CPA firms are prioritizing the need to attract new business and recruit top-notch staff as economic conditions improve, according to a new survey by the American Institute of CPAs.

The AICPA’s 2013 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey found key differences between groups of different firm sizes. The top concern of small firms with five or fewer professionals was “keeping up with changes and complexity of tax laws,” whcih remains prevalent, especially in the wake of a particularly busy tax season this year. Sole practitioners and firms with two to five professionals were the only groups to include “seasonality/workload compression” on their Top 5 lists. The largest firms, on the other hand, prioritized “owner/partner accountability and unity,” which appears on only one other group’s Top 5 list.

But two priorities have assumed new importance in most firms’ lists: bringing in new business and finding top-notch staffers to handle anticipated growth.

The AICPA conducts the Top Issues Survey biennially, segmenting the results by firm size. Client retention 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 indicated a tilt toward growth issues. The latest survey shows that forward-looking trend has become even more pronounced.

Succession planning was a Top 5 issue for only the largest firms two years ago, but 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.

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

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.

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