SMS Latinoamérica - Thought Leadership: Q&A

The search for the next generation of accountants

The Accountant hears from SMS talent attraction and selection manager Valeria de Lazzari Pitt about how SMS is working to attract talent to its business.

CPAs have long been a valued presence on corporate boards and audit committees in Canada. But as a landmark study by CPA Canada and KPMG suggests, many CPAs wait until they are approaching retirement or later to become directors. This is a missed opportunity, according to Ismail Akhter, CPA, director, tax & audit, Member Development and Support at CPA Canada and study lead co-authors Wendy Kei, FCPA, and Deborah Rosati, FCPA. 

“Given the value they can bring to the table, and the career benefits that board membership can bring, CPAs should consider becoming board members much earlier in their careers,” says Akhter. 

The Accountant: What are the main challenges facing the accounting profession in terms of attracting and retaining talent?

Valeria de Lazzari Pitt: The main challenge for talent attraction teams in professional firms is the significant decrease in students and graduates entering these careers, particularly in public accountancy. Within the Economic Sciences, careers such as business administration, economics and, especially, actuarial roles have gained a large number of professionals over public accountancy. In several universities, both public and private, the decrease in the number of registered students is more noticeable every year.

Because of this situation, HR professionals must be very creative when analysing and carrying out attraction strategies. In SMS we hold young professionals programmes, workshops, fairs and events at universities, and run supervised professional practices (similar to internships) and recruiter days, amongst other initiatives.

In terms of staff retention, training (both in technical and soft skills), promoted by our Business School, is a must. This includes postgraduate and language training. In addition, recognition programmes and benefits schemes are an essential value proposition to retain our key talents and ensure that they feel valued.

Valeria De Lazzari Pitt

TA: What do you think are the most important attributes a professional firm needs to have to succeed?

VLP: The main attributes required by professional services firms are linked to academic training and technical-professional knowledge (for example, tax settlement and tax advice, audits, preparation of financial statements and closing of balance sheets, international accounting regulations, internal control, reporting, etc.). Those issues are required to meet the needs of our clients. But above all things, we highlight the idea of training dynamic professionals, with a high consultative profile, oriented to results, with agility to learn new technologies, and with outstanding leadership and negotiation skills.

TA: What initiatives are you implementing to attract a new generation of accountants? 

VLP: The general objective of the international network is to strengthen our employer brand. At SMS we work together with local accounting institutes and universities. In Buenos Aires, for example, there is an agreement with the Professional Council of Economic Sciences in which we work on a programme to showcase the world of work to students. They are invited to visit the firm and to interact with professionals from all areas of expertise.

In Mexico City, for instance, there is a cooperation agreement with a world-renowned technology university that allows students to be recruited to do their internships in the offices and then these people can remain as active staff of the firm. 

TA: How do you incorporate diversity and inclusion considerations in talent recruitment?

VLP: At SMS we offer equal opportunities and promote equality within our organisation. We adhere to and carry out ethical talent attraction methods that guarantee the inclusion of all people, without distinction of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil union, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or beliefs, age group, sex or sexual orientation. We work to create an inclusive environment where everyone can reach their maximum development potential.

TA: Which professional roles are in greatest demand currently? 

VLP: This differs greatly between regions. In Buenos Aires or Colombia, for example, the most in-demand professionals are the profiles with the highest Seniority; that is, Senior Analysts, with more than five years of experience in the role.  

However, in countries like Mexico or Peru the most in-demand positions are accounting staff; for example, assistants and junior accountants. 

TA: What innovative channels do you use to attract new staff?

VLP: “Supervised Professional Practice” programmes function as new channels of access to the world of work at SMS. They are programmes that university students carry out during the last part of their course before graduating, filling the role of a practical thesis. Participants must complete 200 teaching hours in a firm, and they are evaluated by tutors assigned by the firm as well as by their teacher.

In addition, “Recruiter Days” are effective. These are full days in which companies/firms visit universities and the talent attraction teams interview students interested in entering the job market.

Another technique that works very well is our referral programmes, where staff within a firm can refer their own contacts to join.

In recent years, another successful personnel hiring technique has been the use of social networks such as LinkedIn, and national job portals.

TA: With headquarters in Argentina, how does hyperinflation affect the selection, attraction and retention of talent?

VLP: Hyperinflation negatively impacts the attraction and retention. Volatility in salaries generates disparity and loss of reference values. In many cases, a talent search and selection process begin with a salary estimate that, by the time the hiring becomes effective, has already become outdated.

Some companies offer compensation in dollars or in dollar value; and that produces even greater disparity and inequity.

In the case of retention, it is the same. Companies are not willing to lose key human capital and it happens that, when considering their departure, these talents receive extremely attractive offers. 

TA: To what extent do personnel exchange programmes help? 

VLP: Exchange programmes are a way to strengthen social relationships within a community of firms, while promoting the technical and professional training of staff. In addition, they are of great value in contributing to the intercultural development of members and maximising business opportunities with regional reach.