Those seeking new, advancement-promising career opportunities within the accounting profession have long overlooked small firms. Core to this trend is a profoundly misunderstood small-firm market and the universally accepted premise that the Big Four and other large firms represent the only options for premium career tracks.
The truth is that small firms aren't what they used to be. With the advent of advanced technologies and education around branding, small firms are operating on par with their larger counterparts -- supporting highly advanced, cloud-driven, and brand-powerful work environments. The evolution of small firms, combined with the coming mass exodus of retiring Baby Boomer partners and owners, has positioned the industry for a career explosion. This is the Great American Accounting Opportunity, and up-and-coming professionals would be wise to tune in and recognize the entrepreneurial opportunities that await.
MUCH MORE THAN THE BIG FOUR
The career path of the newly minted CPA hasn't changed much over the years -- graduate with an accounting degree and then go to work for a large firm ... typically a Big Four. The secondary path hasn't changed much either -- work long hours, travel extensively, realize you are a small cog in a very large machine, and finally experience burnout.
Within the first few years of employment, this path often forces a jump to corporate accounting or an exodus from the profession altogether. It's a trend that dates back decades, and despite empirical evidence of high turnover rates in large firms, like a bad, broken record, it's a pattern that continues to play out.
Perpetuation of the grad-to-large-firm career path is primarily due to the lack of awareness among the profession's key stakeholders. There has long been a disconnect between these stakeholders, which include universities/colleges, new grads and the experienced (two-three years) talent pool, and small firms. Universities continue to exclusively promote the Big Four as the first step on the career track, leaving students with no other viable sources to explore. This is largely due to the major presence of large firms on campuses and a universal lack of awareness among faculty regarding opportunities within the small-firm market. This has left small firms in the dust, cutting them off from a large pool of fresh new talent -- while insulating students from alternative career choices.
The question then is: Why should key stakeholders care about the small accounting firm market? The simple answer: Because it's a market ripe with career and entrepreneurial opportunities.
EVERYONE SHOULD CARE
The American Institute of CPAs predicts that as much as 75 percent of the profession's leadership is set to retire in the next 10 years. This opens the door to vast management and partner-track opportunities. And with small firms making up nearly 99 percent of the industry, this is where the majority of opportunities lie. This is the Great American Accounting Opportunity.
Progressive, brand-powerful small firms represent a new source for:
- Accelerated partner-track positions with six-figure salaries.
- Entrepreneurial expansion - offering a work environment where professionals can be active participants in building a cool, progressive, and technologically savvy brand.
- An advanced virtual working culture.
- The opportunity to truly make a difference by leading the profession, not merely working as a small cog in a large machine.
There truly has never been a better time to be part of a small firm. The days of "your grandfather's firm" are over. No more volumes of paper, long hours, docile brands, and tedious manual-driven work. Today's small firms are all about creating a powerful brand, a compelling Web and mobile strategy, and adopting technology that supports working from anywhere, anytime, and on any device. From a client service perspective, these firms are focused on higher-value advisory services - not merely serving as technicians, pumping out tax returns. They are educating small-business clients on using advanced technologies, implementing highly efficient processes, and long-term strategic planning. This is the environment of today's small firms, a place where future-thinking professionals can embark on a career that is highly satisfying, promises growth, and where they have a voice in building a strong brand.
The Great American Accounting Opportunity will prove to be a catalyst for positive change across key stakeholders. The progressive small-firm market will receive the professional recognition it deserves and exposure to a deeper, qualified talent pool. Young professionals will be exposed to a whole new world of career opportunities, including the potential for firm ownership, while institutions of higher education will be poised to open the minds of students to an entrepreneurial way of thinking and provide a complete picture of career opportunities.
Overall, the accounting profession as a whole is set to experience a major surge in opportunities and a rebirth of passion and interest in this very respected and trusted profession.
Darren Root, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is the president and CEO of RootWorks LLC.
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