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.” 

Hospitals average 100% staff turnover every 5 years — Here’s what that costs

Hospitals have been paying astronomical prices for staff turnover, according to the “2022 NSI National Health Care Retention & RN Staffing Report.”

It covers 589,901 healthcare workers and 166,087 registered nurses from 272 facilities and 32 states. Participants were asked to report data on turnover, retention, vacancy rates, recruitment metrics and staffing strategies from January to December 2021. 

The survey found a wide range of helpful figures for understanding the financial fallout of one of healthcare’s hardest labor disruptions:

  • The average hospital lost $7.1 million in 2021 to higher turnover rates.
  • The average hospital loses $5.2 to $9 million on RN turnover yearly.
  • The average turnover cost for a staff RN is $46,100, up more than 15 percent from the 2020 average.
  • The average hospital can save $262,300 per year for each percentage point it drops from its RN turnover rate.
  • To improve margins, hospitals need to control labor costs by decreasing dependence on travel and agency staff, but only 22.7 percent anticipate being able to do so.
  • For every 20 travel RNs eliminated, a hospital can save $4.2 million on average.

In the past 5 years, the average hospital turned over 100.5 percent of its workforce:

  • In 2021, hospitals set a goal of reducing turnover by 4.8 percent. Instead, it increased 6.4 percent and ranged from 5.1 percent to 40.8 percent. The current average hospital turnover rate nationally is 25.9 percent, according to the report.
  • While 72.6 percent of hospitals have a formal nurse retention strategy, less than half of those (44.5 percent) have a measurable goal.
  • Overall, 55.5 percent of hospitals do not have a measurable nurse retention goal.
  • Retirement is the number four reason staff RNs leave, and it is expected to remain a primary driver through 2030. More than half (52.8 percent) of hospitals today have a strategy to retain senior nurses. In 2018, only 21.6 percent had one.

Historically, RN turnover has trended below the hospital average across all staff. For the first time since conducting the survey, this is no longer true: 

  • In the past five years, the average hospital turned over 95.7 percent of its RN workforce.
  • Close to a third (31.0 percent) of all newly hired RNs left within a year, with first year turnover accounting for 27.7 percent of all RN separations. Given the projected surge in retirements, expect to see the more tenured groups edge up creating an inverted bell curve.
  • Operating room RNs continue to be the toughest to recruit, while labor and delivery RNs are trending easier to recruit than in the year prior.
  • Hospitals are experiencing a dramatically higher RN vacancy rate (17 percent) compared to last year’s rate of 9.9 percent.
  • The vast majority (81.3 percent) reported a vacancy rate higher than 10 percent.

Hospitals living paycheck to paycheck, unable to make long-term investments

Healthcare added almost 45,000 jobs in November, but many hospitals and health systems will continue to struggle to meet staffing needs, retain top executives and providers, and foster long-term pipelines for talent, Ted Chien, president and CEO of independent consulting firm SullivanCotter, wrote in a Dec. 15 article for Nasdaq.

Hospitals and health systems are living “paycheck to paycheck” and unable to make long-term investments at the height of the current workforce crisis, Mr. Chien said.

The challenge boils down to a healthcare delivery problem, not a demand problem. 

Baby Boomers are the greatest source of care demand on the healthcare system, but are unable to contribute to the provider workforce in the numbers needed to achieve balance, according to Mr. Chien. To compound that issue, burnout is a major factor why “too many” frontline workers have left or plan to exit healthcare, he said. 

Last year, an estimated 333,942 healthcare providers dropped out of the workforce, including about 53,000 nurse practitioners, which has led hospitals to spend more on contract labor and feeling more pressure to consolidate, according to an October report published by Definitive Healthcare.

Long term, a continued lack of healthcare workers would force hospitals to operate in a heightened crisis mode, according to Mr. Chien, depriving non-critical patients of sufficient health prevention and demanding too much of providers who are already overly taxed. 

Mr. Chien highlighted three key areas to tackle the workforce crisis: smarter technology, resilient teams and excellent leadership. 

Technologies that alleviate providers’ administrative burdens will be critical to reduce burnout and keep caregivers focused on patient care, while smarter tech can also forge pipelines for future providers by streamlining clinical experience operations and aligning student placements with existing opportunities.

Building resilient teams begins with competitive pay and robust benefit packages, which fosters trust and demonstrates that a hospital values its staff, according to Mr. Chen. Supporting career growth, including upskilling and redeploying staff when appropriate, empowers employees.

Lastly, capable executive leadership teams, under intense scrutiny from industry stakeholders, must clearly outline their hospital or health system’s strategy and provide the change needed to support their staff. Lack of trust in leaders drives staff out of healthcare, so it is crucial to recruit and retain “modern, strategic thinkers with depth of experience who are prepared to lead,” Mr. Chien wrote. 

Click here to read the full article.

The dire state of hospital finances (Part 1: Hospital of the Future series)

About this Episode

The majority of hospitals are predicted to have negative margins in 2022, marking the worst year financially for hospitals since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Part 1 of Radio Advisory’s Hospital of the Future series, host Rachel (Rae) Woods invites Advisory Board experts Monica WestheadColin Gelbaugh, and Aaron Mauck to discuss why factors like workforce shortages, post-acute financial instability, and growing competition are contributing to this troubling financial landscape and how hospitals are tackling these problems.

Links:

As we emerge from the global pandemic, health care is restructuring. What decisions should you be making, and what do you need to know to make them? Explore the state of the health care industry and its outlook for next year by visiting advisory.com/HealthCare2023.

The gig economy is back — even for execs

Contract or “temp” employment used to be viewed as a means of supplemental income: a side hustle to an average day job, or a way to pay the bills while searching for full-time work. Now, gig work is back in style, and more workers want in on the flexibility — including C-suite executives, Korn Ferry recently reported.

The gig economy surged when older millennials, born in the 1980s, began rejecting the one-firm careers their parents had, according to Korn Ferry. Although they are currently midcareer, older millennials have switched jobs 7.8 times on average. Baby boomers are also using temporary work to keep busy during retirement, and Generation Z appreciates the flexibility that comes with contract labor. 

As temporary work grows in popularity, its influence is spreading to the C-suite. Interim executives are becoming more likely to be tapped when a leader departs, Korn Ferry reported. This gives organizations like health systems, which urgently need leadership in a rapidly changing industry, more time to conduct their searches for full-time replacements. 

Sixty percent of executives predict that the number of interim workers at their companies will “substantially increase” within the next three years, Korn Ferry reported. In a period of economic instability, temporary labor can mean less commitment and cost than a permanent worker. But there are downsides to contract labor, too. Since they lack benefits, many contract workers demand higher pay — which can trickle down and lead their permanent counterparts to ask for matched salaries. In the healthcare industry, this is visible in travel nurses’ paychecks, and their controversial effects on health systems’ finances. 

For better or for worse, contract labor does not appear to be dying out anytime soon. Fifty-eight million U.S. workers now consider themselves “independent,” Korn Ferry reported — an estimated 36 percent of the total workforce. 

CFOs experienced in cutting costs, restructuring in high demand

Fall is typically a period of increased CFO turnover as hospitals and health systems begin searches for new executives for the beginning of the following year, but the pressures associated with high inflation, a projected recession and the continued effects of the pandemic have led to more churn than usual for top financial positions, The Wall Street Journal reported Oct. 23

Many economists and financial experts are expecting a recession to hit the U.S. in early- to mid-2023. This is pushing some executives to switch roles now before the labor market changes. Many healthcare organizations are also preparing for a potential economic downturn by searching for CFOs who are experienced in cutting costs or restructuring operations, according to the report.

Recession planning in healthcare is challenging because it can have both negative (payer mix, patient volume) and positive effects (decrease in labor and supply inflation) on financial performance, according to Daniel Morash, senior vice president of finance and CFO for Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The best advice I would give is that hospitals need to consider recession scenarios when making long-term commitments on wage increases, capital expenditures and planning for capacity for patient access,” Mr. Morash told Becker’s Hospital Review. “Most of our focus needs to be on the acute challenges we are facing. Still, it’s important to be careful not to overreact or overcommit financially when a recession could change a number of trends we’re seeing now.”

As hospitals make cuts, the losses are loud or quiet

There are few easy ways to cut expenses. But in hospitals and health systems, there are quieter ways. 

Workforce reductions are never painless — or never should be, especially for those doing the reducing. Involuntary job loss is one of the most stressful events workers and families experience, carrying mental and physical health risks in addition to the disruption it poses to peoples’ short- and long-term life plans. 

But as health systems find themselves in untenable financial positions and looming risk of an economic recession, job cuts and layoffs in hospitals and health systems are increasingly likely. In a report released Oct. 18 from Kaufman Hall based on response from 86 health system leaders, 46 percent said labor costs are the largest opportunity for cost reduction — up significantly from the 17 percent of leaders who said the same last year. 

Job cuts at hospitals may seem counterintuitive given the nation’s widely known shortages of healthcare workers. But as hospitals weather one of their most financially difficult years, some are reducing their administrative staff, eliminating vacant jobs and reorganizing or shrinking their executive teams to curb costs.  

Decisions to reduce administrative labor tend to garner quieter reactions compared to budgetary decisions to end service lines or close sites of patient care, including hospitals. While the implications of administrative shakeups may be felt throughout a health system, the disruption they pose to patients is less immediately palpable. Few people know the name of their community hospitals’ senior vice presidents, but most do know how many minutes it takes to travel to a nearby site of care for an appointment during a workday or a tolerable amount of time to wait for said appointment. 

It doesn’t hurt that hospital and health systems’ administrative ranks have ballooned compared to their patient-facing counterparts. While the number of practicing physicians in the U.S. grew 150 percent between 1975 and 2010, the number of healthcare administrators increased 3,200 percent in the same period. More broadly, administrative spending accounts for 15 to 30 percent of healthcare spending in the U.S. and at least half of that “does not contribute to health outcomes in any discernible way,” according to a report published Oct. 6 in Health Affairs.

A couple of health systems have denoted their plans to cut nonclinical employees and jobs in the past week. 

Cleveland-based University Hospitals announced efforts to reduce system expenses by $100 million Oct. 12, including the elimination of 326 vacant jobs and layoffs affecting 117 administrative employees. The workforce reduction comes as the 21-hospital system faces a net operating loss of $184.6 million from the first eight months of 2022.

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health is laying off an undisclosed number of staff, a decision the organization’s top leader says is “to streamline leadership structure and simplify operations” in certain areas, the Argus Leader reported Oct. 19. Bill Gassen, president and CEO of Sanford Health, also said the layoffs primarily affect nonclinical areas and that they will “not adversely impact patient or resident care in any way.”

These developments are only several days old, but have not yet triggered any newsworthy follow-up developments or pushback. Cost reduction efforts that close facilities or reduce services tend to — on the other hand — catalyze scrutiny, debate and conflict in communities that can span for months and even years. 

Look to Atlanta. Marietta, Ga.-based Wellstar unexpectedly announced on Aug. 31 that its 460-bed Atlanta Medical Center will end operations on Nov. 1, with plans to progressively wind down services leading up to that date. The system attributed the decision to the $107 million loss incurred operating the hospital over the last 12 months. Noteworthy is that the system has said that 1,430 (82 percent) of Atlanta Medical Center workers affected by the facility’s impending closure have accepted job offers at other Wellstar Health System facilities. 

Since, the decision to close one of Atlanta’s level 1 trauma centers has drawn attention from Georgia’s governor and gubernatorial candidate, congressional members and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who in a town hall Oct. 19 said that in closing Atlanta Medical Center, “Wellstar said they don’t want to be in the business of urban healthcare.” 

The decision has also spilled over to affect area hospitals, namely Atlanta’s public Grady Health System, which received a $130 million cash infusion from the state and reported a 30 percent increase in patient volume after the emergency department of Atlanta Medical Center closed. 

Health systems have a lot to weigh. Their administrative layers are thick, varied and necessary to a degree, meaning this broad category of workers still poses tough decisions when it comes to cost containment efforts. But in a very simple view, laying off people who care for patients will only hurt health systems’ chances of recruiting and retaining clinical talent — in a time when no health systems’ odds of doing so are especially outsized.

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.

Why 67% of nurses want to quit—and what would make them stay

As RNs struggle to work through staffing shortages, their job satisfaction has sharply declined, with 67% saying they plan to leave their jobs within the next few years, according to a survey from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) published in Critical Care Nurse.

RNs cite poor work environments

For the survey, AACN collected responses from 9,862 nurses, 9,335 of which met the study criteria of being currently practicing RNs, in October 2021. The mean age was 46.5 years, and the mean years of experience was 17.8 years.

Of the participants, 78.3% worked in direct care, and 19.4% worked in a Beacon unit, meaning that their unit had been recognized by an AACN Beacon Award for Excellence. Half of the participants said they spent 50% or less of their time caring for Covid-19 patients, while the other half said they spent 50% or more.

To measure the health of a work environment, AACN looked at six standards:

  • Skilled communication
  • True collaboration
  • Effective decision-making
  • Meaningful recognition
  • Authentic leadership
  • Appropriate staffing

Overall, AACN found that nurses’ perceptions of quality on these six measures had declined across the board since the organization’s 2018 survey.

In particular, appropriate staffing was the lowest rated of all the standards at 2.33 out of 4, which is the lowest rating the standard has received since AACN first began the survey in 2006. Only 24% of RNs said their units had the right number of nurses with the right knowledge and skills more than 75% of the time—down from 39% who said the same in 2018.

In addition, there was a significant decline in how RNs rated the quality of care in their organizations and their units. Only 16% rated their organizations’ quality of care as excellent (compared to 24% in 2018), and 30% rated their units’ quality of care as excellent (compared to 44% in 2018). Over 50% of nurses said quality of care in their organization or unit has gotten somewhat or much worse over the last year.

Many nurses also reported difficulties with their physical and psychological well-being in the survey. For example, less than 50% of RNs said they felt their organization values their health and safety, a significant decline from 68% who said the same in 2018.

In addition, 40% of participants reported that they were not emotionally healthy. The percentage of RNs who reported experiencing moral distress also doubled from 11% in 2018 to 22% in 2021.

A significant portion of RNs also reported experiencing verbal abuse, physical abuse, sexual harassment, or discrimination over the past year. Of the 7,399 RNs who answered this question, 72% said they had experienced at least one negative incident, with verbal abuse being the most common at 65%, followed by physical abuse at 28%.

RN job satisfaction

Only 40% of RNs said they were “very satisfied” with their job, down from 62% who said the same in 2018. Further, a significant number of RNs in the survey reported planning to leave their jobs within the next few years.

Overall, 67% of RNs said they planned to leave their current position within the next three years, compared to 54% in 2018. Of this group, 36% said they planned to leave within the next year, with 20% planning to leave within the next six months.

According to the respondents, the top factors that could lead them to reconsider their decision to leave their job were a higher salary and more benefits (63%), better staffing (57%), and more respect from administration (50%).

“Without improvements in the work environment, the results of this study indicate that nurses will continue to exit the workforce in search of more meaningful, rewarding, and sustainable work,” the survey’s authors wrote. “It is time for bold action, and this study shows the way.” (Firth, MedPage Today, 8/3; Ulrich et al., Critical Care Nurse, 8/1)

Hard truths on the current and future state of the nursing workforce

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Concerns about an imbalance in supply and demand in the nursing workforce have been around for years. The number of nursing professionals nationally may be healthy, but many nurses are not in the local areas, sites of care, or roles where they’re needed most. And many of today’s nurses don’t have the specialized skills they need, widening the existing gap between nurse experience and job complexity.

As a result, gaping holes in staffing rosters, prolonged vacancies, unstable turnover rates, and unchecked use of premium labor are now common.

Health care leaders need to confront today’s challenges in the nursing workforce differently than past cyclical shortages. In this report, we present six hard truths about the nursing workforce. Then, we detail tactics for how leaders can successfully address these challenges—stabilizing the nursing workforce in the short term and preparing it for the future.

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Amid competitive US labor market, employers are ramping up health benefits, survey finds 

As employers plan for 2023, attracting and retaining talent is top of mind amid a competitive U.S. labor market. That’s led to over two-thirds of companies planning to enhance employee health and benefit offerings next year, according to survey results from Mercer published July 6.

The survey was conducted April 26 to May 13. In total, 708 organizations participated, from all industries and of all sizes ranging from fewer than 500 employees to more than 5,000.

Nine things to know:

  1. Among large employers, 70 percent are planning to enhance health and benefit offerings in 2023.
  2. Among all employers, 61 percent are conducting surveys on employee benefit preferences.
  3. Among large employers, 41 percent currently provide a plan option with a low deductible or none at all, and 11 percent are considering it. 
  4. Over half of employees say no remote or hybrid work is a deal breaker when considering to join or stay with an organization. Among all employers, 78 percent now allow employees to work from home regularly, compared to 26 percent in 2021.
  5. Among large employers, 52 percent will offer virtual behavioral healthcare in 2023, and 40 percent will offer a virtual primary care physician network or service.
  6. Though 64 percent of employers are not prioritizing a single employee group for benefit enhancements, 35 percent say they are focusing on hourly and low-wage employees.
  7. Nearly one-third of employers will offer benefits such as fertility treatment coverage and adoption and surrogacy benefits by 2023, and almost another third are considering it.
  8. Among all employers, 70 percent currently offer or plan to offer paid parental leave in 2023.
  9. Among all employers, 75 percent offer or plan to offer tuition reimbursement in 2023.