Three young adults walking through a maze of blue blocks.

‘All in this together’: Addressing the CPA pipeline issue

This initially appeared on August 10, 2023 in AICPA-CIMA’s Journal of Accountancy.

Lexy Kessler, CPA, CGMA, is the chair of the National Pipeline Advisory Group, a group of accounting stakeholders formed to help shape strategy to address the profession’s talent shortage.

Kessler is mid-Atlantic leader for the firm Aprio and a member of the board of directors of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. She is a former chair of the Maryland Association of CPAs.

In this episode, Kessler discusses why leading the group appealed to her, more about the group’s responsibilities, and why she’s excited to learn from the group’s other members.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • What the advisory group is and the approach it is taking to key responsibilities.
  • Some of the ways the talent shortage in the profession has affected business.
  • Why organizations, including CPA firms, must be open to looking inward for solutions to the profession’s pipeline problem.
  • How the National Pipeline Advisory Group’s universally desired end result puts it in a strong position to aid the cause.

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at

Click here to listen to the episode, or read the edited transcript below:


Neil Amato: Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is your host, Neil Amato. I’m joined today by Lexy Kessler, a leader in the CPA profession. We’re going to talk about the formation of the new National Pipeline Advisory Group. You’ll hear that conversation right after this word from our sponsor.

Amato: Lexy Kessler is the chair of the National Pipeline Advisory Group. She brings to the Pipeline initiative more than 35 years of experience in the public accounting profession. Lexy is a CPA who holds the CGMA designation, and she’s the mid-Atlantic leader for Aprio, where she is a trusted adviser to business leaders in the region. Lexy is a former chair of the Maryland Association of CPAs and is a current member of the board of directors of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. First, Lexy welcome to the JofA podcast.

Lexy Kessler: Thank you, Neil. I appreciate you having me here today.

Amato: We’re glad to have you on. First, I guess I’d say regarding the National Pipeline Advisory Group, who are you guys and what are you doing?

Kessler: Good question. We’ll start there. We’re a group of 22 people that represent various stakeholders, and bring that perspective to the table for the conversation. They represent academia, public accounting, state societies, license boards, educators, and really trying to bring many perspectives to the table for the conversation. They reflect small, medium, large firms and also small to large states across the United States. The goal really was to get a diversity of opinions at the table and different perspectives so that we can make sure we’re not missing something in the conversation.

Amato: What would you say are the group’s main responsibilities?

Kessler: I think the main responsibility is stemming from the fact that we are seeing the pipeline of talent is really inadequate to meet the capacity challenges of firms across the United States. What we want to do is address, dig down to figure out what are those root causes. We’re going to do that by holding various forums across the United States, different focus groups, gathering of information, bringing the perspectives together so that we can get an idea and understanding of what is causing this, and then create a draft plan that we are shooting to present to council in May of 2024 with a draft plan of proposed solutions to help address that shortage.

Amato: Thank you for laying out that timeline. One of the hot topics as part of this discussion is about the 150-hour educational requirement, which is seen by some as an obstacle to people becoming CPAs. What is your thought on that educational requirement, which I guess essentially means another year of school after receiving an undergraduate degree for CPA candidates?

Kessler: That’s a great question as well. It is at the top of the list to discuss. The goal is to really explore the substantial equivalency early in our work. Are there ideas that we have not surfaced yet? Just to explain that for one moment, to get a license, you want to be able to drive across state lines. You want to be able to practice across state lines.

We want to try to come to a solution that will preserve mobility, and perhaps there are other ways to get to becoming what that equivalency is to allow us to be successful on this particular topic. There are multiple topics or issues, I should say, leading to this. This is one of them, very important, lots of publicity, and we’re going to take it head on.

Amato: Do you have any first-person examples of how this issue, this slowdown in young adults choosing to become CPAs, has affected your firm or businesses that you work with?

Kessler: Absolutely. When I participate with AICPA conferences, etc., or state society-level events, it’s one of the top topics is finding people. We’re having difficulty finding people. It goes back to that capacity strength that we’re seeing with less people coming into the pipeline or pipeline meaning into the profession in general. As a firm, with Aprio, we really are doing a lot to be the employer of choice. What are the things that an organization can do to be able to attract that talent because there’s just fewer people there to do it?

That’s also investing in technology and other tools to help get the work done, but you can only do that to a certain point because the reality is you still need people. This is a professional service. We still need people to be able to do the work. We need people to do the analysis. We need people to interact with a client or a stakeholder, investor, community. Whatever it may be we need to be able to get our arms around that.

Amato: In addition to these issues of how can the pathway be cleared, what is it in the profession where maybe the people in the profession, the people in this group have to look inward?

Kessler: I thank you for bringing that up. It’s a critical piece to this, to the whole equation. It’s an ecosystem that’s driving this. It’s not just one thing. For example, it’s not just the exam, it’s also the companies that people go to work for and what’s their experience like and there’s a lot of pieces that need to be discussed around that that we are starting to identify because it’s a community. It is a community of stakeholders that have to work together, which is why we’ve got the representation from the stakeholder community. It’s not 100%. We’re just the organizers of this, looking to pull in others because firms have a lot to say in this. We have an ownership that we need to take with that. That’s what we’re going to try to uncover and we’ll work through that.

Amato: In heading up this group, what are the things that excite you about it?

Kessler: Well, what really excites me is that there’s some major rock stars I get to work with, quite frankly. It’s just individuals that I love being around, people that — I’m just like a sponge listening to their experiences and why they think what they think. Do you know what I mean, what are the things that went into that? It just makes me a better, well-rounded businessperson, honestly. Then I’m just fascinated by it because I learned so much the first meeting that we had. It was amazing what came up in the conversation, a perspective that hadn’t even occurred to me and I’m on the board, so there you go.

I mean, it just will help to make me a better board member. And working with Jennifer Wilson, who is our facilitator with Convergence Coaching. She just has done a phenomenal job leading us so far. I’m excited to see where she’s going to take us as a group in getting to our goal of that May draft date.

Amato: I haven’t met all the people in the group. I’ve certainly heard a lot of their names. I’ve had a chance to have a few of them on the podcast and I am impressed. They are great people to learn from and listen from.

Kessler: Absolutely.

Amato: In this leadership role with the group, why is this effort something that appeals to you?

Kessler: I didn’t even hesitate to accept taking on this role. I am about people. I’m about making a difference, and it’s very important to me to give back to the profession because it’s been so good to me. Several years ago, I went through some coaching and one of the things that they had us do was your leadership declaration, who are you as a leader. Who I am as a leader is an inspiration to people exploring the unthinkable. People think that this is not doable. It absolutely is doable. The reason I say that is because we all want the same result. It’s not like we disagree on the end result. We all agree on that and we can all work together to get to that end result, which is increasing the pipeline.

We may have different ideas of how we get there and that’s doable. That’s how we sit down at the table, which is what we’re doing and figure it out. I’m very confident that we can figure this out when you just take a step back and think about it from that perspective.

Amato: Lexy, I appreciate the time today. Is there anything you’d like to add as a closing thought on this topic?

Kessler: I just appreciate you taking the time to reach out and do this. It’s important that we get communication out there. We want the transparency that we are doing something about this and we’re trying to increase the pipeline, and we want people to provide us that feedback because we need that feedback to be effective on what we’re doing and we will be reaching out, like I said, with the forums and the focus groups. We want people to participate so I’m going to ask you to please participate. We would like to hear from you. Again, we’re all in this together, and we’re pretty smart people. We can do this.

Amato: I think that’s a great way to end. Lexy Kessler, thanks very much.

Kessler: Thank you, Neil.