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Tax and accounting

Trust is the single biggest factor in employee retention & engagement, says BDO USA’s Cathy Moy

In the tax & accounting field, the idea of trust is cited as the single biggest factor in increasing the retention and engagement of key employees, says BDO USA’s CPO.

At least two of the top five most pressing challenges for CPA firms — both small and large — relate to talent, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).

More specifically, for firms with more than 11 employees, employee retention was a top five concern.

To identify the key factors in retaining qualified people in the tax and accounting field, we sat down with Cathy Moy, Chief People Officer (CPO) at BDO USA, to understand how she is leading efforts to improve talent retention at her firm.

When she was appointed in 2014, Moy became the first CPO ever at BDO. The move came after the CEO determined that a central people function was needed to maintain the organization’s momentum on growth, strengthen its internal culture, and maximize its strengths. “I am a former audit partner whose forward path is attending to matters of client and people experiences,” Moy says.

In-demand skills

Moy’s perspective on the war for talent in the accounting and advisory profession is that “there is absolutely more demand than supply.” The in-demand skills that she sees as critical in the hyper-competitive environment are digital skills and data analytic skills, which Moy describes as “the ability to synthesize and interpret data.”

“Having potential talent who are digitally savvy and who are walking in the door with these abilities on their first day free up the capacity for higher-level thinking,” Moy explains, adding that this is particularly true when lower value work is being completed by artificial intelligence and other innovative technologies.


The in-demand skills that Moy says she sees as critical in the hyper-competitive environment are digital skills and data analytic skills, which she describes as “the ability to synthesize and interpret data.”


In addition, Moy notes that written and verbal communications skills and the ability to build effective interpersonal relationships are equally important. “If you can’t build the relationships and communicate effectively, then there really isn’t a next step because you won’t even be in the kinds of situations where you can bring the rest of your skills and training to bear,” explains Moy.

Complicating the situation for in-demand skills is a shortfall in person-to-person interactions, she says. “There is a trendline of new college graduates experiencing an insufficiency in dealing with failure, increasing feelings of isolation, and lacking the ability to work through difficult interpersonal situations,” Moy observes, adding that many of their relationships are “managed through text or some other digital channel,” resulting in a deficit of meaningful relationships. The shortage of face-to-face interaction during challenging social situations has a multiplier negative effect on those feelings of loneliness and on the scarcity of deep connections with people.

BDO USA
Cathy Moy, Chief People Officer at BDO USA

These realities have significant talent implications in the workplace. Indeed, to remain competitive now and in the future, Moy says there is a need for highly effective, confident communicators, who build high-quality meaningful and trusting relationships. In addition, these individuals need to have the ability to adapt while developing grit to innovate, experiment, and fail fast. Currently, the biggest challenge for BDO is “to create an environment where young employees feel a level of comfort being their own best selves at work,” states Moy.

Increase engagement to retain talent via trust

Moy’s foundational ingredient to retaining talent is engagement, which she says will establish long-term trust. “It has been statistically proven from our data that it is the most important thing,” she says.

Engender trust through scaling coaching skills

Under Moy’s leadership, BDO prioritizes the development of meaningful relationships through an active career advisor program. The program helps BDO professionals understand the difference between managing somebody and coaching an employee.

BDO also is working diligently to train its partners and employees to better coach others. With an eye to retention, this re-enforced coaching modality helps employees discover their passions. “Helping people find their own destiny and facilitate their own thinking is a different set of skills and not natural to everybody, but it is teachable,” Moy explains.

Role of feedback in strengthening employee trust

BDO also uses a regular cadence of staff meetings led by managers or career advisors to better elevate trust and retain colleagues. The fact that they happen regularly using a structured format in and of itself builds trust. Because BDO has adopted a dynamic goal-setting model, the details of these conversations remain substantive because the goals can be accomplished, added, and changed through the course of the year, Moy explains.

The challenges around talent in the accounting industry are far and wide — from advancing digital and data skills to effective strategic relationship-building. This skills’ gap is compounded by young talent’s lack of experience in building meaningful relationships and adapting well to failure.

BDO’s focus on creating trust by teaching coaching skills and seeking regular feedback will help to overcome these gaps in interpersonal skills among younger workers, Moy says. At the same time, because digital skills and data analytics are strengths of Gen Z and Y, these new workers can teach those of the older generation their digital savviness, and in turn, the more seasoned professionals can mentor the younger generation on effective relational skills.


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