Jeff Thomson: Accounting’s Image Problem


A recent forum of accounting and finance stakeholders—including IMA President and CEO Jeff Thomson, CMA, CSCA, CAE—addressed two questions that have been top of mind for many hiring managers: What are the challenges facing the profession in attracting and retaining talent, and what is the profession doing to address them?

The Chief Executive’s Forum was held virtually on February 23 and was sponsored by IFAC (International Federation of Accountants), of which IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) is a member. It was moderated by Barry Naik, director of the Forum of Firms at IFAC. In addition to Thomson, other esteemed panelists at the forum included:

  • Carmelina Lalley, Managing Director, Trust Solutions Talent Acquisition Leader, PwC U.S.
  • Craig Woodfield, Partner, East Region Audit Practice Leader, Grant Thornton International Ltd
  • Jason Garfield, Senior Manager, UHY International Limited
  • Olivier Boutellis-Taft, CEO, Accountancy Europe

In his remarks, titled “The Race for Relevance in an Age of Disruption and Volatility: Time for Our Profession to Step Up,” Thomson discussed how technologies like quantum computing and AI are advancing rapidly. “To win the race for relevance and leverage these technologies in the face of ongoing disruptions, our profession must move smarter and faster,” Thomson noted.

He posed that to attract and retain talent, organizations must embrace Accounting 2.0, which will require accounting and finance leaders to:

  • Better tell the story that the profession makes a difference to many stakeholders across the value chain and around the world.
  • Emphasize interdisciplinary competencies in strategy management, innovation, advanced data science, and analytics.
  • Shift from a "glass half empty profession"—that is, dull, backward-looking, plodding—to a "glass half full one"—growing, exciting, and focused on insight and foresight. 
  • Look to ESG and sustainable business management as a new opportunity for the profession and ensure that members of the CFO team are gaining skills in these areas.

In explaining these imperatives, Thomson referenced a recent Wall Street Journal online article, "How can we make accounting cool?" which, while perhaps intending to be light-hearted, described accountants as “shy, persnickety fussbudgets” who work in a profession with no real appeal. 

“We need to do a better job at consistently describing the ‘breath and beauty’ of our profession, which offers diverse and enriching career paths from value steward (audit, tax, reporting, and compliance) to value creation, including strategic planning, FP&A, ERM, data analytics, decision support, and more,” Thomson concluded.