How 3 firms tackle the audit talent crunch

September 1, 2023

By Anita Dennis for the Journal of Accountancy

Staffing shortages remain an issue across the U.S. economy and in the accounting profession. For firms, that means looking for strategies to boost the number of accounting graduates at the bachelor’s and master’s levels and manage recruitment, retention, and career development of talent, including auditors.

Nontraditional career paths, international expansions, and automation are among the approaches to tackle the talent crunch being used by three firms: Cherry Bekaert, a Raleigh, N.C.-based firm that employs more than 1,500 nationwide; Moss Adams LLP, a top 15 firm based in Seattle; and Dannible & McKee LLP, a firm based in Syracuse, N.Y., with offices across New York state.

“If firms want to sustain growth, they need to look to the horizon and implement strategies now before it’s too late,” said Lori Beirman, supervisor of quality control at Dannible & McKee.


At Cherry Bekaert, a team focuses exclusively on addressing staffing concerns to identify problematic trends in the marketplace or potential improvements in audit processes. The effort has support from the executive team and is headed by Tara Edwards, CPA, partner, global support services; and Jonathan Kraftchick, CPA, partner, innovation.

“We’re former practitioners figuring out how to make a day in the life of our people better,” Edwards said, adding that this goal has become even more important in a challenging retention environment.

For example, Kraftchick said that auditors’ work may not get much recognition. Clients often are not enthusiastic about audits and one auditor’s contribution to the overall engagement may not always be noticed. To enhance engagement and show appreciation for audit team members’ efforts, the firm holds workshops in which staff members are encouraged to discuss their work and any related concerns, and where potential solutions are considered. “When people’s voices are heard and their suggestions impact the entire service line, it gives them a sense of pride,” Kraftchick said. That has a positive impact on retention, he said.

Moss Adams strives to create an environment where people want to work and where they can improve their career experiences and opportunities, said Jennifer Wyne, the firm’s chief talent officer. “If we continually evolve our firm’s value proposition and understand what is important to our people, they will be better able to deliver an outstanding client experience,” she said.

The firm takes a personalized approach to how and where professionals work and helps them reframe their career paths as necessary. That includes providing coaches and career advisers and offering resources on working in a hybrid environment and gaining better work/life balance.


At Dannible & McKee LLP, nonpartner tracks have been an important part of the effort to recruit and retain audit talent. Traditional career paths don’t work for all circumstances and preferences. “An accounting career is not one-size-fits-all,” Beirman said. She added that younger workers value flexibility and may not necessarily be seeking a path to partnership.

As described previously in the JofA, firms may allow professionals to continue to manage a department without becoming partner, or they may offer transitional roles — such as principal, director, shareholder, income partner or nonequity partner, or partial equity owner — which introduce them to the job without giving them the roles and responsibilities of a full owner. For example, while a nonpartner principal may not be able to sign off on an audit report, they can still move up an established career path and achieve professional growth.

At Dannible & McKee , new audit professionals start out at the staff level, but they can then choose separate paths based on how far they want to rise. A clear career path is key to the success of this approach. “It’s extremely important to establish requirements at each level, including what’s important to accomplish to get to that level and the expectations when you reach it,” Beirman said.

The nonpartner track can be used by accountants as well as non-CPAs, such as professionals in IT, marketing, and other non-accounting roles who want an established career path.

In Beirman’s case, she specialized in data analytics before becoming an accountant and continues to find data analytics fun and interesting. Her firm has allowed her to create a niche addressing a wide range of analytics needs across the organization, tailoring her workload to her specialty. “It’s fantastic,” she said. The job involves a combination of traditional audit as well as nonbillable work, something that has enabled her to have the flexibility to balance work and personal life.

Allowing staff to get involved in areas they love is a positive retention strategy, Beirman said. That will continue to be true as new recruits bring their own passions to the job, such as an interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. “If you want to retain talent, you’re going to have to allow them work in areas such as ESG that may not lend themselves to the traditional partner track,” Beirman said.

“When we give people more ownership and responsibility for their careers, we see them flourish,” she said. “We had people who thought they had to leave the profession because the partner track was not going to work for them. Now they have options.”


Even though the volume of new entrants into the profession has dropped, firms can take steps to enhance their recruitment options. While Moss Adams has had high retention and low turnover in recent years, “we’d be remiss if we were not focused on the long-term,” said Wyne. “It’s critical from a business perspective.”

Strategies include focusing on students in underrepresented communities who may not have been exposed to the opportunities in the profession. The firm has developed partnerships with organizations such as Junior Achievement, which educates children about entrepreneurship, work readinesss, and financial literacy. In addition, Moss Adams and Cherry Bekaert are firm partners of the Center for Audit Quality’s Bold Ambition program, which promotes awareness of accounting among high school and college students. The CAQ is affiliated with the AICPA.

Moss Adams has also expanded its borders by opening an office in India. “We live in a global economy and our clients have an international presence,” Wyne said. Add to that the fact that there is a healthy talent pool available globally, and the recently launched effort is expected to alleviate workloads domestically and abroad while expanding the talent pool. “We see the India office as an augmentation of our total team,” she said.

Cherry Bekaert also uses talent in India for audit and other service lines. “We don’t need people here working 12 to 14 hours a day when we can have a team that’s 9½ hours ahead of us,” Edwards said. For advisory work, team members in India may interact directly with mainly non-US clients, as appropriate. On the audit side, the team leaders manage people — assigning work and answering questions — rather than leading projects, while the U.S. team retains the clientfacing role. Most team members in India are chartered accountants or seeking the certification, however. Having certified team members “would make it easier for us to potentially have them run jobs for us in the future, if we chose to move in that direction,” she said.

The expanded international team has helped reduce compression, lower turnaround time, and improve efficiency. The firm receives the same benefits from using a contractor in South Africa, since that country’s accounting rules are similar to U.S. GAAP. Because there is no language barrier, workers there can communicate directly with clients, as appropriate. The two efforts “opened people’s eyes on how to use global support,” Kraftchick said.

Firms must put in time, effort, and training to make such efforts sustainable. “Using global resources in a midsize firm is a big change,” Edwards said. She exchanges ideas with other firms that have overseas offices, but finds that every approach is unique based on each firm’s culture and needs. “You have to do what works for you,” she said.


Automation is one element in the AICPA’s Dynamic Audit Solution, a fully integrated software application that incorporates a new risk and data-driven methodology to transform the financial statement audit. Automation already enables firms to enhance productivity and minimize staff time spent on repetitive work.

At Cherry Bekaert, automation is a key element in the firm’s plan to rethink approaches to work. “Automation is a huge part of our strategy,” said Kraftchick, with artificial intelligence taking over many repetitive tasks.

Technology tools have had a significant impact on sampling time because they allow the firm to improve on random sampling to quickly identify clear risks and to map trial balances, he said. Applications can also ingest general ledger data seamlessly and easily, making it possible to perform client acceptance workflow tasks in the cloud rather than in a binder. The firm has built a disclosure library so that auditors can find a relevant example and tweak it for clients instead of starting from scratch each time.

Making proactive tech investments is key not only to easing long hours but also to retaining techsavvy workers. “We have to have cooler technology at work than at home,” Kraftchick said.

As demographic trends and changing staff expectations impact audit hiring and retention, there are numerous options for rethinking how auditors can work. “I’m bullish about the future of audit,” he said.

Going forward, maintaining a strong audit team means being agile enough to change up standard practices. “You have to dare to be different and make your own success story,” Vanover said. “There are ways to succeed, but they may not be the model you’re accustomed to.”

About the author

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew at

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