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Accounting staff turnover is highest after 3-5 years, shows NPAG poll

The National Pipeline Advisory Group (NPAG) is committed to developing a unified strategy that increases the number of people who choose a career in accounting. To ensure any recommendations are grounded in data and reflect the needs of multiple stakeholders, the advisory group is pursuing several research and outreach activities. Findings from these efforts are helping NPAG identify root causes of pipeline attrition, prioritize key areas for improvement, and ultimately shape solutions.   

From August to December 2023, NPAG partnered with state CPA societies and accounting firms to poll more than 1,600 stakeholders about pipeline trends. The majority of respondents work in public accounting (49%) and finance or business (37%).   

When asked about the factors influencing students’ decisions to pursue an accounting career, respondents cite work-life balance, starting salaries, and meeting the education and exam requirements.  

According to the NPAG poll, the top pipeline hurdles include: 

  • The ongoing high volume of work accountants have been experiencing makes a career in accounting feel more challenging than other careers might be (92%) 
  • Students perceive that their starting accounting salary will not compete with other professions (79%) 
  • Inconsistencies in the makeup of the additional 30-hour education requirement detracts from its value (75%) and presents too great a hurdle (59%)  
  • Students perceive the CPA Exam to be too difficult to study for and pass (69%) 
  • Students don’t choose a career in accounting because they don’t know an accountant and lack access to information about the benefits of the career (67%) 
  • Students aren’t attracted to an accounting career because they’ve heard negative things about the profession on social media (58%) 

Another key finding shines light on when the profession may be losing talent. Four in 10 respondents (41%) said turnover is highest after three to five years of employment. It’s unclear whether these employees are finding new accounting jobs or leaving the field altogether.

When asked about the relative importance of attraction and retention, 89% of respondents agreed that “it is as important to identify why CPAs leave the accounting profession after they are licensed as it is to work on attracting more accounting students into the early stages of the talent pipeline.” 

While this initial round of polling did not include students or CPA candidates, the results are consistent with findings from many other pipeline studies. These insights also underscore the need for solutions that address every life stage – from attracting students in high school to supporting candidates on the licensure path and beyond. 

In January, NPAG began piloting a national survey on potential solutions to select audiences. Following the pilot, the survey will be open to the wider profession and will remain open for an extended period of time. NPAG hopes to hear from as many people as possible.