Surviving the accounting busy season: an all-inclusive guide

The infamous peak seasons for accountants. You know, those times of the year when coffee becomes your best friend and the office practically turns into your second home. It’s no secret that during these seasons, workloads can get pretty intense: a whopping 39% of accounting employees clock in over 60 hours a week during crunch time, and 22% even surpass the 70-hour mark1. But why do these peak periods hit us like a ton of bricks every, single year?

Surviving the accounting busy season- an all-inclusive guide blog

Well, these key players have a big say in turning the tables: tax deadlines, ever-changing regulatory requirements and the ebb and flow of business activities. Let's break these down:

  • Tax filing deadlines: in the U.S, the deadline for individual tax returns is April 15, and in Australia, it is October 31, which means a huge influx of work for accountants and tax professionals leading up to that date. But businesses have different deadlines throughout the year, adding to the organizational headache. To give you an idea of the sheer volume, in Australia alone, 12.2 million individual tax returns were lodged at the halfway point of tax season2.
  • Regulatory compliance: keeping up with ever-changing regulations and compliance requirements is a never-ending task for accountants. From new tax laws to industry-specific guidelines, the demands on accounting firms to ensure their clients are compliant can spike during certain periods, like when new regulations go into effect or reporting deadlines approach.
  • Business activity cycles: many businesses, especially larger ones, operate on fiscal years that don't necessarily align with the calendar year. This means year-end financial reporting, audits and other accounting services are in high demand during specific periods. 

So, when all these factors are combined, it's easy to see why accountants find themselves swamped during certain times of the year. But don't worry, we'll cover some survival tips in this guide to help you (or your accounting departments) navigate these peak seasons like a pro.

When and how long is the accounting busy season?

If you're in the accounting game, you know all too well that the busy season isn't just a phrase: it’s a lifestyle, always on and almost always, stressful. But if we want to allocate important dates to what is referred to as peak season, it varies geographically - cue the violins for accountants having to submit both international and national tax returns. 

  • Australia: the Australian financial year ends on June 30, with individuals needing to file their tax returns by October 31. However, businesses and individuals employing the services of external accountants can often secure extensions, pushing their filing deadlines out further. This flexibility extends the busy season for accountants, who assist clients with both initial filings and extended submissions, spreading the workload from July well into the early months of the following year.
  • United Kingdom: in the UK, the fiscal year concludes on April 5, with a filing deadline for individual tax returns on January 31 of the following year. Businesses, particularly those with external accountants, can experience different deadlines based on their accounting period end dates. Accountants in the UK are thus on their toes not just during the initial rush post-fiscal year-end but also throughout the year, managing staggered deadlines and extended filings for diverse clients.
  • United States: the busy season traditionally spans from January to April, aligned with the April 15 tax filing deadline for individuals. Businesses have different deadlines; for example, C corporations must file by April 15, while S corporations and partnerships have a March 15 deadline. Extensions play a significant role here too. Individuals and businesses can request extensions, pushing their deadlines to October 15 and September 15, respectively. This means accountants often have not one, but two peaks during their busy season—initial filings and the subsequent wave of extended filings.

What are the top pressures felt by accountants during the busy season?

The busy season for accountants isn't just about long hours—it's a time when the heat is truly on. Professionals in the field face a slew of pressures that test their limits, shake up their work-life balance and demand an exceptional level of expertise and focus.

  1. The great exodus: as of January 1 2024, in the U.S, over 300,000 accountants and auditors had left their positions in the last two years3. This trend isn't isolated; Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand (CA ANZ) and CPA Australia had already highlighted a threefold increase in accounting job openings since 2020, with a notable 17% drop in the number of employed accountants and auditors since 20194. This decline spans across demographics, from retiring baby boomers to mid-career professionals and those new to the field.
  2. An aging workforce and declining new entrants: Compounding the challenge, around 75% of the CPA workforce reached retirement age in 2020(5). The pipeline of new talent is also dwindling; the number of CPA exam candidates fell from nearly 50,000 in 2010 to just over 32,000 in 20215
  3. Not enough hands on deck: 77% of accounting firms anticipate good or very good revenue growth in the next 12 months6. Yet, to maintain this growth, 41% of firms recognize the need for strategies focused on hiring and retaining employees. With 42.2% of firms turning away work and 24% experiencing burnout due to talent shortages6, the pressure on individual accountants to deliver in a resource-constrained environment is immense.
  4. Unrelenting workloads and burnout: if you take away one statistic from this blog, let it be this: 99% of accountants experience burnout during the busy season7. Burnout isn't merely about feeling tired—it's about reaching a point where the pressure significantly impacts one's mental and physical health, echoing the demanding nature of the season.
  5. The peril of errors and revisions: the busy season is synonymous with tight deadlines, but haste can lead to mistakes. 85% of accountants had to reopen their books at least once over the last year to rectify errors7. Even more concerning is that nearly half (49%) found themselves revisiting their books in three or more months of the year7

To mitigate these challenges, 24% of firms have resorted to outsourcing, a trend expected to rise8. While this approach can alleviate some immediate pressures, it underscores the broader issue of resource constraints and the need for innovative solutions in the industry.

How outsourced accounting teams help tackle busy season challenges

Offshoring accounting tasks has emerged as a strategic solution to the talent shortages that intensify during the busy season. This approach is a subset of outsourcing, where instead of hiring locally, firms employ talent from abroad, often tapping into countries known for their skilled accounting professionals, like the Philippines.

  • Access to a global talent pool: one of the standout benefits of offshoring is the access it provides to a global talent reservoir. Countries like the Philippines are renowned for their well-educated, CPA-qualified accountants who are adept in international standards and possess a wealth of expertise across various accounting domains. 
  • Cost efficiency in recruitment: firms can save up to 70% on employment expenses due to the lower cost of living in the countries where these services are based. Offshoring entities take the recruitment burden off the firms' shoulders, handling everything from sourcing to onboarding, which translates to significant savings in time and resources compared to traditional hiring.
  • Scalability at its finest: with a ready pool of qualified professionals, firms can quickly adjust their staffing levels to meet fluctuating demands, ensuring agility during peak periods without the lag or complexity of conventional hiring.
  • Guaranteed quality of talent: with stringent screening processes and access to vast talent networks, these providers ensure that the professionals they onboard are not only skilled and qualified but also align with the firm's culture and values. Continuous training and development initiatives further ensure that the offshore teams remain at the forefront of accounting excellence.
  • A solution to burnout: perhaps one of the most significant impacts of offshoring is its ability to mitigate burnout. By delegating routine and complex tasks to offshore teams, local staff are unburdened, enabling them to focus on strategic and client-centric activities. This redistribution of workload promotes a healthier work-life balance and prevents burnout. Offshore providers also emphasize employee well-being, creating an environment that supports job satisfaction and long-term engagement.

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What happens after tax season?

When the whirlwind of tax season finally settles, you might wonder, what do accountants do next? The period following tax season is not just a time for rest; it's an opportunity for strategic planning and optimization, especially in the context of offshoring.

Once the tax deadlines have passed, accountants don't simply hang up their calculators. They engage in various activities that set the stage for the next financial year. This includes reviewing processes, planning for the upcoming year and engaging in continuous professional development. It's also a time for reflection—to analyze what worked, what didn't and how to improve efficiency and client satisfaction moving forward.

Offshoring provides a backbone of continuous support that extends far beyond the tax season. It ensures that firms have access to dedicated resources year-round, aiding not just with extended tax periods but with a spectrum of accounting functions. This ongoing support helps firms stay on top of their game, regardless of the season, ensuring they're always prepared for whatever comes their way.

In the aftermath of tax season, offshoring plays a crucial role in helping firms deliver timely and accurate services. With the ability to scale support based on demand, firms can maintain their service quality, meeting client expectations consistently and efficiently, even as they transition out of the high-pressure tax season.

Offshoring's benefits shine brightly during the off-season. It allows firms to leverage their offshore teams for a variety of tasks, from administrative support to process improvements. This strategic deployment not only enhances efficiency but also frees up local staff to focus on strategic initiatives and client engagement, fostering a proactive rather than reactive work environment.

In essence, offshoring is not just a life raft for the stormy seas of tax season; it's a strategic vessel designed for the long voyage of business growth and success. By integrating offshore support, accounting firms can transform their post-tax season period into a productive, strategic phase, setting a solid foundation for continuous improvement and long-term prosperity.

Tips to get through busy season

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  1. Start with a comprehensive plan
    • Review the challenges and successes of the past busy seasons. Identify what strategies worked and where there were bottlenecks.
    • Define specific goals for the season, including deadlines, client deliverables and internal milestones.
    • Outline all critical tasks and deadlines. Ensure every team member knows their responsibilities and the overall timeline.
  2. Enhance communication
    • Schedule daily or weekly meetings to track progress, address concerns and adjust plans as necessary.
    • Establish clear communication channels and protocols. Ensure team members know how and when to share updates or seek help.
    • Keep clients informed about their accounting status and any required documents or information, reducing last-minute scrambles.
  3. Optimize your workflow
    • Utilize accounting software and tools to streamline processes, reduce manual errors and enhance efficiency.
    • Use a priority system to focus on urgent and important tasks, ensuring that critical deadlines are met without overlooking less immediate but still vital duties.
    • Assign tasks based on team members' strengths and capacities. Ensure that workloads are balanced and that no one is overwhelmed.
  4. Focus on team well-being
    • Keep an eye on team members' workloads to prevent burnout. Encourage breaks and time off where feasible.
    • Create a supportive atmosphere where team members feel comfortable seeking help or expressing concerns.
    • Promote a culture of self-care, emphasizing the importance of physical and mental health, especially during high-pressure periods.
  5. Prepare for the unexpected
    • Anticipate potential issues or delays and have backup plans in place.
    • Be prepared to reallocate resources swiftly if priorities shift or unexpected challenges arise.
  6. Seek continuous improvement
    • After the busy season, collect feedback from team members and clients to identify areas for improvement.
    • Encourage ongoing professional development to enhance skills and adapt to industry changes.
  7. Look offshore for support
    • Assess which tasks or functions could be effectively handled by an offshore team.
    • Select an offshoring provider with a strong track record in the accounting industry and the capability to meet your specific needs.
    • Develop a plan to integrate offshore support seamlessly into your operations, ensuring they complement your onshore team's efforts.