Demand for the services of Certified
Public Accountants (CPA) in the US remains strong but profits have
levelled off and economic uncertainty may require smaller firms to
change their services, according to an American Institute of
Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) survey.

The 2008 study comprised 2,722 CPA firms and was undertaken by
the AICPA’s private companies practice section and the Texas
Society of CPAs. Three quarters of respondents reported growth
ranging from 1 percent to 19 percent over the two years from May
2006 through June 2008.

Designed to assist small CPA firms, the research found average
net client fees per partner rose 10 percent to $664,847.

AICPA vice-president of small firm interests James Metzler said
current economic uncertainty could result in greater competition of
fees and pressure from clients. It could also present small firms
with opportunities.

“Clients go to CPAs to help them weather a troubled economy, and
banks may seek greater assurance from practitioners about the
companies with which they do business,” Metzler said.

Retention of staff was one of several bright spots detailed in
the report. On average, less than one third (31 percent) of firms
said they had lost professionals in the 2007 financial year. This
was a significant improvement from the last survey, when nearly 46
percent of firms reported losing professionals.

Staff turnover varied according to size. In 2008, the smallest
firms experienced the least turnover, 8 percent for those with fees
between $150,000 and $299,000. At the high end, roughly half of all
firms with gross fees between $1 million and $1.99 million reported
losing professionals, and 81 percent of those with $2 million or
more in fees lost staff.

Metzler said the study revealed that more small firms were
offering greater work-life flexibility, which had persuaded
practitioners to remain at their firms.

The survey also found that succession planning and professional
training continue to remain weak spots. Only 22 percent of all
firms surveyed had a succession plan and only 10 percent of the
smallest firms had a practice continuation agreement to protect
their practices in the event of an owner’s death or a

Nicholas Moody