Posted in: Mark's Insights, Practice Management, Top Firm Challenges,

Happy New Year! Here’s hoping 2021 brings better days than we’ve seen in 2020. The pandemic has been a truly tragic event with many lives lost, and I can’t begin to thank the first responders around the world who worked tirelessly trying to save lives and keep people safe.

For the accounting profession, I’d have to say we were quite lucky overall. I am forever thankful for the extra time spent with family, as well as the focused time that allowed me to meet my new team at Allinial Global and to connect with just about every member firm within the association. This helped me get to know our members quickly, which I found to be an absolute delight.

During these conversations, we talked about the challenges firms were facing today and fears of the unknown in the future. Here’s how I’d describe the top three concerns, along with some recommendations.

1. The new normal. Regardless of how firms fared in 2020, conversations always seem to shift to what the “new normal” will look like. Many are thinking of the old way of doing things, with all employees in the office, all fieldwork at the client location, all networking meetings in live locations, etc. But here are some things to think about when it comes to the new normal:

Office. Firms would do well to consider a work-from-anywhere policy that allows for personal choice and professional judgment. Don’t get caught up in requirements or percentages for in- and out-of-office staff or mandating office hours vs. work-from-home hours. Firms that insist on getting all of their employees back into the office through mandates will lose the recruiting game on the other end.

Clients. Virtual audits will be part of the new normal, so dare to think differently about client interactions. Interestingly, clients may not perceive added value in having auditors on-site in their office. A CPA in industry once told me that she sent her auditors home after three days of fieldwork in the office when she realized that she had never seen anyone pass down the hall between the conference room and the accounting staff. Turns out the auditors were emailing her staff all their questions, which could’ve been done from anywhere.

Networking. I may end up missing this the most. While conferences, remote meetings, and networking dinners won’t be gone forever, they will take on different forms, at least in the short term. At Allinial Global, we’re working on finding the right balance of live and remote for 2021. It’ll take some trial and error, but I believe the hybrid model will help us reach even more people from our member firms. For those who prefer in-person events, I’d encourage you to keep an open mind as we try new approaches to networking. Even if things look different, we are still stronger together.

2. Technology. Technology continues to be top of mind. Technological advances are here to stay, and firms need to keep up. For some, the pandemic accelerated the inevitable. It highlighted firms’ remote access issues and also exposed the limitations in technology available to the profession.

In audit, for example, firms are wondering what their options are. With cloud being a major capability need, many are researching making the switch. In certain jurisdictions, you’ll find tax and ERP software intermingling. In the longer term, there will be opportunity for APIs to find better solutions to ERP and focus on making the bridge for more simplistic filing using some type of XBRL format.

Another place where we see technology’s impact is outsourced accounting. During the pandemic, firms that offered a pure outsourced accounting model using cloud technology stacks found that they were busier than ever, getting calls from clients who hadn’t yet made the switch. This created a “haves and have nots” situation for firms that have transformed their client accounting services into the new way of doing business. These firms go well beyond basic bookkeeping services, providing clients with strategic guidance that saves time, creates new efficiencies, and frees clients to focus on reaching their goals.

Fortunately, there is still time to transform your approach to client accounting services. Starting late may put you behind the movement, but making the switch will offer plenty of opportunities for growth and profitability. No matter where your firm is with this process, I recommend getting involved in the Allinial Global CAS/Outsourced Accounting Community of Practice. We have some big plans for this growing community in 2021 and look forward to supporting our members in this critical growth area.

3. Resources. Whether the concern is human resource limitations or how to handle resources like excess space and capacity, your firm should have a clear plan to address resource-related challenges, including:

Human resource issues. Firms need to make sure they have enough people to get their work done. Likewise, those who are looking to expand need enough people to staff up the growth and expansion of services. Fortunately, there are more answers than ever to this dilemma. Now, recruiting can happen all over the world! Virtual work means unlimited access to talent, but it also means having the right procedures in place to support virtual employees.

Resourcing work. We are in an interesting time—many of the things we’re doing today could or will be replaced by technology. So, do we invest in human talent knowing that it could ultimately be automated? The answer is in outsourcing. Just about all services provided by firms can be outsourced, and I’ve had many conversations with firms about outsourcing to cover the short term. Don’t let human resource constraints prevent good growth.

Physical resources. What will your office space look like by the end of your next lease term? If you are thinking of reducing your physical footprint, consider your options for reinvesting space resources. Shifting things around can create new opportunities for technology and other future items necessary for growth.

These seem to be the top concerns for firms as of right now. When thinking about difficulties, it helps to remember that any great challenge comes with an immense amount of opportunity. In the words of Sun Tzu, “Victory comes from finding opportunities in problems.” Cheers to turning the challenges of 2021 into new opportunities and victories!


      
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Posted in: Learning & Development, Mark's Insights, Practice Management,
I’ve had the honor of getting to know many, many firms over the last 15 years. Throughout my travels at AICPA and now as I speak to Allinial Global firms, I’ve continued to hear the need for greater business acumen skills from newer professionals.

But what is business acumen and how do you train for it?

Of course, to find the meaning I relied on my massive research skills—I Googled it.

Here’s what I found:

Business acumen is keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a "business situation" in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome. Additionally, business acumen has emerged as a vehicle for improving financial performance and leadership development. Wikipedia

I know what you're thinking: Wikipedia isn't always a reliable source, and you keep warning your team not to use it. But it worked here, and from what I can gather, many agree with this definition.

I’ve also spent significant time talking to firms about the future of the profession. In those discussions, I have often cited the Future of Jobs Survey from the World Economic Forum. According to the latest survey, the top five skills needed for 2025 are:

1. Analytical thinking and innovation
2. Active learning and learning strategies
3. Complex problem-solving
4. Critical thinking and analysis
5. Creativity, originality, and initiative

I believe that all of these skills intertwine to make up this idea of business acumen. But how do we solve for it? I did some research, and I could only confirm what our great L&D team at Allinial Global had already found out. One of the foremost experts is Kevin Cope, founder of Acumen Learning. He wrote a book titled Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company. I highly recommend the book for you and your clients.

Our L&D team had already started working on a program with Acumen Learning before I could even recommend the organization. One thing the L&D team discovered in talking to members and researching the topic is that business acumen training cannot be a generalist-type course. It will be specific to particular industries. But the L&D team also recognized that finance professionals have very different skills than, say, the sales team in an organization. So they worked with Acumen Learning to tailor the program to the needs of Allinial Global members.

Their plan is to offer business acumen learning to our Communities of Practice (CoPs), specifically to those employees who’ve recently joined a member firm and are just starting to learn about the industries and clients their firm serves. We are in the process of scheduling a course for the Manufacturing and Distribution CoP in mid-January or early May. The course will include two four-hour sessions focused on helping attendees understand the following:

How their clients make money
The challenges their clients are facing today
How to create value for clients

Our intention is to expand the business acumen training offering to other CoPs based on participant feedback. I’m excited about this new offering and think it will go a long way toward helping our member firms equip their younger professionals with the skills they need to succeed and better serve their clients.

If you are interested in learning more about the business acumen course, please reach out to our VP of Learning and Development, Kimberly Bates McCarl, at kbatesmccarl@allinialglobal.com.

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Posted in: AG Events, Mark's Insights, Practice Management,

Meet Mark...Borg?

                Meet Mark...Borg??

From October 26-28, 2020, Allinial Global hosted its first-ever virtual Summit, welcoming a total of 255 attendees for three half days of interactive online sessions. We had a great time getting together to explore our theme of Focus on the Future, and I’m confident that we’ve all gained some valuable insights about where we are headed as firms and as a profession.

Attendance was up by over 30% this year, and with four concurrent tracks (A&A, Advisory, Firm Management, and Tax), there were lots of exciting things happening each day. Whether you were able to attend or not, I thought it would be helpful to highlight some broad themes from Summit 2020.

Below are my top five takeaways.

1. Strategic transformation. No matter which track you attended, you probably heard one message loud and clear: the future is here, and firms need a clear strategic vision to survive and thrive. When we think of change management and future readiness, we typically turn to tools, training, and technology. But no matter what change we are facing, we need to think carefully about the business strategy behind that change. The goal isn’t simply to dump our legacy systems into new technology or formats—it’s to build and execute a deliberate strategy for the future. Our Summit speakers provided some fantastic takeaways about what this looks like in practice.

2. The role of virtual. Hosting Summit virtually taught us that virtual can work, but it can never replace live, in-person events. Most of us would have preferred to gather in person in Vegas, but it was helpful to have this opportunity to learn how to navigate a new format and clarify the role of virtual in a post-pandemic world. While virtual can’t compete with the value of in-person connections (unless we all become Borgs), it can enhance and broaden reach. I think we are walking away from Summit 2020 with some great insights about how live and virtual can come together next year. Summit 2021 will be even bigger and better because of this year’s experience.

3. Relationships and trust. In a time when people are feeling increasingly disconnected, relationships are more important than ever. They are central to everything we do, whether it’s how we show up for clients during the pandemic or how we manage our teams virtually. And as our speakers reminded us, relationships do look different in a virtual world. While it can be more challenging to communicate clearly and maintain trust from a distance, Summit 2020 was packed with practical tips about how you can develop critical virtual skill sets that enhance connection and engagement during these difficult times.

4. Leading the charge. As I mentioned in my opening session, now is the time for CEOs and firm management teams to take charge and drive transformation. It takes a coordinated effort to get exceptional results—and leading that charge isn’t easy. We hear you. In our Summit evaluations, some managing partners said that there were certain presentations they wished they could have shared with their entire partner group. We have been uploading session recordings into Pathable so that you can share the presentations you found to be most helpful with your teams. This is a great place to start if you’re interested in sparking discussion and getting your team on the same page.

5. Common concerns. With the highest attendance and ratings in sessions dedicated to the CARES Act/PPP, SALT, international tax, M&A, and firm management, it’s safe to say that many of our firms are facing similar concerns. In that respect, Allinial Global members are a tremendous resource for each other. In this year’s Firm Management Roundtable, for example, we had some great discussion about what remote work looks like for each firm and how leadership teams are managing people they can’t see. I’m proud to see our members realizing that they can’t just wait for things to “go back to normal” if they want to attract the best and brightest talent. They are embracing “the New Normal” now by putting processes in place to prepare for a future where flex work and hybrid office and work-from-home schedules will likely become the norm.

I look forward to navigating this future together with our member firms. Together we will ALL come out stronger than before.




Posted in: AG Leadership Program, Mark's Insights,

Welcome to the Allinial Global blog series! We thought it would be fitting to celebrate the start of this new venture by highlighting another important new beginning—the arrival of President and CEO Mark Koziel. In our first installment, Mark shares what he’s learned from his first 60 days at Allinial Global.

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It’s hard to believe I’ve already been with Allinial Global for 60 days! I spent my first few weeks getting to know the team and the systems within Allinial Global. I also took some time to introduce myself to the regional boards and answer questions before turning my attention to the member firms.

One goal I committed to in my first year was to reach out to EVERY firm for an open dialogue. Through these conversations, I am learning about the firms themselves and their relationship with Allinial Global—both what they like and what they feel we could improve upon. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far.

1. Allinial Global has really great firms. I can’t begin to tell you how great our firms are, in all regions. I’m impressed with the collegial atmosphere among members and the fact that our firms are all interested in each other’s success. There’s no doubt that many (probably all) firms really miss getting together live. Although we’ve supplemented with virtual events, there’s a strong desire to get back together in person. I hear you. I can’t wait either.

2. While the pandemic created new challenges, there’s been opportunity as well. Since the pandemic has me grounded, I’ve been lucky to meet with firms virtually, which allows me to meet more members sooner. And firms themselves are finding ways to create opportunities with each other. It may not be cross-border commerce during this time, but firms are supporting one other through regular virtual meetings and discussions about what they are doing to socially distance, open up, interact with clients, perform audits virtually, etc. Yes, commerce is important to the ROI of belonging to an association, but the ability for firm leaders to build relationships and get together quickly to help each other is priceless.

3. Being independent and knowing you can openly share with others is a differentiator. I can’t tell you the number of firms who have told me that this is a big value proposition of being in an independent association versus a network or a large firm-run alliance. I’ve had members who have worked for firms in large global networks talk about how impersonal the live meetings become and the fact that no one is as willing to share openly for fear that it could get to others. It’s much the same with large firm alliances where there could be confusion as to whether the firm is independent of that large firm or has to “depend” on it. At Allinial Global, we are locally independent and globally strong.

4. Firm size and geography will determine the need for resources. Not all firms are created equal. Therefore, not all resources delivered by Allinial Global will relate to all firms—though I will say that there’s plenty for everyone at various stages. The smaller the firm, the more need for ALL resources. But firms of all sizes in all regions can benefit from participation in Communities of Practice and other Allinial Global learning opportunities. We do have some work to do in building better. While feedback thus far has been generally positive, there is still room to improve, and we’ll be working on that over the next year.

5. The Allinial Global Leadership Program is second to none. It’s been amazing to see the number of comments about the leadership program. This is where networking began for many, and it created relationships that are lasting a lifetime.

6. It’s all about technology. As I speak to firms about needs, technology comes up constantly. What’s fascinating is how common the technology need is around the globe. The solutions may not all be the exact same provider, but the need and the use are generally similar. We’re working hard to understand who the top players are in each region and how best to curate technology to help member firms make informed decisions. I’ve been amazed at how tech savvy some of our firms already are. They are helping to lead the way and support the other firms as well.

7. Commerce is a verb, not a noun. While the dictionary may claim that commerce is a noun, it’s important to remember that commerce requires action and socialization. Those firms who have invested effort in socializing and getting to know their friends inside of Allinial Global have benefitted the most in referrals and commerce. More commerce happens than we even know about. That’s great! We are working on ways to capture that commerce to better understand how much is really out there. We are also working on guidance for firms to help them understand what good commerce can look like, along with tips on the best ways to engage in it.

Of course, there have been several other lessons learned, but these are the ones that stuck out the most to me. At this 60-day mark, I’m about a third of the way through meeting every firm, and I look forward to connecting with the rest of you and learning more. I’m so lucky to get to know and work with such a great group of firms. Your success is our success, and I can see many ways for us to grow together.

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We look forward to continuing this blog series with a new post every other week. We’ll see you again in two Wednesdays!

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