Russell Bedford International - Thought Leadership

Employee Retention: Becoming a Model of Excellence in Workplace Culture

In today's fast-paced world, where technological advancements and changing standards redefine the accounting landscape, firms face a dual challenge: attracting top talent and retaining it.

With a shrinking pool of finance and accounting professionals, and increased competition from other industries, accounting firms must go the extra mile to foster a workplace culture that not only attracts talent, but also retains the best and brightest in the field.

To remain competitive, accounting firms must stay abreast of the latest trends in recruitment and retention. This involves equipping employees with the technical skills and digital capabilities necessary to navigate the evolving demands of the profession. From traditional accounting skills to proficiency in artificial intelligence and data analytics, firms must ensure that their teams are well-equipped to meet the challenges of tomorrow. But as well as keeping up with the latest in technology and skills, firms also need to be innovative in their approach to employee engagement and satisfaction.

Ana Carolina Franco-Soto

Managing Partner of Russell Bedford’s Dominican Republic firm, reflects on these times and remembers her grandfather.

I recall waiting on my grandfather with his thick black briefcase, carrying the inventory registers that he had just audited and sitting in his home office for hours, as there was still very limited computer-based accounting in our economy. Now, long gone are the days of tons of papers, pencils and thick black briefcases, that preceded this greener, more environmentally responsible and efficient present, in which we develop our everyday more agile practices to support strategic and timely decision making for business.

Lina Lemessiou, Director of Professional Standards at Russell Bedford International, emphasises the importance of developing a workplace culture that enables rapid knowledge transfer, continuous learning, and upskilling. But also says that retention goes beyond providing cutting-edge technology and learning applications; it hinges on keeping employees engaged and fully invested in the firm's overall mission.

Lina Lemessiou

Director of Professional Standards at Russell Bedford International

It’s about keeping employees interested in the firms they work for and retaining good talent so that they can continue to grow with, and add value to, the company. After investing in the skills to develop good people, we want to strengthen work environments that keep them.

A positive workplace culture, characterised by inclusivity and diversity, plays a pivotal role in attracting and retaining talent. Results from ACCA's Global Talent Trends Survey 2024, a study of nearly 10,000 professional accountants globally, highlights the significance of a diverse and inclusive workplace culture in attracting and retaining talent. According to the survey, 73% of professional accountants consider a strong diversity and inclusive culture to be a key factor in choosing an employer. ACCA highlights that there is a “real opportunity for employers who are strong in this area to differentiate themselves in a competitive market.”

However, while creating a great workplace culture is essential, it can come with additional costs for employers, particularly in the form of financial incentives. As inflationary pressures mount amid global economic strains, firms must navigate the delicate balance between managing costs and retaining talent. The Global Talent Trends Survey 2024 reveals that 58% of professional accountants plan to ask their employer for a pay rise in 2024 - this poses a challenge for firms that are striving to remain profitable.

Russell Bedford International Young Partners & Managers Conference 2023

WBL CPAs + Advisors (WBL), a member firm of Russell Bedford International, sets a shining example of excellence in employee satisfaction. They were named as the #1 ‘Best Firm to Work For’ within their size category across the USA - see accompanying case study Russell Bedford in Atlanta: Leading the Way in Employee Satisfaction. This dedication to becoming a top employer has not only allowed them to retain their staff, but also enabled them to find innovative ways to effectively manage retention costs, solidifying their position as industry leaders.

Steven Horn, Partner at WBL, emphasises the importance of investing in people. He says, “We recognise that we must invest in our people to attract and retain them. We have a full-time Director of People and Culture and a full-time Talent Acquisition Specialist. For a firm of our size, that in itself is a big investment. But we are only as good as our people, so this investment is money well-spent. We consistently evaluate our programmes to ensure they are hitting the mark and are meaningful.” Horn emphasises that while cash compensation is crucial, recognising employees' efforts in various ways, such as through non-cash benefits and incentives, is equally significant in today's workforce landscape.

Russell Bedford International Young Partners & Managers Conference 2023

An innovative approach that WBL adopted was to subscribe to an online employee incentive programme. This programme enables managers and peers to recognise each other’s work and to express “shout outs” for a job well done. And if they choose, managers can grant points to an associate, which can be collected and redeemed for rewards and purchases. Horn notes that while implementing such programmes incurs some costs, “it’s not a huge expense to use this system as there is a maximum number of points that can be awarded with each recognition event - it seems to be well-received amongst employees.”

Delegates at Russell Bedford events continue to discuss the topic of talent retention. Member firms promote other non-cash benefits such as flexible work schedules, good recognition and support programmes, and family-friendly policies. In addition, it has been agreed that providing employees with “good challenging work opportunities,” that facilitate learning and development, is a cornerstone of any retention strategy.

For a firm to attract and retain top talent there needs to be a willingness to offer the full package to be successful. Good compensation must come together with work-life balance and career-building. Additionally, a firm offering a good work-life balance and career building without good compensation, will not be successful. Accountancy practices must be willing to offer it all if they want to be successful in their market as they are not only competing with other accounting firms but also with corporate accounting departments and other professions.

Stephen Hamlet, CEO of Russell Bedford International, emphasises the importance of investing in employee retention. He says that while recruiting exceptional talent is essential, retaining them through continuous development and employee well-being initiatives is equally crucial.

Stephen Hamlet

CEO of Russell Bedford International

We’ve talked a lot at our meetings about attracting talent into our profession. And, everywhere I travel in the world, the biggest challenge I hear from our member firms is finding good people. There is a global human resource issue - a lack of it! And then, it’s one thing being able to recruit great talent, but it’s important to then invest in keeping them – and it doesn’t have to always mean salary increases. Within the Russell Bedford network, we encourage a strong culture of investing in teams, of sharing knowledge and best practice, and in encouraging collaborative work environments.

Hamlet highlights that the network has several firms who win awards and serve as excellent benchmarks for employee retention and workplace culture.

Daniel Ryba, Chair of Russell Bedford International, also expresses pride in the strides that Russell Bedford member firms have made in employee recruitment and retention. 

Daniel Ryba

Chair of Russell Bedford International

The commitment of firms within the Russell Bedford network to recruitment, retention, and continuous improvement is commendable. By prioritising the development of their teams and equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge, our firms can ensure they will continue to deliver exceptional services to clients, whilst at the same time ensuring their people are motivated to continue their careers at the practice. This dedication to promoting a great workplace culture results in positive recommendations and future business opportunities for firms within the network.

The benefit of belonging to an international network such as Russell Bedford is that it not only opens discussion over the shared challenges of resources, but also gives talented individuals the potential to participate in secondment programmes - providing an international flavour to their career as they collaborate with businesses from around the world.  

The future of accounting lies in building a workplace culture that attracts, retains, and nurtures top talent. Having the progressive mindset needed to keep evolving with industry trends means a firm can prioritise diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and innovative strategies for employee satisfaction. This enables firms to position themselves as employers of choice in a competitive market.  

A new era for investing in sustainability

The rise of financial technology over the past decade has created a new era of potential for sustainable investing, particularly in the fields of ESG investing, green financing and carbon neutrality. Fintech’s have always enabled innovation and contributed positively towards sustainability for a lower-carbon world, particularly as they aim to disrupt traditional finance operations in a customer-focused way.

Digital payment solutions can lead the charge towards sustainability and a low-carbon economy. The carbon footprint brought by physical currency – i.e., its creation, transportation, disposal, etc. – is minimised or else eclipsed by using digital cash transactions. Utilising digital removes the need for both plastic cards and paper transactions, streamlining transaction processes in an environmentally conscious way through reducing company waste.