insight magazine

The Real ROI of Accounting and Finance Interns

From talent acquisition to culture change, workload reduction to professional development, the business benefits of an internship program reach far beyond recruiting alone. By Steve Jordan, CPA | Digital Exclusive - 2019


More companies and firms are doing it. You have thought about it. Maybe it has even been a recent meeting topic. But is it the right move? Are there business benefits to your organization? Is it even worth the effort? I’m talking about bringing in an accounting intern, and my answer to those questions is a resounding “Yes!”

In today’s competitive business world and tight labor market, developing talent is the name of the game. If you think you can wait to “lure” top talent away from other organizations when you need it, you are likely going to come up without a catch. But if you had been administering a proper internship program, you would had been grooming your own top talent pool to tap into when needed all along.

But providing a boost to your talent pipeline is just one of the many benefits your organization can realize by implementing an internship program. Below are 10 more benefits I think you should factor in when weighing whether to bring in an accounting intern:

#1: Interns Can Reduce Busy Season Demands

Your organization certainly has seasons that are busier than others. Instead of overloading your professional staff during those times or looking to temp agencies for quick fixes, you could strategically schedule your internship program around busy season needs.

This will not only help your organization transition through its busy time, but it will also keep your intern busy and learning the real demands of your industry. Many organizations hesitate to bring in an intern during busy periods because they are afraid the intern won’t be able to keep up or because there’s little time to train the intern on appropriate work. I contend that structuring the timing of your intern’s service strategically will provide a benefit to both parties.

#2: Interns Are Highly Motivated

The students and young professionals that take internships seriously are looking at them as auditions for full-time employment. They realize that this is an opportunity to get their foot in the door at an organization that can lead them to a long-term relationship and success. That said, you should expect that you are going to get their best effort during the time they are with your organization. This is an excellent chance to fully evaluate their potential with your company.

And, even if they may not feel like your company is the right fit for them long term, they are building their resumes for future opportunities. If they are smart, they are going to realize that future potential employers may be calling on you down the road to see how their performance was during this internship.

#3: Interns Offer Diverse Perspectives

Millennials and Gen Zers simply “think” differently. If your organization is made up of professionals mostly of the same demographics, interns could bring some much-needed diversity of culture, thought, and energy to your team. If you are afraid that they will challenge the “way we have always done it” mentality, get over it. This alone may be the biggest impact an intern could bring to your organization.

Bringing in an intern will also force you to formalize many procedures and policies that you have likely been putting off. Training an intern will open your eyes to your corporate culture and procedures and give you a chance to take a fresh look at how you are doing things.

#4: Interns Can Teach You Tech

Today’s college students have grown up with technology and data literally always at their fingertips. They are digital natives and know how to analyze data effectively and efficiently. You may be surprised at some of the questions they may ask or solutions they may propose. Who knows, they may even solve a problem that you didn’t even realize you had!

For example, have you thought about the ways social media, digital marketing, data mining, and virtual communications could benefit your business? I bet they have! And they can teach you to speak this language and capitalize on technology that you may have been ignoring.

#5: Interns Are Cheap(ish) Labor

Unpaid internships are few and far between these days, especially in the accounting and finance profession. The demand for up-and-coming accounting and finance talent is forcing an hourly rate higher than what you would probably pay a full-time bookkeeper; however, by not having to pay benefits of full-time employment, you still may be getting a lot more than you bargain for. When you factor in the true cost of employment, I think that you will find that an intern is a very economical way to get the extra help you need.

#6: Internships Are Low Risk

Hiring an intern is a great way to “test-drive” talent on a short-term basis with minimal risk. Going into it, both parties realize that there is no promise of future full-time employment. So, if you have an intern that performs below your expectations, you simply thank them for their service at the end of the program and send them on their way.

Conversely, if they prove to be an asset, you will likely be in the front of the line when it comes time for them to find full-time employment — and you’ve already been grooming them to succeed in your organization.

#7: Interns Are Free Advertising

If things go well, this young person will talk about your company in their community, with their family and friends, and when they are back on campus. Campuses especially are viral environments. Word spreads fast, so if you impress this intern, your company may be talked about in places that you never thought about, which serves as a means for future business development and talent acquisition.

#8: Interns Expand Your Relationships

Sticking with the campus theme, an internship program is a great way to establish a relationship with a local college or university. These institutions love to publicize the number of internships their students are participating in, and if you can add your name to that list, you are building a relationship that you can tap into in the future when more opportunities or needs present themselves.

#9: Interns Can Relieve Workloads

Hiring an intern could free up your top talent from side projects and administrative tasks, which then could allow them to focus on more creative, strategic, and profitable engagements. Just think about all the tasks that your people have been simply “putting off.” By assigning some of these tasks to an intern, they will not only get done, but your professional staff will feel a lot better about spending their time trying to solve bigger problems that they had little or no time to tackle before.

#10: Interns Provide Professional Development

Every intern you bring in will need training, guidance, and mentoring to succeed and bring value. Meaning, interns provide an excellent management development opportunity for your staff. Pairing interns with rising talent in your firm can help accelerate the leadership and people management qualities of your future managers and executives, which will ultimately serve them — and your organization — well as they advance. After all, good leaders are integral to retention, succession, and overall business success.

As you can see, the benefits of having an intern are many while the risks are minimal. The potential for great returns with minimal risk is a dream for any investor, as it should be for your organization. If your organization wants to truly invest in its people, it needs to invest in an internship program.
Illinois CPA Society member Steve Jordan, CPA, is a senior manager in Wipfli’s Rockford, Ill. office. He serves the manufacturing, construction, government, and employee benefit industries while contributing to the firm’s internal training and development team.

Leave a comment