Industry Trends

The Boring Accountant Stereotype Is Boring

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
crypto auditor

October 21, 2022

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People are worried about accountants

It’s always a little weird when I see headlines like a recent one in the Financial Times that reads, “Accountants work to shed ‘boring’ tag amid hiring crisis.” Okay, sure, there’s a shortage of accountants, but I doubt the “boring” thing has anything to do with it. It’s also weird that the profession’s own trade group—the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ)—is the one a) putting this out there, and b) getting defensive of accountants’ supposed boringness in the same breath:

“We’ve heard the rumours that accounting is nerdy and boring,” a US accounting trade body confides on one of its websites, before adding: “We’ve gotta let you in on a secret. That is just not true.”

It’s been long believed that accountants are boring. Historically, there’s been plenty of evidence to support this. Bookish types crammed in small offices surrounded by stacks of papers, enmeshed in numbers—it’s not exactly sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Still, accountants could make a nice living, so what they lacked in excitement was more than made up for in well-being.

More recently, though, the “boring accountant” stereotype doesn’t really fit. It was always a misconception, but these days assuming an accountant is boring is like assuming an archaeologist is Indiana Jones. Technology and entrepreneurship, along with wide-ranging and complex work, have made accountants an interesting—occasionally even fascinating—group of professionals. 

But this is really all beside the point. The point is that the accounting profession is desperate to attract more people to its ranks, and it’s unsure how to do that. The CAQ would have you believe that it’s a perception problem. That is, people perceive accountants as boring, and no one wants to be boring; ergo, fewer people are pursuing accounting degrees and, by extension, the CPA. Historically, the number of accounting graduates is still very high, while the number of people sitting for the CPA has dipped mostly due to the pandemic wreaking havoc on in-person testing centers. We also know that the 150-credit hours required to sit for the CPA discourage some people from pursuing it, and some get discouraged because they have too much work to do. Maybe “boring” has something to do with it, but there seem to be other significant factors at play. 

Fortunately, the FT piece comes around to one of the main culprits of the accounting profession’s perception problem: 

[Christina] Ho of the [Public Company Accounting Oversight Board], identified lower starting salaries compared with other professions as a key problem. “Starting salary in the audit profession is lower than other professions, such as data scientists and IT professionals,” she said. “In my opinion, this is a crisis. We cannot afford a world with no accountants or a capital market with no auditors.”

Even if working far more hours for way less money hasn’t always been out of fashion, right now it couldn’t be more out. It’s like if someone said to you, “You know what I’m really into these days? Putting five-dollar-a-gallon-gas into my SUV.” Wait, what? None of that is cool, and none of it ever was cool.

Boring is not the problem. Unnecessary academic hurdles, toxic overwork, and mediocre pay—those are problems, and arguably, more appropriate stereotypes to apply to accountants. If the accounting profession could fix those, people would line up around the block for boring. 

Help wanted

Elsewhere:

Netflix Inc. is seeking a new chief accounting officer after its current one quit the role after less than four months.

Less than four months? I’ve stuck with bad haircuts for longer than four months. If you quit a job in less than four months, does that mean you should’ve quit after the first day? Like, it’s hard to imagine that the first day went great, you go home and kiss your partner and say, “Geez, this is going to be fun, I’m raring to go,” only to have the whole thing fall apart in 100 days. “Wow, honey, I really misjudged this one.” Just doesn’t seem possible that someone at this level would make that kind of mistake.

Also, I love this:

Netflix stressed that the move is a personal decision and is “not the result of any disagreement with the company on any matter relating to the company’s financials, operations, policies, or practices.”

You see, Netflix doesn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea. Their accounting is squeaky clean. It’s their work environment that’s a total mess. 

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Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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