Liz Fisher, journalist

The audit profession is facing a worldwide talent crisis, struggling to attract and retain students and professionals. A detailed new study from ACCA attempts to identify the root causes of this recruitment and retention drought – and the results suggests that paying audit professionals more won’t necessarily solve the problem.

A new report from ACCA and CA ANZ, Attract, engage, retain: Insights and recommendations for audit talent success, draws on the results of a survey of more than 6,500 respondents worldwide as well as a series of roundtable discussions and the findings of the ACCA’s 2024 Global talent trends study.

Work-life balance, rather than remuneration, is the biggest single concern for audit professionals

The report identifies five themes raised most frequently by respondents: work-life balance; remuneration; career ladder and work variety; sustainability reporting; and technology. It also explains why work-life balance, rather than remuneration, is the biggest single concern for audit professionals.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance was identified as the primary factor undermining the attraction and retention of talent across all regions, with 61% of respondents to the survey saying it has a negative impact on the attractiveness of the profession, and 73% saying it has a negative impact on retention (compared with just 55% identifying remuneration as a factor in retention).

Differences in views were in evidence across generations, sectors and regions.

Converging deadlines and ever-increasing regulatory demands contribute to a high-pressure environment within audit firms, which is not spread evenly throughout the year. The report recommends that regulators should listen to firms’ concerns about the challenges they face, and take this into account when considering the impact of future regulatory revisions.

Working conditions

However, work-life balance is about much more than workload. Comments from participants in the study indicate a worrying range of concerns about working conditions, culture and practices within audit firms, including bullying, sexual harassment and racism. Respondents advocated far-reaching reforms, emphasising the need for a more inclusive and diverse work environment, and better mental health support systems.

‘Such candid insights shed light on the urgent need for change within the audit profession,’ says the report, ‘underscoring the imperative for stakeholders to heed the voices of those within the profession and respond openly and effectively.’

The report recognises that audit firms are already implementing initiatives to address concerns about workplace wellbeing, but adds that ‘the persistence of the challenge signals a necessity for more transformative changes’. Among its recommendations are a call for leadership within firms to ‘take purposeful actions to address unsupportive cultures by establishing and enforcing internal policies’.

‘Remuneration will always be considered inadequate if poor work-life balance is not addressed’


Many respondents said they did not feel adequately compensated for their intense audit workload during busy seasons. The report calls this ‘demotivating’ and warns that, if unchecked, it could hinder the attraction and retention of talent, and impact audit quality. It adds, though, that ‘remuneration will always be considered inadequate if the impact of a poor work-life balance is not addressed’.

Again, there were differences in views between generations, sectors and regions.

A ‘career lattice’ rather than a ‘career ladder’ is a potential solution

Lattice vs ladder

The third factor identified as having an impact on attraction and retention in the audit profession is the career ladder and variety of work. The Global talent trends study found that many young audit professionals plan to leave their current employer within two years, suggesting that the traditional audit career ladder does not hold much appeal.

The report proposes a ‘career lattice’ approach (where audit professionals move vertically, horizontally and diagonally within and outside a firm), rather than a ‘career ladder’ approach, as a potential solution.

A career lattice can address issues around the variety of work by offering internal mobility and skill enhancement, and by allowing staff to grow in alignment with their preferences and outside interests. But the report adds that increasing regulatory requirements are ‘often causing audits to feel more like a compliance exercise rather than a value-adding service’. In fact, some respondents described audit work as repetitive and monotonous.

Sustainability reporting and assurance has greater appeal to many than traditional audit

Sustainability factor

The report also focuses on topics that might attract more talent into the audit profession, and notes that sustainability reporting and assurance has greater appeal to many than traditional audit. Almost half of respondents with no audit experience said they would be interested in joining the profession if offered opportunities in sustainability reporting and assurance, while 40% of current and past audit professionals said they would stay (or have stayed) if given chances to be involved in sustainability-related engagements. This offers, says the report, ‘a substantial opportunity for firms to enhance talent acquisition by embracing sustainability initiatives’.

The report also discusses the strong interest shown by respondents in advanced technologies, arguing that bridging the technology gap is a strategic imperative for audit firms. Mid-tier and smaller firms in particular need to do more to improve their technological capabilities if they are to attract talent and remain competitive.

‘The audit profession stands at a critical crossroads,’ concludes the report. ‘Long-standing challenges require concerned effort, if the audit profession is to be reshaped and to be fit for future sustained growth and impact.’