KPMG primes shrinking CFO, CPA pipeline

The shortage of accountants is one of the main concerns keeping KPMG’s Greg Engel up at night. The firm is teaming up with universities to expand the talent pool.

KPMG’s Greg Engel likens the accounting profession to the turtle in the proverbial race with the hare — a turtle that’s seeking to pull ahead even as it competes with flashier industry sectors for workers.

The shortage of accounting talent is one of the main concerns keeping Engel — vice chair of tax in the U.S. for the Big Four accounting firm — up at night as he assesses the new year’s challenges, even as KPMG has undertaken numerous initiatives to ease the talent crunch

At the same time, he sees a potential silver lining for his sector in the recent surge of layoffs in the formerly sizzling tech sector that has won over some college graduates who might have otherwise gone into accounting.

“A lot of people went to the technology sector because it was exciting. But now that Meta and Twitter and all these other companies are laying off people, kids going into college might go, ‘wait a minute, maybe KPMG sounds a little better than Twitter,’” Engel said in an interview. “Accounting is that boring, stable profession that doesn’t do as well in hugely expansive economies but does great when the economy’s on the downslide.”  

Making accounting’s case

Historically, the Big Four accounting and consulting firms have mounted robust programs designed to recruit and train accounting students right out of colleges and major universities. 

KPMG, along with PwC, Ernst & Young and Deloitte, hire thousands of graduates and students each year out of colleges, often training them through internships which lead to full-time jobs. Many of the certified public accountants go on to be controllers, tax directors and even CFOs. The entry level accounting salary range at such programs in the tax area can be roughly in the $70,000 to $80,000 range, depending on the market, according to some industry estimates. 

“The hallmark of the Big Four was to train people really, really well,” Engel said. The longer employees stay at a firm, the better their prospects after they leave, Engel said.

That means an employee who leaves after a couple years could probably join a company’s accounting department at a lower level, he said. But if the employee leaves after rising to the level of senior manager, he or she could join the same company as controller — and those who leave as a partner might join as a CFO, Engel said.  

CFO machine showing signs of wear  

But the machine generating CPAs and CFOs has shown signs of wear in recent years. For one thing, KPMG has not been immune to the Great Resignation. It was hit by the surge in turnover that weakened the middle ladder rungs of its workforce. “There’s a kind of battle in the middle,” Engel said. The company responded in part by hiring experienced accountants from companies like Apple and Home Depot, he said. 

At the same time, accounting has attracted fewer students in recent years. The total number of U.S. students completing a Bachelor’s degree in accounting fell about 8% in the 2019-2020 school year compared with the 2011-2012 period, shrinking to 52,481 graduates from 57,482, according to a 2021 report from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Priming the pipeline

Firms and accounting organizations have been taking deliberative steps in recent years to boost their case with talent and solve the talent shortage. For instance, the AICPA and the Department of Labor announced in November that they had teamed up to cultivate candidates and expand the pool of professionals, CFO Dive reported

If students are not deterred by the accounting profession’s long hours and subdued reputation, they may feel reluctant to put in the credit hours required before taking the exam to become a Certified Public Accountant. That typically means a student will need more study beyond that of a four-year degree. 

In an effort to make the extra course work pay off, KPMG worked with a number of universities to develop a Master in Accounting and Data Analytics Program that gives students the data analysis skills that are increasingly important in the field.

Recently, an additional seven universities were added to the program and KPMG has pledged to provide more than $7 million in scholarships. The schools added to the program included some historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Howard University School of Business and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Other universities that offer the program include Villanova University and The Ohio State University. 

Separately, KPMG has teamed up with Engel’s alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to help strengthen the accounting program and opportunities for students attending Des Moines Area Community College.

The company will also aim to provide internships to the students who often attend school at night or part-time, which can make it difficult to obtain the credit hours needed to become a CPA. 

“We’re going to start adding people to the profession with two-year associates degrees,” Engel said, noting that similar programs are cropping up elsewhere. “We’ll give them a pathway to add the extra courses and programs they need.” 

Fitch: Nonprofit hospitals face prolonged labor challenges despite recent respite

Nonprofit hospitals are bracing for a challenging few months as healthcare and social assistance job vacancies remain high against a backdrop of low unemployment, Fitch Ratings said in an Oct. 25 update.

Healthcare and social assistance job openings fell for two consecutive months to 7.7 percent as of August, but the number of openings remains above the highest level recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic.

One encouraging sign is the slowly declining number of quits — 2.3 percent (486,000 quits) in August 2022 compared with a peak of 3.1 percent (626,000 quits) in November 2021. However, current quit rates remain high and are on track to exceed last year, according to Fitch.

“[not-for-profit] hospital quits will need to normalize to well below pre-pandemic levels in order to reduce staffing shortages and a reliance on contract/temporary labor,” Fitch Director Richard Park said in the news release.

The labor shortage saw hospital employees’ average weekly earnings increase 21.1 percent since February, significantly higher than the 13.6 percent earnings growth of overall private sector employees, according to Fitch. But ambulatory healthcare services employees’ earnings increased by only 12.6 percent over the same period.

“Wage increases and employee recruitment challenges may amplify the role of ambulatory care in the overall healthcare sector and continue the acceleration of inpatient care to outpatient settings,” Mr. Park said.

https://www.fitchratings.com/research/us-public-finance/labor-strife-to-continue-for-us-nfp-hospitals-despite-reprieve-25-10-2022

CFOs continue talent retention battle

Dive Brief:

  • CFOs looking to attract and retain the right kind of talent amidst inflationary pressures, rising interest rates and other economic tensions need to “double down on recognition and meaningful work for employees,” said Jessica Bier, managing director of Deloitte Consulting, in an interview. 
  • In order to attract and retain viable talent to keep business afloat, 71% of CFOs indicated that a flexible workplace environment was their approach, 63% said clarity around career development and growth opportunities and 62% pointed to increased salaries, per the second wave of data in the Q3 CFO Signals report.
  • The report also revealed that CFOs who took steps to alter, reduce or streamline the type of work their finance organizations performed saw several benefits throughout the enterprise — 78% said one benefit was more time spent on higher-value activities and 71% indicated greater use of technology was another. Contrastingly, only 20% saw talent retention as a benefit, and even less (10%) saw higher quality talent as one.

Dive Insight:

The managers and workforce of financial departments are looking for five main things, said Bier, per the report — those being work environment flexibility, career growth and development, salaries, meaningful work and recognition, she said.

“As we think about the workforce experience, every CFO is also the chief talent officer,” Bier said. “Your HR business partner can support you but at the end of the day the way your managers work and the way you connect people to the work that they’re doing — that’s the CFO’s job to set that tone.”

In today’s macroeconomic environment, with inflation at its highest point in nearly four decades, meeting the expectations and needs of finance employees is all the more expensive, and important. 

One misconception, Bier said, is that a recession means workers will be happy just to have a job. “The people in the workforce who are the ones you want to keep, are the ones who are always going to have options,” she said. 

Talent retention continues to be a multifaceted challenge for CFOs and remains top of mind. Over half of CFOs (54%) cited hiring and retaining staff as the most difficult task over the next 12 months, according to a July Gartner study.

Companies mull benefits of interim CFOs

Interim CFOs can cut through politics to help navigate companies through murky waters, experts say.

As they face financial difficulties, leadership crises or other inter-company developments, many firms have ceded their financial reins to interim executives over recent months.

Retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond quickly named their chief accounting officer as interim CFO following the death of their previous financial head earlier in September, for example, while real estate investment trust (REIT) Tanger’s chief accounting officer also recently served a stint as their interim financial head after the REIT ousted their previous CFO, a 28-year company veteran.

One of the reasons to tap an interim CFO is simply to provide peace of mind for the company and its shareholders while the search to find a more permanent candidate is ongoing, said Shawn Cole, president of boutique executive search firm Cowen Partners in a recent interview.

While some searches are as short as 38 days, the majority of executive searches can take between four to six months, a period where remaining without financial leadership is untenable. Firms seeking interims must still consider several key factors when choosing such an executive, however, Cole said.

Companies seeking external candidates, for example — which can be due to inter-company turmoil or, as is often the case, because the company may lack the bench strength to pull forward an internal candidate, Cole noted — should take care to consider “professional interims” for the position as opposed to an unattached CFO, he advised.

“I would just be very cautious that you are not just hiring an unemployed CFO,” Cole said. “There’s plenty of wonderful professional interim CFOs out there that are excellent at consulting. You don’t necessarily want to get yourself into a position where you are engaging just an unemployed CFO, that needs a job.”

Getting a fresh perspective

Bringing in an external interim can also grant companies benefits they may not see with internal candidates, for that matter, explained Mike Harris, CEO of Patina Solutions. Patina, which focuses primarily on placing interim executvies, was acquired by fellow executive search company Korn Ferry this past April.

It can help other executives, notably the CEO, to get “fresh perspectives and viewpoints,” he said.

“If someone is coming in for six months they can tell it like it is, they can come in and make a quick assessment,” he said. “Candidly, it does take out the politics if you’re in there on a limited basis.”

Similar to Cole, Harris pointed to a growing population of what Harris terms as “career interims,” who are working in that capacity because they enjoy the flexibility of movement — they get to go in and get critical projects done for the company, he said.

Turning to an external interim can also help companies execute on particular goals such as a restructuring, said Harris, nothing that what companies need from someone taking on the position for six months could be “very different” than what firms may be looking for out of a permanent CFO. Their short tenure means interims can be “very objective” and have a “big impact” at a company in a short period of time, he said.

“The reason [interims are] usually coming in there is because they have something in their background that’s going to be very helpful for the situation that company is facing,” he said.

Companies may also take advantage of an interim CFOs’ skills as a sort of mentorship for their existing CFO — the executive in the permanent seat may lack M&A or other key experience, for example, that an interim may be able to provide during their short-term tenure.

Tapping insider knowledge

Pulling forward internal candidates to fill the CFO gap can also have benefits for firms if possible, as such candidates have intimate knowledge of the companies’ status and needs that outside executives may lack.  

This may be the case for struggling payment processor PayPal, another example of a firm who recently appointed an interim CFO — moving Gabrielle Rabinovitch, their SVP of capital markets into the seat for a second time after the newly-minted CFO departed for medical leave.

In PayPal’s case, the company needs “stability” in its financial chair, which has been lacking since the departure of its previous CFO John Rainey to retailer Walmart, said Josh Crist, managing director for Crist|Kolder Associates.

“It may be time to think about a young internal player as an interim,” Crist wrote in an email regarding PayPal’s CFO woes. “Institutional knowledge should be key given strategic issues the company faces.”

Such a candidate may prove to be a permanent fit at the company, for that matter, he said.

“I believe the current interim might actually be correct for the full time gig! I believe they need an internal player who has seen the nuts and bolts/knows the operating and strategic plan and can help execute,” Crist wrote in an email. “I don’t believe they need a high-level strategist.”

The future of the CFO seat

While companies must carefully consider what it is they are seeking out of an interim — or even a permanent — CFO candidate, qualified executives also have their pick of potential options as the market for executive talent grows more competitive.

CFOs who would have potentially retired or left their current roles years earlier, but were stymied by the pandemic, have now begun to do so, contributing to a narrowing of the potential talent pool. For that matter, the list of responsibilities handed to modern CFOs has grown over recent years, but companies may not have fully adjusted their leadership structure accordingly, Cole said.   

“The CFO is no longer the chief accounting officer,” Cole said. “They really effectively should be the right hand to the CEO. While many companies have increased demands of the CFO, they haven’t necessarily brought the CFO into that light. And so I think companies that can show a CFO candidate that they will have a position of significance of their organization, be that strategic business partner to the CEO, I think that goes a long way.”

9 best health systems to work for: Fortune

Fortune and Great Place to Work released their list of the “Best Workplaces in Health Care” on Sept. 7. 

Survey responses from more than 161,000 employees were analyzed to determine the best workplaces in the healthcare industry. To be considered for the list, organizations were required to be Great Place to Work-Certified and be in the healthcare industry. Learn more about the methodology here

Below are the nine best large health systems to work for, ordered by their corresponding number in the overall list of 30 organizations. Health systems with 1,000 or more employees were considered for the large category. 

1. Texas Health Resources (Arlington) 

3. Southern Ohio Medical Center (Portsmouth) 

5. Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.) 

6. Baptist Health South Florida (Coral Gables) 

7. OhioHealth (Columbus) 

8. Scripps Health (San Diego) 

9. WellStar Health System (Marietta, Ga.) 

10. Atlantic Health System (Morristown, N.J.) 

21. BayCare Health System (Clearwater, Fla.) 

Fortune and Great Place to Work also released a list of the best small and medium healthcare organizations to work for. Organizations with up to 999 employees were considered for the small and medium category. No hospitals or health systems were listed in that category. 

Recession fears are rising. Why are people still quitting their jobs?

Interest rates are rising, inflation is lingering at four-decade highs, the economy appears to be slowing and experts fear a recession is on the way. But Americans are still quitting their jobs at near-record rates in the face of growing economic uncertainty. 

The percentage of American workers who quit their jobs set a record earlier this year and has only dropped slightly as the economy slows from two years of torrid growth. After reaching 2.9 percent this spring, the quits rate dropped to 2.7 percent in July, according to data released Tuesday by the Labor Department.

The idea of quitting a job amid a period of increased cost of living and a dubious economic future may seem counterintuitive. But the labor market has remained stacked in favor of workers, who see ample opportunities to boost their earnings to supplant increased costs from inflation.

Despite recent declines, job openings still outnumber unemployed workers by a sizable margin, illustrating just how tight the labor market remains,” wrote AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed Hiring Lab, in a Monday analysis.

There were roughly two open jobs for every unemployed American, according to Labor Department data, giving job seekers ample opportunities to find new jobs with better pay or working conditions. Businesses are still scrambling to find enough workers to keep up with consumer spending — which is well above pre-pandemic levels — from a workforce that remains smaller than it was before COVID-19.

“It seems possible that employer demand would need to cool significantly more before recruiters start to notice an easing in recruiting conditions,” Konkel wrote.

In other words, employers still have too many open jobs and not enough candidates to avoid boosting wages and other perks to find talent. And that means workers still have ample incentive to quit for a better-paying job, particularly with inflation still high.

Job seekers on Indeed.com are looking for ever-higher wages, Konkel explained. The number of Indeed users seeking jobs with a $20 per hour wage rose above those seeking $15 per hour in June 2022, and the number of jobseekers looking for $25 per hour is up 122 percent over the past 12 months.

Konkel attributed the spike in job seekers looking for more money to the steady increase in advertised wages and the inflation they’ve helped to feed.

Once job seekers know it’s possible to attain a higher wage, their expectations may shift and act as a pull factor in searching for a higher dollar amount. In this case, the shift in job seeker expectations from searching for $15 to instead $20 is clear,” Konkel explained.

“On the flip side, inflation continues to take a bite out of workers’ paychecks,” she continued, noting that only 46 percent of workers saw wage gains that outpaced inflation.

The pressure to quit for a higher paying job has been highest in the private sector, where 3.5 percent of the workforce left their current employer in July. Workers in industries with historically low wages, tough working conditions and limited teleworking options have led the charge.

The leisure and hospitality sector posted a whopping 6.1 percent quit rate in July, down sharply from 6.9 percent a year ago but still nearly twice the national quit rate.

Restaurants and bars in particular have struggled to return to pre-pandemic employment levels despite rapidly raising wages. The pressure has also made it nearly impossible for those businesses to fire or lay off employees, even amid usual season turnover.

“Hospitality companies tell us that what was once a ‘one strike, you’re out’ rule for employees who failed to show up at work without notice is now more like a ‘ten strikes, you’re out’ rule. They cannot afford to fire workers because they cannot afford to replace them,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

“The decline in terminations in industries like hospitality have been so large, they have more than offset the increase in layoffs in the tech sector,” she explained.

Quits have also remained high in retail (4 percent) and the transportation and warehousing sectors (3.5 percent), with both industries facing threats from a decline in goods spending and rising interest rates.

Even so, there are some signs of waning worker confidence, which may lead to a decline in quits.

ZipRecruiter’s job seeker confidence index dropped 4.5 points in August to an all-time low of 97.8, Pollak said, with a greater number of applicants looking for job security over higher wages.

Since the pandemic, job seekers have been looking for higher pay, less stress, and greater flexibility. In August however, job security rose to the second-place spot in their priority ranking,” Pollak explained.

“One in four employed job seekers say they feel less secure about their current job than they did six months ago. Rising risk of a recession, paired with a wave of recent tech layoffs, has made employees more concerned about the precarity of their jobs.”

Worsening $7 trillion retirement savings shortfall stirs second thoughts

U.S. market volatility erased $3.4 trillion from 401(k)s and IRAs in the first half of 2022, making for an anxious time for many workers trying to plan their retirements. 

The 2022 losses suggest the retirement savings shortfall among U.S. households is worsening from its $7.1 trillion valuation in 2019, an estimate that came out of Boston College. At that time, half of working families faced were at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living once they retired. 

This proportion likely hasn’t changed much since, Alicia Munnell, director of Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, told Bloomberg. The people who profited from gains to stock and housing prices over the past three years “were people who weren’t at risk in the first place,” she said.

“Living standards are going to decline for a large portion of the population who are in retirement — that’s the concern,” Richard Johnson, a retirement expert at the Urban Institute, told Bloomberg. “For people who are not in that age group, it’s still concerning because it could strain the social safety net.”

Boston College’s 2019 report on the national retirement risk index concluded that “the only way to make a dramatic dent in the retirement risk problem is to combine saving more with working two years longer.” 

The average age for retirement is the highest it has been for the past 30 years, sitting at 61. Nonretirees’ target retirement age has increased from 60 in 1995 to 66 today, meaning the average retirement age will increase even further in coming years if active workers retire when they plan to.