What Keeps CPAs Awake at Night?

By Charles Hall | Accounting and Auditing

Dec 24

In preparing for my 2016 blogging calendar, I sent a survey to my subscribers.

Picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com.

Picture is courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com.

The last survey question was opened-ended: What one thing keeps you awake at night? Here are a few responses:

  • Is it possible to narrow it down to just one? Malpractice issues primarily?
  • Getting work done in a more efficient and timely manner.
  • Litigation/being sued.
  • The magnitude of what we need to know to operate as a sole practitioner.
  • Ever changing standards and requirements, possibility of mistakes due to standards overload.
  • Being able to maintain a thriving practice that I can receive a good return on in my retirement.
  • Increasing burden put on our profession to be the “police” for tax agencies [e.g. Obamacare compliance, state use tax.]
  • If I don’t wake up one morning, what happens to my clients?
  • Delivering what we promised on time.
  • Keeping up with the standards.
  • Plan to retire in 8 to 10 years and need to create an exit path.
  • Not having enough time to finish my work.
  • Liability…the kind that arises from something that I did not anticipate.
  • Ever changing regulatory environment and taking on too much work and not being able to deliver timely service.
  • Have I forgotten to do something for a client that I should have done?
  • Afraid of not meeting deadlines.
  • Often feel that state board and AICPA are trying to run sole props out of business. Every time I turn around they want another big fee to access the basic tools and information I need to stay in business.
  • Partners wanting to keep things the same. No growth.
  • Always feeling “behind” (not having enough competent help).
  • Not knowing what I don’t know.
  • I worry that I will be physically or mentally unable to complete the work I have taken on.
  • Staff retention.

Top Concerns

The survey revealed the following top concerns:


The top concerns include:

  • Getting all my work done
  • Findings answers to difficult questions
  • Picking up new clients

It’s interesting to me that a top concern is getting work done and picking up new clients — are we saying, “We can’t get everything done, but we want more”?

Answering Difficult Questions

The survey respondents said they answer difficult questions in the following ways:


Survey says: CPAs often perform their own research using published sources (45%) and others call an outside CPA (24%).

Change One Thing


These CPAs said the top thing they would change is getting work done efficientlyinterestingly, this ranked higher than making more money (almost twice as high).

Survey Participation

First, let me thank those of you who participated in the survey (which I sent to all my subscribers with an email).

You can still participate in the survey here.

Your participation will enable me to provide more relevant content to you during 2016. Thanks and happy new year.


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About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses.He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events.Charles is the quality control partner for McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. where he provides daily audit and accounting assistance to over 65 CPAs. In addition, he consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

  • Tom says:

    I really can’t understand why hiring, training, and retention are not much more prominent in the concerns listed. Perhaps this is reflective of the firm size of the respondents. For a sole proprietor or small firm it sure seems to me to be the most critical. Everything else can get done if you have the right people in place and they work as a team. As a small firm it is not likely that you can afford to hire “reserve” staff, yet when turnover happens it is likely to be a challenging transition period for the firm, while hiring and training of a replacement happens. In our firm, we feel that it takes 1-2 years of boots on the ground for a new hire to incorporate the firm-specific know-how that makes for smooth team operation. Turnover happens even to the “happiest” of employees when a spouse gets a job out of the area, spouse’s retirement or other major change in life situation, such as caretaking of a spouse or parent. If you only have four or five staff and one leaves, it’s a major hit to the efficiency of the firm for a long period.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Tom, I agree. I expected this to be a higher concern. As you say, with the right people you can get a great deal done. And when good people exit, it can take a year or two to get back to normal.

  • Will Mercer says:

    While I understand why hiring and training staff is very important, I think the response is very indicative of who answered the survey. I am a sole practitioner with no professional staff, so that isn’t really on my radar currently. I need to grow more before I can justify the expense of additional staff, not to mention the additional overhead (office space, computers, CPE, etc.). Once I reach the point where this is an issue for me, then it will probably become my major concern. Right now, trying to take care of the clients I have is what I worry about the most.

  • Will, I remember well being in your position some 15 years ago. I was shocked by the cost of overhead — often consuming 50% to 60% of my income.

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