Update on the CPA Profession

When talking with clients, I always like to know how their business is going. I love to hear about everything: their team, sales, challenges, etc. When asked the same question, I usually respond, “Business is great, and we’re looking for more.” However, one of the accounting profession’s biggest challenges is the need for more people to do the work. Specifically, there is a real need for more incoming CPA candidates to replace those retiring and to handle increased demand. 

Let’s look at some statistics: 

  • There were 672,587 actively licensed CPAs as of September 1, 2023.  
  • 75% of current CPAs will retire in the next 15 years.
  • 47,000 students earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in the 2021-2022 school year, down 7.8% from the previous year. Those earning a master’s degree slipped by 6.4%.
  • CPA exam candidates declined to 67,335 in 2022 – the lowest number in 17 years.
  • The CPA pass rate is approximately 50%, depending on the exam section.

Demographics are the cause of some of the decline. There are 1 million fewer college students nationwide. Our profession needs to make changes to attract younger talent.

A CPA candidate must have 150 hours to sit for the CPA exam, meaning a master’s degree or 30 hours above, say, a finance degree. Basically, this is an additional year of education, then a gnarly professional exam. The 150-hour requirement is being revisited but will likely take years to revise. 

Some firms work (overwork) young team members leading them to decide the profession is not for them. We have never staffed to work people an excessive number of hours. Yes, we work more during busy times, but the schedule for the remainder of the year is fairly stable and flexible. 

In this profession we have the opportunity to see the details of many businesses and work with business owners. While challenging it is also a lot of fun. During Covid, I talked with a friend/partner at a national firm who had to get permission to go to the office. My partners and I make all the decisions – I like that.

It’s a great profession and an exceptional training ground for anyone interested in a business education. We’re consistently ranked high as a “trusted advisor” in surveys. It’s often said, “A year of CPA firm experience is equivalent to two years in the industry.” If you know of a young person interested in business, it’s a great option. I think now may be the best time ever to enter the profession.