Young accountants entering the profession and small firms may both be missing a huge opportunity, according to leading consultant Darren Root.

Root, the CEO of firm membership organization Rootworks, and Kristy Short, its chief marketing officer, explained in a presentation on Monday that the current college recruiting structure drives students towards the Big Four and other large firms, while leaving them unaware of the potential for creativity and growth available to them as employees – or owners – of small firms.

In a webinar titled “The Great American Accounting Opportunity” -- the kickoff event of the week-long Advance 2014 Accounting Career Summit – Root said that the ongoing retirement of the Baby Boomers represents a new opening: “The opportunity to connect young professionals with those exiting the profession and to enable young professionals to build an entrepreneurial and creative company.”

Currently, Root said, “There’s not a lot of focus on moving students onto the entrepreneurial path or toward small firms. … The career centers are sending students to the Big Four and larger firms. … But the young people quickly become disillusioned; once they get into the daily grind, they find it’s very different from what they expected. … By and large, they don’t know that the small-firm market exists. Unless they grew up in a household with an accounting background, they really don’t know that that market exists.”

At the same time, Short pointed out that many of the things young accountants are looking for are available at small and midsized firms. “Small firms have been working under the misconception that they’re not entrepreneurial or creative – but they are,” she said. “Young professionals always mention that they want to work somewhere technology-savvy and with a strong brand – which they think small firms don’t have, but which they actually do.”

Citing statistics from the American Institute of CPAs and other sources that show that 75 percent of partner/owners will retire from accounting firms in the next eight years – and that their earnings can average as much as $450,000 a year – Root and Short posit an enormous opportunity for young accountants willing to give small and midsized firms another look.

“There is an inevitable explosion of career opportunities on the horizon,” said Short.

“If you come out of a college with an accounting degree and sit for the CPA Exam, you can go and work with any of these firms in just about any city in the country,” Root added.

 

Some work for firms

Firms looking to attract young staff have to do more than just get their names out there, however.

To start, they’ll need to offer one of the key things the next generation of accountants is looking for, according to Short: “The ability to be a part of that brand and to have an impact on that brand, as opposed to being just a cog in a big machine.”

Beyond that, they’ll need to rethink their model: Young accountants “look at the traditional firm and say, ‘That’s not something I want to sink my teeth into,’” Root said. To attract the next generation of accountants, firms need to be what he calls a “Next Generation Accounting Firm,” which he defines as “a business built on focused intention with unmitigated entrepreneurial spirit that enables you to have the life you want.”

Among other things, next-generation firms are technology-savvy and digital, with a clear vision, a compelling brand and strong marketing. They mitigate the brutal schedule of tax season as much as possible, and generally relieve staff of dull, repetitive grunt work. They’re also able to operate independently of their owners, and should be a source of inspiration to those just entering the profession – either as a place to work, or as a model for the firms they themselves will create.

The webinar was the kickoff event of the Advance 2014: The Accounting Career Summit webinar series. The webinars will continue throughout the week and culminate in an online job fair. Visit the Advance 2014 Web site for more information.