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Study after study has found that one of the crucial factors behind whether a young accountant pursues their CPA license is the level of support they receive from their firm – and the top workplaces in accounting are providing plenty of support.

Getting younger staff to take the CPA Exam is a win-win: It gives them a valuable credential that will enhance their career, while demonstrating the firm’s commitment to its rising leaders. How firms approach incentivizing and supporting young accountants can take a number of forms, not least in terms of financial help with the not-insignificant expenses of test preparation courses and materials, and exam application fees.

San Antonio-based Best Firm AKTG put it bluntly: “We want CPAs. To encourage that, we fund the study materials and offer bonuses for those who focus on completion. If an employee passes within the first year of the ‘clock’ starting, they receive $2,000. If they pass within two year, they receive $1,000.”

Many firms similarly cover study materials and then offer a bonus; others, like Johnston, Pa.-based Barnes Saly & Co. give serious staff members a budget for exam and study costs, with any money left over going straight into the employee’s pocket. At Barnes Saly, the budget is $2,400 – and the firm also gives those who pass the exam and obtain a Pennsylvania CPA license a permanent base salary increase of $2,400.

Bearing in mind that the sitting the exam is a long, arduous process that can be drawn out, Houston’s PKF Texas offers a generous expense account of $4,000 for fees and study materials, with the balance going to the employee, and then offers an additional $4,000 bonus for those who complete the exam with a year of their hiring date.

Taking their awareness of the difficulty of the exam in a different direction, Greensboro, N.C.-based Best Firm Bernard Robinson & Co. offers a bonus for passing all four parts of the exam – and will reimburse up to six attempts, which helps take off a little pressure.

Besides supporting the CPA Exam, some of the Best Firms extend their largesse to other high-profile credentials. Dallas-based Beaird Harris, which has a strong financial planning practice, offers a $4,500 bonus that staff can apply to tuition, prep course and exam fees for either the CPA or the Certified Financial Planner Exam, “and whatever you don’t spend is yours to keep!” And at Vancouver, Wash.’s based Opsahl Dawson, the first pays a $3,000 bonus for passing all the parts of the CPA Exam, and $1,000 for those who pass all of the Internal Revenue Service’s Enrolled Agent Exam.

While the cost may be holding some employees back, the enormous time investment is another, which is why Atlanta’s Porter Keadle Moore offers staff paid time off to study, along with financial help, as does Savannah’s Hanock Askew & Co.

Some employees require more incentive than just time and money, however, and at some firms, that means simply requiring it.

“Associates are expected to take the CPA Exam as soon as they qualify, and must pass all parts before being considered for promotion to manager level,” reported Williams, Benator & Libby in Atlanta, which sweetens the deal after the fact: “They receive a cash bonus and an increase in base salary upon passing the exam.”

For more ways to create a top workplace, see 20 Days: Building a Better Firm.

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