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I think this meme sums up 2020 pretty well. It has certainly been a year to remember—or forget, depending on your perspective.

When I discussed my departure from AICPA back in April/May, I said I’d stay through July 31 and start at Allinial Global on August 1. At the time, my AICPA team and others at AICPA were working incredibly hard to help members with government assistance programs and getting through all the legislation. I stated then that I thought by August 1, this pandemic would be well behind us and we could move on. I guess I was wrong. But I can reflect on both my time at AICPA and what I currently see in talking to firms around the globe.

Here’s my top five:

1. CPA/CA firms are the ultimate trusted advisors. As a profession, we’ve said for years that we need to be better advisors to our clients. Well, the pandemic has shown just how good we are. All over the world, small businesses reached out to their firm advisors asking for help. Government assistance took many forms around the world, and small businesses called their CPA/CA firms first, not only for help in government assistance but also in general business advice. “How will my business get through this?” was a popular question that came directly to their professionals. Firms need to continue to leverage this into the future.

2. There’s a disparity between the technology ‘have’ and ‘have not’ firms. There were firms who were very ready to have all employees work remotely. Then there were firms who weren’t. My experience has been that geographies prone to natural disasters seemed a little more prepared, as they’ve been through some level of shutdown before—never to this magnitude, but they knew how to adjust. The firms that weren’t prepared did get there in a hurry, but it was highly stressful. Technology preparedness is important.

3. The firm business model needs to change. Many firms still try to justify value as inputs and hours. Showing up to the firm’s office or a client’s office and having a person in a seat is value in the eyes of firms. Not so much anymore. As a profession, we run the risk of reverting back to our old selves when this is over. But I believe the way we work has changed for a very long time. People WILL work remotely more often. There will always be an underlying risk that we have to go 100% remote again. It’s time to move to pricing for value, and better yet, let clients subscribe to the firm (more on this in a future blog). Changing pricing can change staff accountabilities to results-oriented, not inputs, which will in turn change how we work with our teams and clients.

4. Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” is a quote that’s been attributed to Sir Winston Churchill during WWII, though not proven. But here we are looking forward to the days to come. The firms that have learned from the past eight months will take advantage of creating new client service lines like client accounting in the cloud, recruiting virtual employees, and possibly buying up firms who aren’t willing or able to pivot to this new normal. The time is now to take advantage of all these opportunities.

5. Mental health is important. My heart breaks when I hear the stories of some struggles during this time. Lockdown has not been healthy for everyone. We have to recognize that each individual is different and provide the support necessary, not only for success, but for good mental health as well. Blanket mandates of being in the office or not being in the office won’t help. It has to be a one-size-fits-one mentality. If you are a firm leader, or if you manage people, please check in more often than ever before. Hug your family, connect with your friends, and make sure we are all staying positive during this time. Some lives depend on it.

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