and bargain – tailor-made for a culture that fetishes cutting costs. But there’s way more to outsourced services than just the cost factor. It’s a solution for accountants to prioritise; put their needs first.

For practices, it’s a way to buy time for their employees to work on themselves. Freeing up your best employee’s to-do list by delegating the non-core tasks to offshore accountants will give them time to focus on long-term business strategies.

The idea is to change their perception of the old rat race and shudder. To give them time. To help them become the coming-of-age accountant and visualise their becoming: tech-savvy and an expert, an advisor who makes sense of complex financial information with interpersonal skills that no technology can replace. The bottom line for accountancy practices, in order to hold to on to their best employees is simple – you have some people who you believe are just very important; so you have to figure out what’s important to them.

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