Date posted: 23/02/2024 5 min read

How small and medium accounting firms can compete for talent

Small and medium accounting practices may sometimes struggle to match the salaries offered by larger firms, but they can offer a range of cost-effective benefits to attract top candidates looking for more than just monetary compensation.

Quick take

  • CA ANZ members receive and value a variety of non-salary benefits that form an important part of their total employment package.
  • Small and medium accounting practices may be able to add some of these benefits to their employment packages at little-to-no cost, to help attract and retain talent.
  • Some examples include offering free or subsidised CA ANZ and other professional membership fees, free or subsidised personal development and education, and discounted health insurance.

The upheaval of the past four years, during and directly after the pandemic, has resulted in many people shifting their priorities towards a more comprehensive view of reward and recognition. It’s not just about the pay cheque anymore: there’s a trend towards valuing overall wellbeing and a positive work experience.

That’s good news for small and medium accounting practices (SMPs) that may struggle to compete solely on salary, says Liza Viz, CEO at Beyond Recruitment.

“Dynamic candidates in the current market are engaged and interested in working for nimble organisations that have the ability to make educated and considered decisions quickly,” says Viz.

Findings from the 2023 CA ANZ Remuneration Survey reflect this shift in priorities, with CAs receiving and valuing a range of benefits and non-monetary factors. This provides opportunities for SMPs to offer a competitive package that reflects what people want the most, says Viz.

“SMPs should highlight their strengths, including that in a smaller firm accountants will be required to spin a number of plates and wear many hats, as opposed to large corporate roles where they may be more of a ‘cog in the wheel’.

“This gives individuals the opportunity to grow and build a dynamic set of skills which, in turn, will increase their potential value,” she says.

Liza Viz, CEO at Beyond RecruitmentPictured: Liza Viz, Beyond Recruitment

Investing in people

Knowing that a firm invests in its employees is a key reason many people consider taking a new job. It can be as simple as covering the comparatively low cost of a CA ANZ annual membership fee – in Aotearoa New Zealand 88% of survey respondents had their CA ANZ or other professional membership fees covered, compared with 68% in Australia.

Other simple ways to show employees are valued are by investing in structured learning growth paths and preparing someone for a future with the firm. In the 2023 findings, 36% of Australian respondents and 40% of New Zealand respondents said they receive free or subsidised personal development or education – so this is certainly an area where SMPs can compete.

Carefully designed and targeted programs to grow an employee’s skills and knowledge can deliver worthwhile ROI and retention, especially when offered alongside a clear career path, says Michael Edelstein, director at Recruitment Expert, a specialist public practice recruiter.

“Be proactive about what the future may hold for someone. Highlight your growth, how you’re achieving it, how they can be a part of it, and what that means for them by virtue of skill development, more responsibilities and accelerated career growth,” he says.

For starters, CA ANZ members have complimentary access to LinkedIn Learning, plus access to CA Library resources, so it may simply be a case of designating time for staff to work on their skills and technical knowledge. Companies such as Phocas, AON and others also often have webinars and other free or low-cost training that can help upskill your employees.

“Offer people access to seminars and conferences that are not only technical focused but also offer soft skills like leadership, business development and marketing,” suggests Edelstein. “The ROI will be huge and it will be enjoyable – plus not many firms do it.”

Michael Edelstein, director at Recruitment ExpertPictured: Michael Edelstein, Recruitment Expert

Healthy options

Showing you value employee health is another important benefit to highlight, and it can be a very low cost to the business, says Viz.

“Small expenses can have a large impact,” she says. “Offering wellness days and valuing mental health, for example, shows an understanding that if mental health is strong, productivity and creativity will be fostered.”

Positive investments in employee wellness – and prompt, subsidised access to health care via health insurance – are a strong retention tool and also help keep workday absences due to sickness at a minimum.

The CA ANZ survey results show that, in Aotearoa, 29% of respondents receive free or subsidised private health insurance, compared with just 4% of respondents in Australia. SMPs with five or more full-time employees can include health insurance as a benefit in a number of ways, from a negotiated group discount at no cost to the firm, through to subsidised cover and full cover. The discount and premiums will depend on the average age and health status of your staff, as well as how many staff you have.

You can approach health insurers directly to find out what they offer, or use a service such as Health Insurance Consultants Australia to help you select an option that works within your budget. CA ANZ members in Australia can also receive exclusive corporate products and benefits with the country’s largest not-for-profit health fund, HCF, so this could be worth exploring.

Gym membership, income protection, car and mobile allowances, and birthdays off, are all other benefits accountants value, says Edelstein, adding: “Extra leave is also always welcome and still a good differentiator, as very few firms offer it.”

In Australia, 19% of respondents say they receive additional paid annual leave over-and-above the statutory requirements and in New Zealand, the figure is 33%. You may be able to build extra leave into your employment packages, and/or increase leave allowances, linked to employee tenure at the firm. And, if you can’t afford to give away leave days, you could still offer staff the option to purchase additional leave – all the flexibility with little cost to the practice.

Can you offer flexible working?

CA ANZ surveys its members about remuneration annually. In the 2022 survey, members across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand said that flexible working was one of their most-valued non-remuneration factors.

Offering flexible work times and the option to work from home are still major draw cards for many accountants, says Edelstein.

“There are so many parents that are great accountants but work part-time or don’t work at all because so few firms offer flexibility for them to finish the work in their own time.

“Work-from-home flexibility is also becoming a must-have, so the point of attraction and retention becomes about whether it's two days per week or three,” he says.

Flexible working may be an easy win for SMPs: with smaller, more agile teams and flatter reporting hierarchies. An additional advantage is a potential saving on office space and equipment – plus staff save both time and money when they don’t have a commute.

Other non-salary incentives

Viz says some SMPs are also offering incentives to accountants to encourage engagement, tenure and high performance in a role. These are typically linked directly to the employee’s performance. According to the 2023 CA ANZ survey findings, currently 8% of Australian members and 6% of New Zealand members are part of a long-term incentive scheme.

“The amount and structure of these bonuses vary on the potential impact they may be able to have on the bottom line – short- and long-term incentives are widely recognised across the industry,” she says.

Edelstein agrees and says accountants in public practice are revenue generators and can be incentivised the same way salespeople are.

“There are very few firms doing it and it solves a major problem in the industry … this approach would ensure firms are productive and accountants are being paid well, without eating into the existing profits of the firm,” he says.

Have you read the full survey findings?

Download the 2023 CA ANZ Remuneration Survey for more details and insights.