CPA firms hiring more techies, fewer accountants

21 August 2019 2 min. read

Certified professional accountant (CPA) firms are shifting their hiring models in light of tech acceleration. CPA firms hired 11% more non-accounting graduates in 2018 compared to 2016, according to a report from American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

With CPA firms focusing more hiring on technology skills, non-accounting graduates accounted for 31% of all new graduate hires in public accounting – an increase of 11% from 2016.

CPA firms hired about 11% fewer accounting graduates in 2018 than in 2016, and 30% fewer than in 2014.

On a broader level, the big accounting and consulting firms have been shifting more resources into the consulting function, which has higher growth and demand, especially in the realm of digital transformation. At Deloitte, consulting revenues have grown from $4.5 billion in 2006 to $16.5 billion in 2017, while the audit and risk advisory business grew at a much slower pace, from $9.8 billion in 2006 to just $15.2 billion in 2018.

CPA firms hiring more techies, fewer accountants

But even within the audit function, companies are clearly hiring more non-accounting professionals – increasingly focusing on recruits with data science and data analytic skills.

“Increased demand for technology skills is shifting the accounting firm hiring model. This is leading to more non-accounting graduates being hired, particularly in the audit function,” said Barry Melancon, AICPA president and CEO, and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

“CPAs have an unmatched reputation for trust and integrity, earned through decades of working in the public interest,” he added. “However, to play this vital role in the future will require an increased focus on technology. It is incumbent upon the profession to ensure accounting graduates and newly licensed CPAs have these skills and expertise needed to support the evolution of the audit.”

The AICPA plans to address the trend through its CPA Evolution project, which seeks to ensure CPAs have the “competencies need” – presumably, tech, data, and all things digital.

Digital is the new black

The government, corporates, and media can only spout so much about tech labor shortages before students start to take heed. Accounting – a steady, well-compensated, and respected profession – is losing some lustre as presumably a portion of bright youngsters choose to pursue tech-focused studies instead. People, and students, respond to incentives, after all.

There were 55,000 projected bachelor’s and 21,000 projected master’s accounting degrees earned in the 2017-2018 academic year – a decline of 4% from the AICPA’s report two years before. CPA Exam candidates, meanwhile, fell 7% to 26,827, while newly licensed CPAs fell 6% to 23,941.