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Where Have All the Senior Tax Associates Gone?

Years ago, many larger CPA firms – local, regional or national – began outsourcing  the preparation of some tax returns to professionals residing overseas. These professionals were well educated and well trained in certain areas of US Taxation. This practice appears to have been a win-win for both the CPA firm and its clients. CPA firms were able to charge less; and clients received quality service. And there was a quality control process in place – while the CPA firm did not do most of the initial preparation of the return, they did review it and had final responsibility for the outcome. This same process continues today, though it has been extended to other areas of tax, as well as to certain areas of financial & IT auditing. The end result of this practice is that it has adversely affected the long term availability of the senior tax associate with 2-5 years’ experience in the US.  

The result for smaller CPA firms. The vast number of CPA firms in the US are local or regional firms. They range from a sole proprietor with 0-2 staff members to multi-partner firms with a staff of up to 50 professionals or more. Some of these firms were successful in “home growing” their tax professionals. Others however, acquired staff from the larger firms when their senior tax associates decided that it was time for a change. Because outsourcing talent was a successful strategy, the number of qualified senior tax preparers seems to have dwindled over the years, thus slowing or eliminating a necessary feeder pipeline to the smaller firms.

Smaller CPA firms have struggled to find senior tax preparers for the last decade or so. While some have tried to nurture and grow their own talent, the work commitment from “Generation Y” or “Millennial” workers has been more fluid than before. These latest generations tend to switch jobs more often, which undermines the effort to nurture and train younger talent. A smaller firm’s investment in training a senior tax associate is questioned, when the talent they’ve developed ends up changing jobs.