A Spotlight for CPAs: What’s on the Horizon for 2021?

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​The year 2020 will go down in history as one of the most transformative years in the evolution of many industries. One of the top industries to be affected is finance and accounting, and certified public accountants (CPAs) may feel like they have to “catch up” to these changes for some time to come.

Workplaces shifted to remote working operations across the country, including many accounting firms. The pandemic also introduced many federal and state funding opportunities to help individuals and businesses weather the storm—but these often come with complex regulatory requirements and the high potential for fraud.

While no one knows with certainty what 2021 will bring, it will likely include a normalization process for many businesses that went through dramatic restructuring and reorganization in 2020. For CPAs, several positive trends are likely to impact the accounting industry.

Remote Working

At least 16% of employees will likely remain at-home workers after the pandemic. Many CPAs were already working remotely prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, so this might not pose any new strains, but CPAs will need to be cognizant of their clients who are new to the remote environment and adapt to their needs accordingly.


For CPAs, whether working from home or in the office, increased technical skills are also paramount to success in the new working environment. Not only are there new platforms to enable telework, but there also are many emerging platforms to manage the influx of data and information companies need to understand their finances. These include collaborative tools, specialized accounting software, enterprise resource planning systems, and other applications. As a CPA, you must be able to learn and work within these systems quickly and effectively.

Regulatory & Auditing Duties

CPAs must also quickly adapt and understand new regulations related to pandemic funding. More than 5 million loans were distributed to businesses through the Paycheck Protection Act alone. And even those businesses that did not receive funding experienced dramatic changes to the state of their finances. With the ongoing threat of fraud and cybercriminal activity, an increase in complex auditing is anticipated. CPAs must be ready to confront these challenges with ease and make sure their clients are well supported.

Competitive Hiring

During the early days of the pandemic, many companies laid off some of their workers, and in many cases, the cuts impacted the fiscal, tax, audit, and advisory staff. And while unemployment figures remain high in these industries, there is still an incredibly high demand for knowledgeable CPAs with the right skills. As recruitment rebounds in 2021, the year will be marked with stiff competition for open positions.

Considerations for Senior CPAs

On top of that, many companies with highly skilled CPAs are anticipating losing these high-value team members for various reasons. A recent study shows that:

  • 55% of business managers are worried about losing staff over morale-related issues

  • 50% have employees facing burnout from heavy workloads

  • 37% have imposed salary cuts with no prospect of raises in the immediate future

The bottom line is that the pandemic disproportionately impacted certain industries. Those in hospitality, such as hotel chains, restaurants, and entertainment organizations, suffered heavy losses, while others—like those that enabled remote work, shopping, and communication, for example—actually experienced massive growth throughout the year. In either instance, the role and responsibilities of senior CPAs needed to shift to accommodate the changes, allowing for different, and possibly additional, workloads.

The result of these factors is that some companies are in a far better position than others to attract and retain skilled CPAs—even though all companies need this role to be filled. And many of those senior, knowledgeable employees who now feel overworked and undervalued in their current position are making big career moves. The market is good for those experienced employees who want to make a jump to a different firm.

Considerations for Junior CPAs and New Entrants to the Job Market

Junior staff and new entrants to the job market also will likely be able to find employment if they know how to navigate the hiring process successfully—and the hiring process itself will likely look very different in 2021. Many companies have reimagined this process by adding remote interviews and onboarding, and shortening the hiring process. Identifying potential candidates has changed dramatically, too. With the rise of remote work, many companies don’t feel limited to candidates in their immediate geographical area, and they can consider candidates on a national or even global level.

The Rise of Flexible Arrangements

The pandemic has transformed the workplace in many ways, and it’s forced companies to rethink how they do business. In some instances, they’re identifying new arrangements that can better fit their needs, such as outsourcing their CPA and finance team needs.

Conversely, in a competitive job market, many workers are seeking alternative forms of employment. These trends have led to an increase in the number of freelance CPAs who may work part-time for multiple companies.

Flexible staffing arrangements, with a mix of full-time, freelance, and outsourced professionals, will likely be more common in 2021 and in the years ahead. This type of arrangement allows companies to have access to specialized expertise when they need it, without the investment of an additional full-time employee.

While 2020 was filled with chaos and rapid transformation, 2021 will likely be the start of a period of normalization for many of the new processes and procedures. For CPAs at every stage of their careers, it is an exciting time filled with growth and potential—especially if they can be flexible and learn quickly.