A survey conducted by accountancy bodies ACCA and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ), supported by a series of global roundtables, revealed persistent challenges facing the auditing profession in its battle to attract and retain talent.

Insights from more than 6,500 finance professionals across the globe revealed a sector whose workforce is demanding flexible working and equitable remuneration in the face of increasing concerns about individuals’ work life balance.

Commenting on this, ACCA head of audit & assurance, and report author, Antonis Diolas, said: “A compelling insight from our study highlights the absence of a commonly understood and unified purpose within the audit profession. This not only inhibits prospective candidates from entering the profession in the first place, but also hinders current professionals from recognising how their work generates value.”

CA ANZ reporting & assurance leader, Amir Ghandar, added: “The research clearly shows the need for empathy and respect in the workplace recognising employees’ multifaceted lives. People also need to be able to see themselves in their leaders, to visualise the opportunities and career possibilities in a way that feels real.”

More than half of the survey respondents were aged 25-42, with 37% current auditors, 33% former auditors and the rest considering audit as a future career.

Five themes emerged from the research to solve the current crisis:

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1. Work-life balance is the key issue: unsupportive workplace cultures need to be addressed, with more emphasis on supportive working environments which recognise personal needs and wellbeing.

2. Fair remuneration: intensive workloads during the peak audit season must be remunerated and if not addressed could further impact the attraction and retention of talent in the future.

3. Career ladder and variety of work: the traditional career ladder is unappealing to young audit professionals. Firms need to look to develop a ‘career lattice’, to offer a greater variety of roles and to work to accommodate auditors’ preferences and outside interests.

4. Sustainability assurance and reporting: this work is seen as purpose driven and offers a clear hope for the audit profession with 48% of non-auditors saying such work could tempt them to join the profession and 40% of auditors saying such a career could tempt them to stay.

5. Embrace technology to remain relevant: those considering entering the profession wish to embrace advanced technologies. While the Big Four and mid-tier firms can fulfil that wish, small firms are lagging. Bridging the technology gap is a strategic imperative for the profession.

While audit firms are implementing initiatives to address concerns, the persistence of the core issues signals the need for transformative change. For instance, the survey revealed enthusiasm for sustainability reporting and assurance among both existing audit professionals and potential entrants to the profession. This presents a unique talent attraction opportunity for audit firms to capitalise.

Diolas concluded: “Audits serve as the backbone of financial reliability, ensuring accuracy and transparency while building trust and accountability. With robust audit practices, businesses not only thrive but also attract investment, bolstering the stability of capital markets and contributing to a prosperous economic future for all.”