Regulatory burdens and economic uncertainty topped the list of challenges faced by small- and midsized accounting practices and their clients, according to a new survey.

The survey, by the International Federation of Accountants’ Small and Medium-sized Practices Committee, found those two concerns tied for the top challenge faced by practitioners’ small and midsized business clients in the fourth quarter, with nearly 30 percent of respondents choosing each in a poll.

Difficulties accessing finance followed closely behind, with 25 percent of respondents choosing it as their top challenge. Similarly, for accountants within small practices, keeping up with new standards and regulations ranked as the top challenge, with 41% choosing it, followed by attracting and retaining clients at 25 percent.

“Once again, this poll has provided invaluable insights that help us and our member organizations better understand the concerns of SMPs and their small- and medium-sized entity clients globally, as well as identify significant trends in the SMP sector,” said SMP Committee chair Giancarlo Attolini in a statement.

Pessimism in the fourth quarter increased since a similar poll was conducted in the third quarter, in part due to the deepening soveriegn debt crisis across Europe. In the fourth quarter poll, only 29 percent of the respondents globally reported that business was better in 2011 than 2010, while nearly 50 percent of those from North and South America said that business was better.

Looking forward, over one-third of the respondents said they expect an improvement in business performance in 2012 over 2011, while 44 percent anticipate no change, showing that respondents are slightly more optimistic about the year to come. When asked about the main driver of growth for their practice, revenue from new clients came out on top at 38 percent, with nearly twice the number of responses as revenue from existing clients , at 20 percent.

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