Firm News

September 10, 2020

Ren Cicalese Discusses Hiring in a Remote World on ROI-NJ

Managing shareholder, Ren Cicalese, CPA, PFS, CGMA, discusses how remote working has affected Alloy Silverstein’s hiring process in the recent article “CP-A-is-for-Anywhere” on Ren discusses the accessibility to accountants all over the country and the flexibility in hiring that working from home provides.

Accounting firm Alloy Silverstein used to get resumes from accountants down the street — or maybe a township or two over.

Today, the cover letters it receives could double as postcards.

That’s because, now, it’s welcoming applicants from all over the country. The remote working situation that everyone’s had to accept during the spread of COVID-19 has been the basis of an epiphany for Ren Cicalese, managing shareholder at the small CPA firm.

“Over the past five or six months, I’ve come to the realization that there’s no difference in an accountant working from Medford, New Jersey; Medford, Massachusetts; or even Medford, Oregon,” he said. “I’m comfortable with someone working anywhere now.”

The latest job postings from Cicalese’s firm are asking for 100% remote workers. And, if he had to guess what’s going through the heads of others in the industry, he’d expect he’s not alone in considering a come one, come all approach to hiring in the accounting field.

“I think, especially in accounting, remote working is one of those things where, once staff has started doing it efficiently, people aren’t going to want to go back to working in an office,” he said. “Regardless of what your personal opinions are about remote working … COVID-19 let the genie out of the bottle.”

In some respects, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Accounting trade associations have been anticipating a shift to remote working in the profession for years, and some of the industry’s more prominent players have touted their work arrangement flexibility for just as long.

But what has changed — as has happened with trends in many industries — is that the pandemic immensely sped up the timeline of what was expected to be a gradual shift.

The fact that firms such as Alloy Silverstein have so swiftly embraced remote working comes with implications, including that it’s still paying for an office made to fit a base of employees that don’t live potentially thousands of miles away.

“I’m paying about $22,000 month to month in my Cherry Hill office for literally four to five people who are actually working there right now,” Cicalese said.

Cicalese added that his lease would be up for renewal within two years. He could see himself downsizing to about a third of the space he’s currently paying for. And he expects that’ll be true, whether coronaviruses are still dominating the news cycle or not.

How could he turn down the opportunity to hire top-tier job applicants? He says he’s gotten an impressive array of resumes after opening up the remote work floodgates — often from candidates the firm might not have attracted several years ago.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good resumes from this,” he said. “The only problem is, they don’t know where our office is located on a map. They think you’re close to New York, so they want New York wages. But that’s not the case in our market.”

Recruiting is a big deal in the world of accounting. For some smaller firms, it has meant the difference between continuing to stay in business or being procured by a larger firm. Cicalese said the latter option has been a popular choice, leading to a “merger mania” over several years.

“There’s more partners leaving firms than there are new students coming in to replace them,” he said. “There’s also a middle tier of staff that’s missing. You have high levels of experience at the top end, and some amount of inexperienced staff at the bottom. But that middle layer — the person who has been in the industry for five to seven years — is hard to find.”

When a partner leaves a smaller firm and there are not enough accountants lined up to take that person’s place, that’s usually enough to start conversations about finding a merger, Cicalese said.  Alloy Silverstein has a couple of accountants in their early 30s that Cicalese expects to hand his keys over to at some point.

Having remote workers in accounting firms wouldn’t necessarily forestall that trend, but it does have the potential to fill gaps for smaller firms in need of talent that’s regularly in short supply in the industry.


Follow ROI-NJ on Twitter at @ROINJNews for more New Jersey business news. Click here to continue reading the full article →