These days, financial leaders are having trouble finding qualified accountants. However, the current accounting shortage is “not necessarily a talent shortage,” said Anees Pretorius, co-founder and CEO of Bean. The Cleveland, Ohio-based company is a SaaS-based marketplace and workflow solutions provider for accounting services.
Talented accountants with the skill sets, experience and the desire to do the work are still out there — the big shift is when it comes to their work, those individuals don’t “necessarily want to do it in the way that they've always been told that they have to do it,” he said in an interview.
Bringing creativity back to accounting
The turnover rates and the growing shortage of accountants has been a pervasive problem across the industry for quite some time, Pretorius — who himself “cut his teeth” at Big Four accounting firms — said. Pretorius began his career at Deloitte as an auditor, before logging a two-year stint at Ernst & Young, first as a management consultant and then as an audit and assurance manager, according to his LinkedIn profile.
However, the shortage has been exacerbated in recent times by a persistent lag in technology in the space and the lure of shinier jobs in newer industries for recent college graduates — not to mention the burden of increased responsibilities for the accountants who remain, Pretorius said.
“The sad reality is these folks get to a point where they think only two options exist,” he said of today’s accountants — they either stay and resign themselves to an unchanging space, or many bow out of the industry entirely.
Accountants themselves are vocal about the need for change in the industry — a survey by FloQast found 53% of accountants admitted they weren’t sure if they would be with their present employer a year later, and more than two-thirds of that number said they may not be in an accounting role at all by that same period.
The accounting industry is grappling with both a need to entice new blood as well as prevent burnout among practicing accountants.
Solving both of those challenges will require a new approach to the accounting space that grants more freedom and flexibility both to accountants and to companies, many of which many not be able to afford Big Four services but don’t want to compromise on quality, Pretorius said. Bean, which describes itself as a “dating app…but for the business world,” uses technology to match projects with the right qualified accountants.
“What we're looking to do is re-imagine the way finance leaders think about executing on their project-based work,” Pretorius said. “And we do that by layering technology and then also providing tools to help accountants do their work quicker, better and make it feel more delightful.”
Bringing accounting up to tech speed
Keeping pace with technology needs is also critical within the accounting space, especially when it comes to enticing newer graduates to the profession, Pretorius said.
“In a world where technology is the foundation that literally drives the world, it would be foolish to think that we shouldn't be building technology that embraces a new potential workforce in the accounting industry,” Pretorius said.
The Big Four are among those investing in technology to help bring accounting to the cutting-edge. KPMG, for example, announced a partnership last month with Canadian company Mindbridge, which will bring machine learning and rules-based analytics technology into its digital audit platform, KPMG Clara.
Meanwhile, Pretorius’ previous employer Deloitte announced its “Project 120” initiative last December, funneling $1.4 billion into the project which will help “to develop critical tech and leadership skills” in its employee base, the company said.
However, this often still leaves accountants outside of the Big Four — or those who might want to depart for other opportunities — left without the modern infrastructure they need to do their jobs in a tech-forward, global world, a gap Pretorius is looking to fill with Bean’s platform.
“How do we build the infrastructure for the folks who want to go out and maybe be their own bosses or build their own businesses?” he said. “That’s the tech platform that we're looking to build.”