Retaining qualified staff was among the hot topics identified in the 2013 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. At our 10-person firm, we’ve used our small firm advantages to remain competitive and hold on to qualified people despite increasing demand for the best professionals.
Benefits in Many Forms
We can’t compete with the signing bonuses and compensation packages some large firms offer, but we have many other advantages for recruits and current staff. For example, we pay 100% for many employee benefits, which enable us to attract and retain many new hires as well as senior staff. Being a full-service firm is another advantage for staff because our people are exposed to the full spectrum of the public accounting environment. They aren’t assigned to the tax or audit department, but instead they become well versed in all service areas. Many of our employees work in client locations on long-term engagements, so they see many different aspects of client service offerings. While on a long-term assignment, they may start doing consulting, then shift into accounting and auditing, so they become familiar with the full range of the client’s business and our own.
Staff development has always been part of our policy and culture, in part because it’s just good business. We have a specialty in GAO Yellow Book assurance services, so staff members who work in that area must have a minimum of 24 hours of CPE in governmental accounting. However, we offer CPE to every professional staff member, whether they are certified or not, and we try to give them more than the required minimum. We not only recommend that they take the typical technical CPE courses, but we also encourage them to take CPE in additional areas that interest them, such as an IT course that will help them improve their Excel skills or learn a new database language. Knowledge is the foundation to client service, so we don’t hesitate to offer development opportunities to our staff.
We also help young professionals develop their careers by encouraging them to study for the CPA exam. We reimburse staff for review course expenses, offer paid time off for exam study periods, as well as any other expenses relative to becoming certified. When they pass the exam, we also offer incentive bonuses. The highest bonus is for passing within one year of joining the firm, and the payouts are proportionally lower for each year thereafter.
An Open-Door Policy
Our CPE approach reflects our policy of listening to employee needs. In most small firms, the partners’ doors are always open to employees who may have concerns about their assignments, current workload or an idea about a CPE course they’d like to take. We want to hear their opinions and address them, because our staff are our frontline, they are the people who represent our firm in the marketplace every day. Some of our staff that are on long-term engagements spend more time with our clients than we do as partners, so it’s in our interest to keep up with what the staff are experiencing.
We conduct an initial staff evaluation after an employee’s first 90 days on the job and annually thereafter. As part of the process, we solicit their input and ideas. By opening a dialogue, we may find out that they would be interested in a different assignment or they may even suggest ways to improve client service. Our clients also give us feedback on the staff assigned to them, which we share with our employees during this review process
We’ve had great success in recruitment and retention by offering our staff the career opportunities and personal attention that are unique to small firms. Practitioners who emphasize these advantages will give themselves a competitive edge as demand for staff continues to increase.
Anthony G. King, CPA, CGMA is a shareholder of King, King & Associates, PA, a small firm in Baltimore, Maryland.