5 minute read 2 Nov 2023
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How Gen Z insights are shaping the accounting profession of the future

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

5 minute read 2 Nov 2023
Related topics Assurance

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  • How insights from Gen Z are helping to shape the accounting profession of the future

The EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey reveals insights into how to better attract Gen Z to the accounting profession.

  • Although the accounting profession offers financial stability and meaningful work, interest in pursuing accounting degrees and CPA certifications is declining.
  • The EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey provides insights on ways organizations can better attract Gen Z to the accounting profession.
  • Hear from students and senior executives on what may be standing in the way of attracting the next generation of talent.

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  • Download the full Insights from the EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey

How insights from Gen Z are helping to shape the accounting profession of the future

Accounting and STEM students¹ and senior executives agree: Although the accounting profession offers long-term stable career benefits, it still needs a makeover to move beyond misconceptions and attract the next generation of accounting talent.

For those interested in a profession in business, accounting is a great way to kick-start a well-rounded career. According to recent survey data shared by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (AICPA & CIMA), the top undergraduate major among CFOs is accounting. Additionally, of the 652 CFOs surveyed in that study, close to 45% are current CPAs. 

 “Students should understand that the value accountants bring starts with deep technical expertise but extends far beyond that. We bring an independent, objective perspective to the boardroom and C-suite that business leaders can use to navigate risks and plan for growth. While our teams execute high quality audits that bring trust and confidence to investors and the capital markets, the profession is also poised to provide assurance and confidence across a wider spectrum of financial and non-financial measures that matter most to investors,” said Dante D’Egidio, EY Americas Vice Chair of Assurance.

Fewer students are pursuing accounting degrees and CPA licensure

Over the last 30 years, the accounting industry has continued to see a steady decline in the number of students pursuing accounting degrees and becoming CPA candidates. Since 2015, the number of students completing a bachelor’s degree in Accounting has dropped 7%, and according to a recent report by Accounting Today, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s data indicates that the number of people taking the CPA exam fell by almost 50% between 1990 and 2021.² Despite these disconcerting trends, a recent study by the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ) and Edge Research³ found that 82% of undergraduate accounting majors and 74% of recent accounting graduates find value in the CPA exam, citing respect, career advancement and higher earning potential as the top motivators for obtaining CPA licensure.

Closing the perception gap — and positioning the profession for the future

The EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey points to several notable gaps in the perceptions of a career in accounting among students and senior executives and identifies opportunities to strengthen the CPA pipeline with an increased focus on students’ career priorities. As finance and accounting leaders innovate to meet future business needs, they also have an opportunity to address the priorities of today’s students.

“Workplace expectations have evolved. Not only do people want to be supported personally and professionally, but they also want the work they do to align with their personal purpose,” said Ginnie Carlier, EY Americas Vice Chair – Talent. “As the competition for skills and talent continues to grow, organizations need to stay attuned to the workplace preferences of their next generation leaders, foster a culture of care and offer career opportunities that align with employee aspirations.”

Learn more about our survey findings here:

  • Students and senior executives share optimism about the accounting profession

    The majority (79%) of students surveyed believe that a career in accounting will deliver long-term career benefits, and 34% recognize it as a steppingstone to leadership opportunities that could include those beyond accounting.

    Meanwhile, senior executives reported several key aspects of a career in accounting that they wish prospective accounting students were aware of:

    1. The potential to have a global impact as an accountant (40%)
    2. The opportunity to work with emerging technologies (39%)
    3. How a career in accounting serves as a steppingstone to leadership and other C-suite roles (38%)
    4. The ability to understand all parts of a business (37%)
  • Students want to achieve real-world impact and have stable careers

    Students’ motivations for a career in accounting vary. However, some students said they continue to seek out accounting as a career for the following reasons:

    1. The profession offers career stability and a comfortable lifestyle (46%)
    2. The ability to find solutions within numbers and data (25%)
    3. An opportunity to contribute to society (23%)
    4. The chance to impact sustainability (21%)
  • Students express interest in diversity, community engagement and ESG

    Today’s purpose-driven, Gen Z students want to join a company where they can work in diverse teams, participate in community engagement opportunities and feel positive about the company’s commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. But executives fall significantly short when it comes to promoting these accounting career aspects.

    When thinking about your professional future, how important is it to work with the following within the accounting profession?

    Which of the following are you promoting as selling points to attract potential employees to a career in accounting and finance?

  • Students and senior executives conveyed mixed feelings about artificial intelligence’s implications

    Thirty-nine percent of executives predict that artificial intelligence (AI) will enable professionals to focus on higher-level thinking. Meanwhile, only 19% of students believe AI will enable professionals to focus their efforts on judgment and higher-level thinking.

  • Students and senior executives both support more pathways to the profession

    More than 85% of executives surveyed support creating alternative paths to CPA careers to expand the accounting pipeline. Fifty-eight percent of surveyed students who committed to pursuing a CPA feel the same way. 

  • Survey methodology

    The surveys fielded online between June 22 and July 5, 2023, to support this research produced results with a +/- 4% margin of error at the 95% confidence level. Qualified student respondents were between the ages of 18 and 60, with 90% ages 30 or younger. Their academic focus was in business or science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM), and they planned to pursue a career in accounting, business, computer science, data science, economics, engineering, finance, math, statistics, management information systems or professional services.

    The senior executive sample included qualified management leadership or executives with roles in finance and accounting or human resources and talent acquisition departments. They worked full-time at publicly traded organizations with at least $1 billion in annual revenue or privately owned organizations with at least $50 million in annual revenue across 21 industry sectors.

Actions we are taking at EY US to attract diverse CPA talent and address accessibility

The EY need for CPA track candidates remains healthy and is projected to continue to be robust. We’ve seen a modest increase in our CPA hires between 2020 and 2022. However, according to CAQ research on increasing diversity in the accounting profession pipeline,⁶ many students have expressed that the cost and time needed to reach the 150 credit hours required for CPA licensure serves as a big obstacle; 52% of non-accounting students cited not being able to afford the 150-hour obligation as a reason for not choosing the profession. This concern was even higher among Black (62%) and Hispanic (69%) respondents.

"Our survey findings underscore the importance of creating alternate paths for students to become CPAs. A career in accounting can open the door for many opportunities. Organizations, academic institutions and professional associations can collaborate to demonstrate the benefits that a career in accounting provides and remove potential barriers to entry,” said Becky Burke, EY Americas Assurance Chief Operating Officer. “One of the ways we’re doing this is through the EY Career Path Accelerator, which offers an affordable alternative for students to meet the 150-credit hour requirement for CPA licensure eligibility.”

Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) launched the EY Career Path Accelerator in summer 2021 to help provide an alternative and more affordable path to the accounting profession. Since the program’s inception, over 500 current and former EY interns have enrolled. More than half of learners identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color, and about 65% have received more than $600,000 in need-based funding through the EY Foundation.

Students complete this program while pursuing their bachelor’s degree, or in the summer after graduating, and they become eligible to join EY US after completing four years of college. The EY Career Path Accelerator, which can be scaled to handle all CPA track candidates at EY US, also enables students to sit in any jurisdiction across the US.

Learn how we’re building a more equitable work world through our EY commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our 2022 DEI Report.

EY US Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report (2022 release). Find out more

Learn more about how EY people are building a better working world through our EY Ripples program

One EY goal is to positively impact 1 billion lives by 2030 through our EY Ripples program. Find out more in the EY Americas Corporate Responsibility FY22 Social Impact Report


The EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey data revealed that accounting and STEM students, along with senior executives, understand the lasting value that a career in accounting can offer. They also agreed on the necessity of improving the image of the profession to better convey the opportunities and benefits that come with pursuing a career in accounting. Furthermore, the data highlighted the perception gaps that exist amongst both groups and provided insights on how organizations can better align with workplace preferences of the next generation, ultimately positioning the accounting profession for future success.

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By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Related topics Assurance

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