Looking at r / Accounting, two things become apparent: first, we are entering what accountants call a “busy season,” and second, many public accountants are triumphantly leaving. In a recent post titled “Notice I’m Running Away from Accounting, Baby !!”, commentators congratulated the poster for their escape. “I think I’m about to finish,” reads another post. “When is the best time to get rid of PA?” A third asked.

A man paints a clown while saying to himself,

Mem from r / Accounting
Reddit

The big resignation came for accounting, and public accountants – people who help many clients prepare documents, unlike internal accountants in a particular company, who work only on that company’s finances – feel the pain. In a normal year before the pandemic, about 15 percent of staff left the public accounting firms under the Big Four, which are Ernst & Young (EY), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte and KPMG. Although there are no hard data yet, the turnover seems to be higher, says Michael Platt of Inside Public Accounting, who is in the middle of conducting research for the 2021 calendar year. “Everyone we spoke to said that their turnover over the last few months has been significantly different from previous years,” said Platt.

Public accounting has always been a difficult task. Many young accountants are employed as students. They enter the field, realizing that they will work long hours during the “busy season”, when most companies and people file their taxes, which begins in January and ends in April. (There is a secondary busy season in the fall when there is another tax deadline.) Some of the accountants I spoke to explained that the 70 or 80 hour weeks were the norm during the busy season. These hours strain people’s mental health and relationships.

In r / Accounting users already publish memes for the busy season. Some users exchanged tips on what to wear in the office to make late nights comfortable if the heat stops: blankets, heaters, electric heating pads. There are several posts with a common theme “wow, you didn’t exaggerate for the busy season”. In response to a question about how to keep fit during the busy season, one person wrote about the Adderall diet, water and junk food, while another joined in: “Vyvanse and protein shakes.” A third suggested busy season is the best time to go on a diet; a fourth said they were too stressed to eat.

At Reddit, many people are “less unfiltered by their frustrations,” said Joan, who left her position at EY in November 2021 and asked to use a nickname for fear of revenge. She is also a user of r / Accounting. “So it may seem a little harsher than what people can talk to each other about. But in general, everyone feels these frustrations, everyone feels burned out. “

Few outside the industry see accounting as a job particularly hard hit by the pandemic. But along with all the logistical and work-life balance issues that many white-collar workers have struggled with, accountants have also found themselves with a growing workload as companies turn to them to figure out how to get help through economic relief packages adopted in 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, staff shortages meant longer hours for many accountants – but without the camaraderie or job benefits that made those hours easier. Combine all this with wages that haven’t changed much in decades, and this is a recipe for giving up anger.

“It’s pretty clear that churn and burn or burn and churn is something of a public accounting firm,” says Joan. She says she was surprised that no more efforts were made to detain her when she retired because so many other people were also leaving. “It just seemed like you were getting one of those goodbye emails from someone every week.”

Deloitte, EY and KPMG did not respond to multiple email requests for comment.

PwC has worked to prioritize the well-being of its employees, such as free mental health support, $ 2,000 childcare refunds, reduced work schedules and $ 1,200 a year to help pay off student loans, spokeswoman Laura M. Dali said. “We also remain committed to competitive pay,” she said, citing a 5 percent pay rise for full-time employees in the United States and Mexico and a new skills-based bonus. And last April, PwC workers received an extra week’s pay as a bonus, “she said.”

For the past 20 years, pay in accounting has stagnated, although audits have become increasingly difficult, said Joe Schroeder, an associate professor of accounting at the Kelly School of Business in Indiana. Prior to entering academia, he worked at EY, starting in 2003 as an intern, before being hired full-time as a public accountant in 2004. Adoption of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and standards by the Accounting Supervisory Board of public companies, a non-profit body that oversees audits requires more documentation from accountants, he says. This extra work reduces the profit margin in accounting firms – which means there is less money for promotions.

When Schroeder left public accounting in 2008 for academics, accountants’ starting salaries were $ 52,000 in Indianapolis. In 2014, during his first term as a professor at Indiana University, where he is now a research associate at PwC, he asked his students what the starting salaries of accountants are. He was told $ 52,000.

“You work long hours, you don’t get paid enough, and that makes people with a skill set sit there and say, ‘I’m not appreciated,'” Schroeder said.

But he does not blame the accounting firms. They cannot easily raise rates for their audit and tax services because they are a commodity, Schroeder said. If one company raises interest rates, their customers can simply go to another company.

Schroeder’s academic research shows that the remuneration of accountants has a direct impact on the quality of audits. When accountants are paid lower salaries, they are more likely to make mistakes in their clients’ financial statements – leading to recalculations later.

And according to Schroeder, burnout also affects the quality of the audit. (At least one study has found that poor work-life balances lead to poorer audits.) During a pandemic, it may be difficult to conduct on-site audits and other fraud prevention methods. In the case of the famous ZZZZ Best scam, Bari Minkov’s company went to great lengths to deceive the auditors – even showing them buildings like charades. Now, if the auditor is in place virtually, fraudsters may not have to go that long.

“If I had cheated before the pandemic, I would have seen the pandemic as the greatest gift I could ever receive, right?” Schroeder says. “Because I could sit there and expose the fraud and then blame the pandemic for it. Accountants may simply be too overwhelmed to notice.

Accountants who also study for the CPA exam have even worse. Deion Scott, Redditor, who worked for PwC until April 2021, says that during the busy 2020 season, he got up at 6:30 a.m., studied for the CPA exam until 8 a.m., and then drank coffee. and breakfast. He then worked at his office until 4 pm, when he ordered food. At 6:30 p.m., he returned to work by 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. “I was going to fall asleep and then do it again the next day,” he said. During the weekend, he aimed to work six hours on Saturday and tried to take a break on Sunday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in May 2020, there have been 1.2 million people employed as accountants and their average salary is $ 81,660, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even before COVID-19 there were advantages. One was travel; some accountants have told me that travel is part of the job they enjoy. Another advantage was the free dinner on the days when the accountants worked late in the office. There was camaraderie – and it was easier to learn in person than experienced accountants, several people said.

Reddit mem

Jennifer Wilson, who runs ConvergenceConsulting, an accounting-focused consulting firm, says staff shortages are a particularly painful point for accounting firms. “There’s no doubt that the accounting profession has been affected by the big resignation, or the big migration, or the big quit, or whatever,” Wilson said.

And customers needed accountants more than usual during the pandemic – both to try to guess what to do next and to help them get through pandemic legislation such as the Care and PPP Act . “The CPA profession is the first financial response to the pandemic,” said Wilson.

Working from home was a big shift. If nothing else, accountants worked longer at home because they felt like they were always on call. Inexperienced accountants found it more difficult to seek help from more experienced colleagues, and some found it alone. “We seemed to communicate even less on a social or personal basis, which was kind of weird to me,” says Joan. “We really felt like we were all trying to row on the boat, but we didn’t know what the others were – how fast they were going, what direction they were going. And that was extremely difficult. “

Customers were also lower with her, says Joan. Either way, no one likes to talk to an auditor, but without face-to-face communication, people were harsher or rude.

When Scott worked in person at PwC, he could pay $ 25 for dinner if he was in the office at 10 o’clock. When he moved home from work during the pandemic, free food disappeared, he said. It was also harder for him to concentrate at home – there was no separate room for work. Although PwC sent a $ 250 scholarship for home work adjustments in October 2020, Scott did not receive the raise he expected in July.

He was not alone. Accountants worked harder during the pandemic, yet nearly two-thirds of accountants surveyed by the Institute of Management Accountants said they did not receive a raise in 2020, and 29 percent had their salaries or bonuses reduced or received leave. . One-third of public accountants who responded to the survey said their pay had been reduced.

Scott was promoted in January 2021 – an attempt to make up for what he missed in July 2020, he said. But he did not adhere to public accounting. After receiving the CPA, he had done everything he wanted to do, so he took a job for investment firm Norwest Venture Partners as a tax assistant. “I love taxes,” says Scott.

Joan now works for a local government where her pay is much better than what she received at EY. “It’s completely counter-intuitive, isn’t it?” she says. “No one thinks you will make more money in government. But they understand that they need to attract better candidates. And the easiest way is with a higher salary. “