4 min read

The Cost of an Empty Chair

Table of Contents

Ilan Bernstein is the Chief Executive Officer of Trigger, a South Africa-based global outsourcing partner that offers customizable solutions for Audit, Actuarial, CAS, and Forensic Services.

As the accounting industry continues to grapple with talent shortages, it’s becoming increasingly important for firms to explore alternative solutions. Over time, the effects of staffing under-resourced, overworked teams only compound, often leading to lasting damage to employee morale.

That gives way to the potential for talent shortages to devolve into an even worse situation. Of course, open positions in the accounting industry are being filled every day, but everyone involved in recruitment and retention knows things are much more difficult than they used to be. 

In our current environment, it will take your firm months to replace a colleague who has moved on. That’s true regardless of the level of professional you’re looking to replace: from junior associates to partners. 

As time continues marching on and positions remain unfilled, managing partners are faced with the stark cost of an empty chair. But what exactly are those costs, and how can firms address them? 

What is the True Cost of an Empty Chair?

When an employee leaves your firm, so do certain costs associated with them. You’re no longer responsible for their monthly salary or health insurance premiums. But that doesn’t mean your firm is saving money while you find new talent to replace your departed employee––far from it. 

There are significant costs that any firm incurs when an employee’s chair is left empty; costs that firm leaders may fail to consider. 

In a professional services business, your people are your product. When those people leave, so do countless hours of billable time. And given it takes three to six months to fill an open position, that has a huge impact on your firm’s revenue. 

It’s likely your firm will have to turn down some engagements because you lack the resources to fulfill certain services. That’s a major opportunity cost, one that erodes client relationships and has the potential to cause damaging long-term impacts on your business.  

Other intangible costs exist, too. When your project teams are missing a member, everyone else is forced to work harder––a practice that often has negative impacts on employee morale. Leaders might have to ask their teams to work on tasks that are far below their skill level, wreaking even more damage on employee sentiment. 

Neither of these are sustainable ways to run your business. Unless leaders address the empty chair issue, these issues compound. Before you know it, increasing numbers of your employees will be looking elsewhere for better opportunities. 

As much as we’re sure you’d like there to be, there’s no magic wand that you can wave to instantly conjure up a highly-skilled, fully-trained team member that fits your firm. Hiring, and particularly hiring the right people, takes time. 

That begs the question: what can accounting firm leaders do to address the costs of an empty chair problem while they look for a replacement?

Addressing the Empty Chair Problem with High-Quality Outsourced Talent 

As we already noted, it’s near-impossible to solve the empty chair problem overnight. But one increasingly popular solution lies in high-quality outsourced accounting talent. 

Today, the world is much smaller than it used to be. The widespread adoption of the internet and remote work makes it possible for your firm to immediately fill empty chairs with talented professionals from outside the United States. 

The outsourcing business models of today are very different from the outsourcing models of the past. Here at Trigger, we connect accounting firms with high-quality accounting talent who are looking to expand their professional horizons. These aren’t transactional relationships: we enable accounting firms to integrate proven and credentialed South African professionals into their teams on a full-time basis. 

Many leading accounting firms work with outsourced talent on an ongoing, year-round basis.  But, if you’re facing a bank of empty chairs, it’s also possible to onboard short-term outsourced team members for as little as a few months. 

That not only ensures your firm continues to generate revenue, it keeps lower-level tasks off the to-do lists of your senior professionals. In turn, you’ll find that recruiting outsourced talent gives you the runway required to make the right full-time in-house hire for the future of your firm. 

As with any hiring decision, it’s important to comprehensively vet any outsourced talent provider to ensure the outsourced professionals you bring on board will add value to your business. 

How to Find the Right Accounting Outsourcing Partner

You might think that bringing on outsourced talent is more trouble than it’s worth. After all, you have to vet candidates, train new team members, and learn how to work with fully remote employees. But provided you work with the right outsourcing partner, there’s no reason for any of these concerns to hold you back. 

Prioritize outsourcing partners that offer access to talented, career-driven professionals, rather than employees that just punch the clock every day. The right partner will bring a diverse and motivated pool of proven accounting talent and will invest in the tools they need to succeed. 

When you outsource work, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If an organization’s pricing seems cheap, you can expect that to be reflected in the work product. Focus on providers that allocate dedicated professionals to your business on a full-time basis and emphasize quality over quantity. 

Once you’ve chosen an outsourcing provider, make sure they allow you the freedom to interview and vet potential candidates yourself. Don’t feel like you have to lower your standards because you’re outsourcing. At Trigger, we always advise our clients not to hire anyone they wouldn’t hire locally.

It’s also important to find a partner that understands the way an accounting firm operates. Trigger provides firms with access to outsourced talent at various career stages in the accounting industry and focuses on creating working environments that encourage managers to talk to managers, directors to talk to directors, and so on. A similar hierarchy is vital to a successful working relationship where your outsourced team feels just as much a part of your business as your in-house employees. 

Are You Ready to Pull the Trigger and Solve Your Empty Chair Problem?

The accounting industry’s talent crunch problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Even if you don’t have any empty chairs today, it’s inevitable that you will at some point in the future. When that time comes, it’s important you’re prepared. 

Pivoting towards a talent management strategy that includes outsourcing is a highly effective way of ensuring that your firm continues to grow and prosper, regardless of your internal staffing situation. Outsourcing today is a paradigm shift from the outsourcing of a couple of decades ago, offering firms an opportunity to work with world-class accounting talent that’s ready to hit the ground running from day one. 

If you’re interested in learning more about what outsourcing might look like for your firm, we encourage you to get in touch with our team today.

Related Articles:

Noah’s Law: Build Your Ark Before the Flood

3 min read

Noah’s Law:  Build Your Ark Before the Flood

“For 40 days, the flood kept coming..and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth” Accounting firms around the nation simply...

Read More
The Importance of Investing in Employee Experience: Hiring, Retention, Boomerang Opportunities, and More

4 min read

The Importance of Investing in Employee Experience: Hiring, Retention, Boomerang Opportunities, and More

In the accounting industry’s current labor market, investing in employee experience is crucial to sustaining your firm’s success. To retain top...

Read More
Navigating The Return to Office vs Remote-First Dilemma

4 min read

Navigating The Return to Office vs Remote-First Dilemma

Allan Fisher is the President and Founder of Premier Financial Search, an executive recruitment firm that specializes in placing accounting and...

Read More