Updated: May 3
AT the recent accountancy centennial celebration, Professional Regulation Board of Accountancy Chairman Noe Quiñanola mentioned the issue of a shortage of accountants in the Philippines. There are about 200,000 certified public accountants (CPAs) as of 2023. Recent CPA licensure examinations add only about a few couple of thousand CPAs every year due to the passing rates not going above 25 percent.
Traditionally, new passers get their professional experience at audit firms in order to land better job opportunities and higher compensation in the future. This entails going through the busy season where accountants usually experience 50- to 90-hour work weeks for about three to four months. This job requires a lot of personal sacrifices, physical and mental stamina, emotional stability and spiritual strength, especially during the busy season.
Having gone through several busy seasons myself, I've experienced and witnessed people miss a lot of sleep, miss out on some social activities outside work and develop unhealthy habits to cope with the stress, to name a few.
At first, public practice sounds prestigious to new accountants, but as they go through this grueling time of the year, the appeal fades, and they start looking for greener pastures. This leaves the public practice sector more understaffed and challenged with high turnover and training costs. With the ever-evolving regulatory requirements, it is a challenge to keep up with these conditions. Nowadays, a lot of accountants choose to either go abroad or stay and work as an online accountant for companies overseas as it is far better paying and has more manageable requirements and work hours. The worldwide shortage of accountants makes it easier for Filipino accountants to find better opportunities elsewhere.
Pursuing an accounting degree, let alone pass the licensure examination is not an easy feat. It is hard to fathom that this tough screening process will, in majority, benefit a land other than our own. Although the recent developments in our profession are geared toward improving the quality of Filipino accountants and the overall economic landscape in our country, there seems to be a blatant misalignment.
On a positive note, organizations such as the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Association of Certified Public Accountants in Public Practice (Acpapp) have been very proactive in addressing urgent concerns of CPAs in the public practice sector. Others are some Facebook groups of practitioners helping and guiding each other to catch up with new regulations and technologies in order for them to do their work well.
Communities such as these are like life jackets to public practitioners facing overwhelm by the realities of this profession.
Standing our ground through the shortage is not easy. For those of us who have chosen to stay in this field serving local clients, becoming more open to possible solutions and equipping ourselves with new skills may help us to take on our duty and responsibilities as Filipino CPAs in public practice. The following are a few suggestions that have been tried and tested by some colleagues in the sector:
Explore automation. Find repetitive tasks that do not require professional judgment and automate them. It will spare you more power over your limited time and limited resources.
Create a dynamic and reliable system. High employee turnover could really take its toll for those left behind. A dynamic and reliable system would help remaining or new team members navigate through the work.
Make time to rest and recharge. Even robots need to recharge. Connect to the source and live! Life is meant to be lived and made worthwhile after all. As my former colleague said in my first audit season, "We only live on borrowed time." What better way to live it than with a healthy mind, body, and healthy personal and family relationships while doing our appointed work? Now that the busy season is over, rekindle activities and relationships that are most important.
Uncomplicate as much as possible. Before taking on a task or engagement, focus on the main objective, as well as main compliance concerns to eliminate tasks that are unnecessary. Simplifying things at work eliminates stressors and engagement team members are more able to execute the work in an excellent manner and lessen risks of noncompliance to regulations.
Find moments to enjoy at work and celebrate small wins. In our lifetime, we spend a huge amount of time working. In our labor, it is important to learn to enjoy what we do and to celebrate successes whether big or small. Our work is our contribution to the community, we might as well serve gladness and joy. Besides, this also lessens stress which could negatively affect our health.
Strengthen support systems. As the old adage says, "No man is an island." True enough in our profession that we also need the help of others. Engaging in professional and other communities is an opportunity to seek help and look for someone to help. Public practice is definitely not a walk in the park. With a strong support system, we will be able to weather pressing issues in our profession such as talent shortages and fast-paced regulatory developments.
Look for areas of improvement. At the end of each busy season, revisit and reflect on what things went right and how they can further be improved or maintained, or on what things went wrong and how to address them.
Always add value where you can. You can never go wrong when looking for ways to add value to immediate stakeholders such as clients, staff, interns and the community. Adding value makes our profession more worthwhile despite the hardship. For the people we encounter at work, the reality is there will always be greener pastures and better opportunities, but adding value will help us create greener and better opportunities for ourselves as well.
These things may be easier said than done but even one small act done consistently will make a positive and lasting impact no matter how difficult things seem at the moment. Doing these things may not directly solve our quandary, it may even frustrate you at times, but may make our chosen calling more bearable and more worthwhile.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Kristine Ismael is a partner of Ismael & Co., CPAs. She is a member and currently the Chairperson for Chapters Development Committee of the Association of CPAs in Public Practice. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of these institutions.