The midsize companies that typically hire temporary tax accountants as tax season approaches should get past a couple of common delusions, suggests an executive at a prominent finance and accounting staffing firm.
First, companies chronically underestimate the availability of such workers, contends Andrew Reina, managing director of Accounting Principals. Among the many types of positions the firm fills, tax people are in the scarcest supply. Yet every winter, the firm is flooded with requests for them just as tax season begins, or even worse, later on as IRS or internal-reporting deadlines loom and companies realize they’re short-handed.
“Almost all the tax people are already working,” Reina says. “There never seems to be a shortage of tax need out there.” Those with tax degrees are gobbled up quickly coming out of school by public accounting firms, and after they’ve completed a couple of years of work there, corporations grab them just as enthusiastically. Plus, tax professionals tend to be fairly conservative careerwise, staying with employers longer than their counterparts in other finance and accounting disciplines.
And it’s not like the pool is big to begin with. Tax work is specialized, technical, and demanding; subject to an unending stream of new rules and regulations to absorb; and perceived as less sexy than some other finance roles. All of that serves to dampen interest in pursuing the field.
One would think that after a company encounters a shortage of tax talent one year, it would be aware the next. But some of Accounting Principals’s procrastinating clients make the mistake repeatedly. “They’ll literally call the week before their tax provision work is supposed to be done and say they need somebody tomorrow,” says Reina.
Also, companies routinely take on such workers, give them a one-day orientation, and expect them to be fully up to speed on the organization and its systems. There needs to be a better support system, Reina urges, with seasoned professionals available to answer additional questions. “Companies should expect high-quality work from anybody they bring in, but it’s not fair to compare those folks to employees who have been there for years. There need to be goals and expectations that are challenging but achievable.”
Companies with revenue between $100 million and $500 million are most likely to need temporary tax help, Reina observes. Larger ones have deeper internal tax departments and use the tax services of large public accounting firms, and smaller companies often have less-complicated tax situations.