Growth and Firm Development Planning Emerge as Key Priorities For CPA Firms, AICPA Survey Finds

Key Post-Recession Issues Include Securing New Business and Recruiting Top-Flight Staff

June 11, 2013

LAS VEGAS (June 11, 2013) – With economic conditions improving, CPAs are taking a longer-term, more strategic view of goals to ensure their firms thrive, according to the American Institute of CPAs’ 2013 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. Two priorities have assumed new importance in most firms’ lists: bringing in new business and finding top-notch staffers to handle anticipated growth.

The Top Issues Survey is conducted biennially with results segmented by firm size, since the needs of a sole practitioner are dramatically different than those of a Top 100 firm. While each size grouping has a unique list of Top 5 issues, common elements give insight into trends.

Client retention, for example, was a significant concern for firms in the 2009 survey, during the throes of the economic downturn. The 2011 survey saw continued focus on retention of existing clients, but also showed a tilt toward growth issues. The latest survey shows that forward-looking trend has become even more pronounced.

"When the economy was in free fall, firm leaders largely focused on stabilizing their client base,” said Mark Koziel, the AICPA’s vice president of firm services and global alliances. “Now we're seeing firms being able to catch their breath and engage in more planning for future growth.”

One example of this is succession planning, a Top 5 issue for only the largest firms two years ago. It now appears on the lists of most firms.

The renewed emphasis on staff recruitment signals a return to normalcy, of sorts. “Finding qualified staff” was a top issue from 1997 to 2007 for all but the smallest firms, but disappeared entirely from Top 5 lists in 2009.

Key differences remain among different firm size groups. “Keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws” remains the top concern of small firms with five or fewer professionals, which isn’t surprising after a particularly busy tax season. Sole practitioners and firms with 2-5 professionals were also the only groups to include “Seasonality/workload compression” on their Top 5 lists.

The largest firms, meanwhile, emphasize “Owner/partner accountability and unity,” which appears on only one other group’s Top 5 list.

For detailed results, visit the CPA Firm Top Issues Survey page. Firms interested in growth opportunities and business development tips can find more information at the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section’s Firm Practice Center.


The AICPA Private Companies Practice Section’s CPA Firm Top Issues Survey was conducted April 23 to May 17 by IntelliSurvey via an email questionnaire sent to PCPS members. The 1,012 respondents represent a mix of practice types, from sole practitioners to firms with 21 or more professionals.  The margin of error was plus or minus five percentage points.