Ep. 222: Megan Weiss - Navigating the Talent Shortage in the Accounting World

May 08, 2023 | 21 Minutes

Join us on the next Count Me In as we delve into the world of accounting and finance with Megan Weiss, YP and General manager, FAO services and host of the CFO weekly podcast at Personiv. Learn about the talent shortage in the accounting industry, the benefits and challenges of outsourcing, and how recent events have impacted the profession. Don't miss this insightful conversation about the future of accounting and how companies can adapt to thrive.

Connect with Megan: https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-weis/
Check out the report mentioned in today's episode: https://insights.personiv.com/reports/cfo-talent-survey-report

Full Episode Transcript:
Adam:            Welcome back to Count Me In. Where we explore the world of accounting and finance with industry experts. Today we're thrilled to have Megan Weiss join us. With a rich background in accounting and consulting, Megan currently leads the Finance and Accounting Division at Personiv. She's here to share her insights into the talent shortage, in the accounting industry. The pros and cons of outsourcing, and how recent events like the Great Resignation and quiet quitting have shaped the profession. Let's dive in and learn from Megan's wealth of expertise and knowledge.
So, Megan, I want to thank you so much for coming on the Count Me In podcast, today. And I wanted to start off, a little bit, by if you could just give us an overview of your background and how you got to where you are today.
Megan:           Yes, sure, and thanks for having me. So I graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting from Kent State University. I managed to pass the CPA in my final semester of school there. So right after school, I went to work for Deloitte & Touche, one of the Big Four accounting firms, and I was with their audit practice. I stayed and served my time for about three and a half years. 
When I left there, I went to work for Pricewaterhouse Coopers in their transaction advisory services group. Where we were looking at helping organizations who were getting ready to purchase a business or sell a business, just to determine if it was a good fit. If they were paying a good price for the business. 
From there I went to work for British Petroleum as a financial analyst. I left there after a couple of years to work for Accenture and that was back in 2003, and that was when I was introduced to the idea of outsourcing, it was pretty new back then. Not a lot of companies were doing it and the ones that did do it were very large enterprises. 
So I stayed there for 13 years, and while I was with them I went back to school. I got my MBA from Duke University. I left Accenture to then work at a small boutique consulting firm here in Dallas, Texas. It's called Everest Group, and it is a consulting group that focuses on outsourcing service providers and companies with shared service providers. 
And, so, my role there was to focus on finance and accounting and I was really looking at the service providers, and their visions for the future, and where the finance and accounting outsourcing industry was headed. And, then, while I was there, I did a project for the company I am at now, it's called Personiv. And the project I did for them was to take a look at lines of service that they should consider getting into. 
So, although, they'd been around since the mid-'80s, finance and accounting was never really on their radar as something that they should maybe venture into. So during the course of that project, finance and accounting was one of the things that we suggested that they branch into. And, so, when they decided to go down that road they reached out to me, brought me on to start it up. 
So I've been here now for five years, it's been a really exciting journey. It's like being in a startup organization, but with the backing of a company that's been around for 35 years. So that's how I got to where I am today. I feel like it's a good culmination of everything I've done to date.
Adam:            Yes, that sounds great. You've had quite the story going of a bunch of different places, but it shapes who you are and how you see everything in the accounting world. And one thing that you and I had talked about is that there is a talent shortage, in the accounting and finance world, when it comes to having to outsource, it's because you have a talent shortage, and it's been around for over 15 years. Reading articles of people saying, "Oh, it just showed up during the pandemic." But as we talked about your experience, previously, you're saying, "Well, no, it's been around for a long time."
Megan:           Yes, I mean, I would say it's been around for, at least, the last two decades. When you've read top challenges for CFOs, over the last two decades, talent has always been one or two, on that list. And, I think, it really started way back in the early 2000s, when they decided that they would make accounting a five-year program. In order to sit for the CPA, you needed a master's degree, and that's, maybe, when people stopped going into the study of accounting.
And, really, it's been around and becoming more and more of a problem, every year since. And back in 2015, the AICPA, which stands for, actually, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and they were predicting that by 2020, 75% of their members would be retired. And I know not every accountant is a CPA, but that's a good indicator of where the profession is headed. 
And, then, you add, on top of that, millennials and Gen Z's, who are looking for more meaningful work. And accounting, historically, has not necessarily been seen as an area that is conducive to meaningful work. So, yes, it's, definitely, been exasperated in the last three years since COVID hit, but it's been a problem for a long time coming.
Adam:            So if you're in an organization and you recognize that, "Hey, I need more talent in my accounting team." What are some benefits that they can see when they think about outsourcing their accounting and finance team?
Megan:           Yes, well, in the years past, outsourcing was really about just cutting cost, and it was all about the cost, savings. But, today, it's really about opening up a new pool of talent. A pool of talent that's equally qualified as the talent you would find, if you could, here in the United States. 
So, yes, it really is just a wonderful way to find very talented accountants. And on top of that, if a client chooses, I mean, you can have 24-hours coverage. You can have people that work here in the United States. You can have a team that works over their days, which is on the other side of the world.
So you're basically getting 24-hours coverage. But a lot of times, consultants or outsourcing providers, have people that are willing to work nights. 
Because that's not uncommon, in India or the Philippines, where a lot of this outsourcing is done, for people to work overnight in support of U.S. companies. 
And as I mentioned, it opens up an entirely new pool that maybe you can't access here in the U.S. But, also, a lot of organizations think that unless they have like a team of 10 to 20 or even more resources to outsource, that it's not an option for them. And I know we, personally, at Personiv will take on as little as one resource. 
So if there's a role that you've been trying to fill or maybe you're just tired of the turnover in that role. Yes, there are outsourcing service providers out there that will take on small teams of one or two, and just free that up from your plate and let CFOs, controllers, accounting managers, focus on things other than turnover and training up new people.
Adam:            Well, that makes sense, and I can imagine that not everything's all sunny side and roses when you're trying to outsource. I'm sure there are some downsides that you have to be aware of as you're getting into this.
Megan:           Yes, that is definitely true. And, like I mentioned, a lot of times, in the past, and maybe it's changing a little bit today. But a lot of times in the past, people were looking at outsourcing as a way to cut cost. And, I think, no matter who your service provider is, you're going to have cost savings. 
But if you're just looking for the cheapest service provider, you're probably going to end up not loving outsourcing. Just because you'll end up with a team of people who are very good at following a set of instructions. But you're going to do more handholding than actually being able to get your work off your own plate. 
So one of the downsides to outsourcing is just looking at cost, if that's the only thing that you're concerned about. And, also, there are a lot of outsourcing service providers out there that will try to force you into a box, I'll say. Where you're required to be on their platform. 
You're required to follow their process, and at the end of the day, you get the numbers but then you're spending a lot of time incorporating those numbers back into your results for month end. Which ends up adding a lot of work on the back end, when you're really under a lot of pressure to get stuff done and numbers out. 
So those are really two of the biggest downsides to outsourcing, it's just ending up with a very cheap team, who provides very cheap service and, then, just being forced into a box and having to do things a certain way that might not fit the way you do things today.
Adam:            That makes sense, so in essence, you need to make sure you're doing your homework if you're going to be looking into this. To make sure you find the right organizations that will fit your needs.
Megan:           Yes, that's very true. You should be looking at a partner, it should be an organization or a service provider that's willing to partner with you, customize the solution to fit your needs. Our clients have very good experiences with outsourcing. And, so, we're very careful to provide them with a service that is very customized to what it is that they need.
Adam:            So you've made it very clear, through your experience, that the talent shortage has been around for 20 years. But the last three years have definitely not helped. We've got the Great Resignation; we've got quiet quitting going on. How do you think the last three years have really affected that talent shortage? And, also, when we think about accounting education and people going into accounting, they're not going to the traditional roles.
Megan:           Yes, that's very true. So just looking at the Great Resignation, as an example, I mean, you have a group of people who are known to be very conservative with their money, and they've probably maxed out their 401(K)s. They're in a position where if retiring early is an option, they're going to take it. 
So a lot of people that were expected to be around for maybe another five to ten years, COVID hit and they reprioritized, and they decided to leave the workforce earlier than expected. And baby boomers leaving has been a big issue on the horizon for a decade or more now. So that's how the Great Resignation has affected the talent pool. And then you have quiet quitting. You have people who they're coming to work, but they're putting in the bare minimum effort, and the rest of the team is having to pick up slack, and the rest of the team is, probably, already burnt out. 
Accounting is known for grueling hours, at times, throughout the year, particularly, month-end and year-end. And if you have someone who's slacking, the rest of your team is forced to pick up that slack. And then when you look at people that are just entering college and they're trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Like I said, a lot of younger people are looking for more meaningful work, maybe, sexier work. There are a lot of technology companies out there, these days, that are luring really great talent away. And they have more options when they get out of school, even if they did study accounting. 
I mean, there's consulting and there's just a lot of other avenues that they can take. And I also feel like the skill sets that accountants need have changed, dramatically, over the last 20 years as well. Whereas people who were just good with numbers could study accounting and be successful. Now, it's really the soft skills that stand out and make a candidate great. So, yes, you have all of those things working together to really put a noose around hiring accountants, and it's been a painful few years, for sure.
Adam:            It definitely has, and I know everybody is feeling it. And, I think, the other thing that we have to remember, too, is that the accounting role is changing, like you mentioned, that you have to have different sets of skills. You can't just be the number cruncher. You have to be the business partner; you have to be the data analyst. You have to do a number of different roles that people weren't expecting to. And the older generation has to adapt, and the newer generation has to jump on this new wheel and, so, everybody has to change. And, so, how have you seen organizations doing that?

Megan:           Yes, well, in general, accounting hasn't done a very good job of marketing itself. Which is why, I think, a lot of younger people steer away from it. 
Because it's still viewed as the nerd that sits in their office, crunching numbers. And, really, accounting can take you a lot of different places, and my career is a good example. I mean, I've done so many different things, and I've really enjoyed most of what I've done. And I just don't think that accounting has done a really good job of marketing that to younger generations. 
But, yes, I mean, these days, accountants are more storytellers than anything else. They have to know the business. They have to be able to understand data and create insights out of data, and, yes, it's challenging, it's rewarding. And organizations could not function without an accounting department, which is, again, part of the talent problem. 
But I actually read an article in The Washington Post, earlier this week, that said and this might be a bit extreme, but that "Capitalism, it might fall because of this accounting talent shortage." And if you think about it, the only reason why capitalistic markets survive is because people trust the financial statements, that are behind the investments they're making. And without accountants, making sure that those numbers are accurate and fairly depicted, you have chaos. 
We've seen it as recently as the collapse of Enron, a few years ago and, then, Arthur Andersen, right behind it. So, yes, talent is a big deal, and filling accounting roles is very important for companies and countries.
Adam:            Yes, it is. Now, I know Personiv did a survey, talking about the war for talent after COVID-19, the results of the CFO Talent Survey. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about what your organization saw in surveying CFOs.
Megan:           Yes, so we just did a survey in 2022, this year. And the last time we had done the survey was in 2020, and in 2020, we saw that it was a problem. But in 2022, everything seemed to be magnified, and here are five of the takeaways from the report. But 34% of CFOs say that their most pressing challenge is finding and hiring qualified accounting talent. So that's more than a third, who would put that at the very top of their list, it's just finding good talent. 
81% of finance leaders say that they have felt the accounting talent shortage in 2022, and of those, more than 10% think it's just going to get worse in 2023. We saw that 85% of finance leaders say that COVID-19 has affected their hiring process and talent-sourcing abilities. 72% said that it had an impact on retention, and companies that are right now struggling between, "Do we bring people back into the office? Do we let them stay remote?" 
I feel like the retention problem for them is even more magnified. And then we saw that 47% of CFOs said that they need to hire at least one qualified accountant within the year, and that number for us was up by 20% from when we looked at it just two years ago. And, then, 88% of finance leaders say they wish that they had more time to spend on strategic initiatives. Meaning because they have a shortage of talent, they're mired down in the details rather than leading their organizations into the future.
Adam:            I mean, that's very telling, is that they can't even look, strategically, and help be that business partner because they don't even have the time to do that. 
Megan:           Yes.

Adam:            That says a lot about what's happening.
Megan:           Yes, they're busy spending their days putting out fires and just trying to get numbers out the door in a timely fashion, let alone looking, strategically, into the future. It's just not possible for a lot of organizations right now.
Adam:            Yes. So we'll make sure to put a link to the report in our show notes, today. But as you think about this report and what you've seen in the 2022 report. And let's say you guys do, and I'm assuming you do every two years. 2024, do you think that it's going to be any better or where do you think that things are going to go as we look forward?
Megan:           Yes, no, I mean, I think, this is going to continue to be a problem. I think we're going to continue to see demand go up for accountants. It's something that's gone up every year. Even as we automate processes, there's more of a need for people who can analyze data, and supply is dwindling. So the demand is growing, supply is dwindling, and this problem is only going to exasperate in the coming years. So I'm interested to see where we are in two to five years.
Adam:            I am as well, and, maybe, we'll have you back on in two years and we can have that discussion, Megan, how does that sound?
Megan:           Yes, that sounds great. I'd look forward to that.
Adam:            All right, well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It was great to have you on.
Megan:           Yes, thank you very much for having me, it's been fun.
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