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I recently had the pleasure of attending a CAAS workshop for Allinial Global member firms. There were 12 firms represented, all at various stages of their CAAS journey. To understand the learning and the opportunities the future holds, it helps to start with the question, ‘What is CAAS?’  

Well, let’s begin with what it isn’t. CAAS is not recording checks written out of five different checkbooks so the client can capture the transactions. It is not transactional bookkeeping or monthly write-ups. Instead, it is a connected and holistic approach that creates consistent processes, cash controls, consolidated financials, multi-entity reporting, full financial visibility, and connections between all cloud-based systems.  

When we refer to CAAS, we mean Client Accounting and Advisory Services. We mean performing the transactional accounting in house so that we have the data to provide those advisory services that business leaders so desperately need. 

The Client Advisory Services (CAS*) Roadmap Workshop 

*Please note that while Allinial Global prefers the acronym CAAS with two As, CPA.com and other organizations use CAS with just one A. The two are used interchangeably in this blog post.

CPA.com’s Amy Bridges and Cherry Bekaert’s Dixie McCurley led this hands-on workshop, allowing our members to assess where they are on the CAAS journey and how to move forward. The workshop was a discovery and planning session. Where are you on your CAAS journey? Where do you want to go? Let’s develop a plan to get there.  

The workshop provided several opportunities to stop and reflect and note potential action steps, all in preparation for the final session where the attendees wrote out their CAAS roadmaps. Facilitators also allowed time for some role play, which helped attendees learn to articulate the value and potential that a robust CAAS practice can provide. 

Attendees are walking away with a documented roadmap of next steps for their CAAS practice. Next steps will vary depending on where you are in the journey, but here are some things you can do to use this momentum to propel your firm forward. 

A successful CAAS practice (which Mark Koziel has outlined in Part 1 and Part 2 of a previous post) requires new and different thinking. I’ve heard Tom Hood say many times before, “First, we have to unlearn. Then, we can relearn.” For CAAS to be successful, we will have to staff differently. We will have to price differently. We will have to work differently. We will have to proceed with open minds and creative ideas. 

CAAS is a huge opportunity for CPA firms to show their clients real, meaningful insights above and beyond what has been done before. It’s an opportunity for our emerging leaders to take ownership of this practice and demonstrate their leadership skills. It’s an opportunity to attract some diverse talent that is really looking to make a difference in the lives of our clients. Let’s seize the opportunity!

According to Erik Asgeirsson, CEO at CPA.com, “CAS is still in the early stages. Maybe in the second or third inning, with still a lot of opportunity to advance.” It’s okay if you are new at this. The most important thing is having the courage to start. Start somewhere. Start now.  Allinial Global will be here to support you each step of the way. Be independent, but don’t go it alone. 

 

 

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Last week I spent the better part of two days attending our APAC region’s virtual conference. I was honored to kick off and close the sessions, and in between I was amazed at the quality of the presentations.

Technology futurist Ian Khan led the first day, confirming many of the discussions we’re having with member firms about the future and working with clients in the current environment. Then a variety of member-driven sessions complemented Ian’s message, highlighting ways we can work together and capitalize on new opportunities.

The overall theme of the conference was Re-Imagine, Re-Position, and Re-Create, and I really enjoyed the focus on turning ideas into real action. There were many actionable moments for members to get involved in new communities that leverage the talents of various firms and focus on generating more work for everyone.

Below are my top three takeaways from this year’s event.

1. The talent war is everywhere. Throughout the conference there was discussion of finding and attracting talent, including how to compete with the Big Four and what we do at the university level. As the pandemic continues, firms are also grappling with new ways of engaging. In a recent McKinsey study, over 50 percent of respondents stated that they’d like to work from home at least three days per week. These preferences have huge implications not only for office culture but also for the ways we recruit new talent. The way we work is changing, and firms need to address those changes proactively to secure the talent they need to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Similarly, all organizations should be discussing resilience and mental health. Even the strongest firms have team members who live alone or feel stressed, burned out, and unsure of what the future will bring. While this issue is universal across all countries, McKinsey’s recent survey indicated that organizations with clearer communication are seeing positive impacts on employee well-being and productivity. Taking time to clearly articulate policies and communicate about the future can do a world of good for the well-being of your staff.

2. Opportunities abound. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Allinial Global members are honing in on a variety of new opportunities. In his presentation, Craig Stanmore of Enspira Financial discussed many of the areas of service where member firms can assist one another, while Mike Burfield from Bentley’s highlighted biotech opportunities in Australia.

It’s encouraging to see our member firms continuing to look for ways to work together—that’s what’s so important in the relationships built at Allinial Global. Stay tuned for future opportunities where we’ll drive additional regional connections for client accounting and advisory, forensics, transfer pricing, and cyber.

3. The firm of 2019 will NOT be the firm of 2022. We’ve been in a two-year pause. I feel like I’ve been talking about change management consistently the last five. Craig Stanmore referred to a few of my presentations during his session, highlighting how I constantly discuss the 3 Ps of a firm: Process, Product, and People. He then said he wanted to add a fourth: Pandemic. That’s very appropriate. Over the last year I’ve been saying that the firms who have stayed on top of their 3 Ps have managed through the pandemic very well, while those who haven’t kept up on technology are still providing manual compliance services and struggling to figure out work-from-home strategies. But the reality is, all firms have had to manage through the pandemic.

Even as we plan for the future, some firms have partners talking about going back to the old ways. The old ways are gone. Working from home and integrated hybrid relationships are here to stay. Those firms who embrace that change will thrive. Those who fight it will struggle. The pandemic has taught us a ton, and we need to turn those lessons into opportunities.

The two days of sessions at the Asia Pacific Regional Conference were really energizing! I’m excited to be here and proud to say I’m part of Allinial Global. Many thanks to the AG staff and APAC volunteers who made the conference a wonderful experience.

Next up is our first hybrid event—the Executive Team Conference—where we will continue these timely and important discussions. Hope to see you all there, whether in person or online.


      
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Over the past few months I’ve had several opportunities to think about ways to help firms increase their capabilities in services. One of the great many benefits of belonging to an association is having fellow members who do things your firm doesn’t and vice versa. I continue to worry about firms that say they lost a client who “outgrew” the firm or simply found other options.

Any time another firm is providing a service to your client outside of the Allinial Global family, you face the risk of losing the client. Below is a list of some service opportunities that could potentially result in such a loss.

Service Opportunity

Current Service at Risk

Wealth management

Tax planning and compliance

Sales (indirect) and local tax (SALT)

Tax planning and compliance

Financial planning

Tax planning and compliance

Forensics

Audit, review, client accounting

Valuation

All business services

Cyber assurance and/or advisory

Audit

IT assurance

Audit

Business/management advisory

Client accounting and tax services


This list is by no means exhaustive; it is meant to get you thinking about what you could lose by not offering the additional services your clients need. And it’s not only other accounting firms that pose a risk—take wealth management for example. There are wealth management firms offering tax as part of their services today because they understand the value of owning the entire client relationship. And now there’s news that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has backed a client accounting start-up company that is already seeing valuations far higher than accounting firms. I can guarantee you’ll see automation as a big part of that offering—and a revenue model that will not be built on hours times rate. Getting the client’s attention is critical.

Knowing what is at stake, we are committed to helping member firms strategize and scale up for new service opportunities. In the coming months, you’ll be seeing some exciting news about technology partnerships, service-focused workshops, and roadshows highlighting the capabilities within Allinial Global member firms, as well as additional programs that help firms take it to the next level by providing that service themselves.

Adding a new service can be a complex process, and Allinial Global wants to support members at various stages of these decisions. A great example of this support is our SALT webinar series starting on May 6. This four-part series is focused on the work relating to SALT, helping firms identify opportunities and decide how they want to support the service. Led by experienced panelists from Allinial Global member firms, these webinars will provide valuable opportunities to ask questions and learn directly from firms who excel in state and local tax.

We are also creating ways for members to simply refer the work entirely to an Allinial Global firm, as well as opportunities to get into doing compliance with a strategic partnership, as you’ll see with Avalara, coming soon. These options allow the firm to remain in charge of the client relationship while outsourcing bigger advisory to another Allinial Global firm. And of course, you can always work with a current member to advance your capabilities so you can go it alone in the future. The option is entirely yours.

We look forward to building out a variety of programs and support so that we have firms covered as new services are added to the mix. For now, if you’re wondering whether an Allinial Global firm offers a particular service, reach out to me and I’ll be glad to walk you through that decision and how to structure the engagement. We’ll continue to highlight various services individually in future blog posts, so stay tuned for more to come.


      
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In preparation for our May Executive Team Conference (ETC), I connected with my good friend, Michelle River with Fore LLC. Michelle is presenting on Advanced Pricing Methods®, plus a bonus session as a panelist with Brian Blaha of Wipfli LLP and Dave Stonesifer of Herbein + Company, Inc. This panel discussion is on why pricing differently can be a good first step toward changing your business model. Of course, the real first step is to realize you need to change your business model. Fortunately, there’ll be plenty of other sessions that will address that topic as well.

As Michelle and I were discussing the questions to ask, and the ultimate results we were looking for, it brought me back to the many conversations I had with member firms when I first joined Allinial Global. At the time, I invited every member firm to meet with me one-on-one so I could learn more about their business and see how we could help. One area that kept coming up was Client Accounting & Advisory Services (CAAS), and the inability to grow because of challenges finding and attracting staff to that group. But you should not allow human capital to inhibit growth. We have plenty of solutions to help with this problem, and we’re currently talking to Botkeeper, in addition to other companies that produce automation tools. There’s also a huge opportunity to outsource services to any of our member firms that provide outsourcing in India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and other markets.

This is where I think Michelle’s theory about fixing pricing holds true. Part of the issue with using non-humans to provide client solutions is how to get paid for it. We’ve believed for so long that hourly rates have some sense of value, but I don’t believe the inputs were ever the true value to the client. I don’t believe the client cares if the work is done by a local human, a human on the other side of the world, or even a bot. The client just wants to know that you, as the service provider, will make sure the work is done on time and correctly.

Pricing strategies of today are taking on different names: pricing in advance, value pricing, and subscription pricing. All are very relevant, and many member firms believe they’ve already tackled the issue of pricing in this way. But they haven’t. They’ll provide a fixed price when they have to, but then when pricing gets difficult, or the client appears to have an open checkbook, many firms revert back to the old ways. There’s never really been a firmwide strategy that says they’re going to price differently to fix all of their other issues.

I can’t wait for this session. Please register for the 2021 Executive Team Conference on May 16 if you haven’t done so yet.  You may want to have several join in for this session alone. If you’re not an Allinial Global member firm and you’d like to see this session, let me know and we can try to make that happen.


      
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It’s almost April. Is it too late to make marketing trend predictions? Not if these trends will likely transform into timeless “traditions.”

How do I know which marketing trends are here to stay? Great question. I listen to accounting marketers while I host our monthly marketing community calls, networking events, and webinars. I follow our members on social media. Every day I receive a variety of questions from members all over the globe. Last but not least, I conduct regular member surveys on marketing topics such as budget, CRM, advertising, and websites. In other words, as a person who is deeply invested in the success of Allinial Global marketers, I’m in a unique position to see patterns forming before they make headlines.

Based on both qualitative and quantitative data gathered over the years, here are three accounting marketing trends that I expect to continue into 2022 and beyond.

  1. Leaning into Advertising. When I published our State of Advertising Benchmarking Survey two years ago, there were still quite a few firms who hadn’t considered advertising to be part of the marketing toolbox. Today, the majority of our member firms are onboard with advertising in various channels – mostly digital but some traditional media as well, depending on location and industry specialization. Advertising could easily be a topic for its own series, so I won’t let it hijack this blog post. But before I move on, I would like to make one recommendation: don’t forget about Facebook. LinkedIn is an obvious choice for accounting firms; it makes reaching your target audience easy, even if you have zero advertising experience. However, LinkedIn’s advertising cost is a lot higher. Moreover, having a LinkedIn account does not necessarily mean your target audience will be active on the platform. Depending on your service line or industry specialization, Facebook may be an excellent choice for your next awareness campaign.
  2. Prioritizing Client Experience. Every year, I notice more and more firms investing in client experience. Often, this means collaborating with companies such as ClearlyRated and Delighted to gather feedback from clients and identify a firm’s Net Promoter Score (NPS). The results are used not only to improve client experience but also to promote the firm’s brand, with client testimonials repurposed as content for the firm website, proposals, social media, and so on. We publicize the winners of “Best of Accounting” from Inavero each year, and I predict that the list of winners who are Allinial Global members will grow each year.
  3. The Rise of Employee Advocacy Software. Back in 2017 I was introduced to Clearview Social, a relatively new type of employee advocacy software that allows employees to share firm/company content with their own personal connections to amplify reach. Because Clearview’s founder was a lawyer by training, Clearview did well initially with law firms. But they quickly found that the accounting industry was a viable adjacent market, and the adoption of Clearview Social among accounting firms has grown steadily. As of today I know three Allinial Global member firms who have adopted Clearview Social, and there are more who are considering it. With so many Allinial Global members investing heavily in content marketing and looking to improve their content distribution, employee advocacy software is a worthy consideration for the marketing tech stack. In fact, I will be researching Clearview’s competitors for an upcoming blog in July entitled “Redefining Social Media Excellence.”

It was difficult to narrow down the trends to just three, but there they are. It’s fun to open myself to opportunities to be wrong publicly, but to err is human; to predict is to invite discussion.

What are your predictions for 2021 and beyond?

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Over the last few months I’ve had several conversations with members, nonmembers, and community members about the current state of live events. When it came time to discuss our Executive Team Conference (ETC), there were lots of opinions on what we should do.

When we finally made the decision to continue with both a live and virtual option, there were, of course, a variety of reactions. I received emails and calls saying, “Thank you for keeping this event live!” Then I heard from others that said, “How dare you force us to meet live?!”

We didn’t take this decision lightly, and we don’t expect to see the same level of live attendance that we’re accustomed to, but we thought it was important to offer an option that addressed the complexity of the pandemic. Some firms said they could attend in person and would prefer to be at a live event. Other firms have said no travel for any of their team through a particular date, which prevents them from attending live. Some are living in locations that still restrict travel, or they may have team members who don’t feel safe traveling just yet. We respect all of that, and we are working hard to make this hybrid event the best possible experience for all.

With that in mind, I thought this would be a good time to address some of the steps we’re taking to make the Executive Team Conference a successful hybrid event.

1. An engaging virtual experience. To address the issue of live versus virtual attendance, I have charged the team with ensuring that virtual attendees feel well connected to the event. Even if you’ve attended a virtual event with us before, we’ll be doing things a bit differently. For example, we acquired a video camera that can follow a live speaker, which we’ll place in the front row at the event (who sits in the front row anyway?). In that seat, we will have a cardboard picture of an attendee to remind speakers that they have a bigger audience. As a virtual attendee, you’ll be sitting front and center without fear of being called upon by the speaker.

2. Equal opportunities to engage and interact. The roundtable sessions taking place during the live event will be replicated in the virtual event as well. While it won’t be the exact same experience, virtual roundtables still provide a great opportunity to network and learn with your peers. The topics this year will be well pointed at the top issues facing firms today. And while most of our speakers are live, some are virtual, making the experience the same for all.

3. Clear guidelines for safety. For live attendees, we have established safety protocols based on CDC guidelines (available on our Global Events page), which we plan to follow now and into the near future. ETC is being held at the Belmond Charleston Place in South Carolina, and while South Carolina does not currently have a mask mandate, the hotel does. To me, this is not political; it’s about giving our members the safest environment possible for live events. Allinial Global members who would like to know more can log in to our member website to access full details on all of the safety protocols in place. We have implemented six-foot distancing, daily health check-ins via an app, temperature checks before entering meeting rooms, and a variety of other precautions. We are taking safety very seriously.

I know that many of the leaders of our firms are facing similar challenges with opening offices, allowing for larger team meetings, and handling client travel. A few of our member firms have reached out to us to see what we’ve put in place as they try to figure it out for local team meetings as well. We are happy to share our protocols. I don’t know if we have it perfect, but I do know we’re not going to stop trying until we do. We want to serve both live and remote participants in as similar a way as possible, keeping everyone safe and offering the best possible experience we can.

Whether your situation allows for in-person or virtual attendance, we hope to see you at ETC.


      
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On November 20, 2020, member firm Bober Markey Fedorovich (BMF) became the first Allinial Global firm to migrate to the new .cpa domain. Soon after BMF, member firm Hantzmon Wiebel also migrated to .cpa.

What is a .cpa domain, and why would you want to change your firm’s website from .com to .cpa, you ask? Available only to licensed CPAs and CPA firms, .cpa is a new and exclusive domain from the AICPA. Its primary benefits include:

1. Trust: As a restricted top-level domain (TLD) for licensed CPAs and CPA firms, .cpa builds trust and credibility with both existing and prospective clients. Have you noticed the blue check marks on Twitter and Instagram influencers’ profiles? They signify profiles that have been vetted and verified; in other words, their owners are who they say they are. Think of .cpa as a blue check mark. Whenever a website visitor sees the .cpa domain or clients receive an email from a .cpa email address, they can rest assured that they are interacting with a legitimate site and email – not a cybercriminal posing as your firm or professional.

2. Cybersecurity: Online fraud and cybercrime are on the rise, and firms need to have a comprehensive plan to protect their online brands. Firms with .cpa domains benefit from an additional layer of protection; because every .cpa domain holder goes through a verification process, the online identities of firms with a .cpa domain are harder to spoof. Registry service providers for the .cpa TLD also perform a base level of monitoring on all .cpa domains to detect phishing, malware, and other cyber threats. With these added benefits, client and firm data are more secure from phishing attacks and security threats.

3. Brand positioning: .cpa domains allow firms to secure their most preferred names. Many firms are also securing multiple domain names, which allows them to choose how to position their brand in the marketplace. These names can call attention to a firm’s practice area focus (taxes.cpa), a niche industry or vertical focus (healthcare.cpa), or even a geographic focus (boston.cpa). From a marketing perspective, this strategy serves firms well in organic search, as their websites may be found online more quickly than their peers.

One question that many marketers have asked is how the migration to .cpa will impact SEO. There could be a temporary dip (emphasis on temporary) in a firm’s SEO ranking – depending on how long your firm has invested in SEO. But I don’t view this as a dealbreaker unless a significant portion of your revenue comes for search leads. The way I see it, this is all part of technological adoption; we need to put in the effort and investment now to ensure that our firms are well-positioned for the digital age. However, I’m here to make suggestions only. The decision is up to you and firm leadership.

If you decide to move forward with the migration, the following are three tips from Stephanie Smith, Marketing and Communications Specialist at BMF and Chair of the Allinial Global BD/Marketing Committee:

1. Change your email address to .cpa before migrating your website. But keep your .com email address active and have your IT team redirect those emails to your new address. This will provide ample time for you to communicate the changes internally, generate some excitement about the migration, and ensure that your new email addresses will be whitelisted by your external stakeholders. Incidentally, the BMF team has no current plans to jettison their .com addresses.

2. Leverage partners’ relationships with clients, and communicate early and often. Timely communications from the marketing department to clients and other key external stakeholders will be important. But emails sent directly from the partners’ inbox will be even more important for a smooth transition and to minimize the likelihood that your new email address will land in the spam folder.

3. Commit to a timeline, and don’t look for downtime. With multiple deadlines throughout the year and the continuing evolution of PPP, there’s no “best time” to migrate to .cpa. Once you decide to migrate, my recommendation is to create a project plan as soon as possible and start executing.

Many thanks to Stephanie Smith for sharing her experience and insights with the Allinial Global marketing community. She was gracious enough to share her project plan, deliverables, and communications samples with me.

In addition, the AICPA and CPA.com have some helpful resources on www.domains.cpa to guide you through migration, including a step-by-step guide, FAQs, deep-dive videos, and a weekly onboarding webcast.

If you are an Allinial Global member who would like to see Stephanie’s project plan and samples, please let me know. For questions that are not addressed in the FAQs section of domains.cpa, please contact our CPA.com rep, Brian Siet, for assistance.

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Posted in: Growth, Mark's Insights, Value Pricing,

In Part 1 of our series on CAAS, I noted an interesting phenomenon: as the pandemic sparked new interest in client accounting and advisory services (CAAS), the gap between the “haves” and “have notes” in CAAS continued to grow. As we’ve seen throughout 2020, firms who were already committed to embracing the cloud and transforming their practices are thriving. But it’s not just the technology that sets these firms apart—they are thinking about their services in a very different way.

So, how can you set your firm up for success with all the new opportunities available in CAAS? In our previous post, I outlined two foundational characteristics of successful practices—a clear strategy for your business model and a standardized tool set for your industry vertical. But what’s next after you have these items in place?

3. Pricing. I find pricing to be an art form, rather than something scientific. The challenge for most firms is trying to use an antiquated way of pricing CPA services with an innovative and forward-looking service like CAAS. I can’t tell you the number of firms that try to count the number of transactions and multiply by the time it takes per transaction to come up with a daily, then weekly, then monthly “estimate.” Blah. The client doesn’t care.

Successful firms in this category have thrown that all away and developed a three-tier pricing system. Typically, the lowest price in the system would be no less than what the client would pay for in-house services. So if the client wanted to hire a full-time bookkeeper who may or may not have the skills necessary to provide a reliable financial statement, that’s an option at about $40k per year, plus benefits, time off, etc. Alternatively, they can hire the firm for, let’s say, $3,500 per month, and the client will get better information, with full financial statements, KPIs, and a dashboard they can see 24/7. And if you’ve chosen your industry vertical judiciously as indicated on my previous blog post, each new client you onboard becomes more profitable than the one prior because you’ve already established a standardized chart of accounts, GL, financial statement package, etc. That’s the base price. We’ll discuss the next two price points in the advisory discussion.

4. Incorporating advisory services into CAAS naturally. CAAS is a natural fit for advisory, which is why I like two As in CAAS, not just one. Sure, the accounting is important, but it’s the advisory that truly makes this viable and incredibly profitable. And if you’ve chosen your industry vertical wisely and priced strategically, the advisory can be incorporated into the service in a seamless way.

Focusing on an industry niche gives you all kinds of data that can help you be smarter about what’s happening in that particular market. What one client does well can be shared with another client who may be struggling in that same area. And as you shift to three-tier pricing, you can naturally incorporate the advisory into the engagement. So if your base price includes the transactional activities, financial statement, and dashboard, the middle tier can include a planning day up front as well as regular check-ins that you and the client determine—I’d say at least twice per year, but most likely quarterly. Then the top-tier price can include everything we want to offer, plus monthly check-ins, budgeting, sales goals and systems, expansion initiatives, and so on—the possibilities are endless. You will typically see about 70% of your clients choosing the middle tier, so make sure that’s the tier with the highest profitability.

Some firms may feel hesitant about the advisory space, but it is the wave of the future. At Allinial Global, we’re working with third-party providers to give firms the tools they need to feel completely confident about moving forward. In addition to our CAAS firm assessment, we will have pilot programs from Sage, as well as a CAAS workshop on transforming your practice. I hope you’ll consider joining us in May for our CAAS workshop so we can start turning your CAS practice into a true CAAS practice!


      
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Posted in: Growth, Mark's Insights,

As I continue to speak to member firms, it is clear that the pandemic has hit certain geographies and industry verticals harder than others. However, one service line that is near and dear to my heart has really taken hold among firms who do it well. That’s client accounting and advisory services (CAAS).

There’s a lot to say about CAAS, so this will be the first in a two-part series on successful CAAS practices. We’ll start with some discussion of how the pandemic has been shaping CAAS and then take a look at key criteria that can help your firm transform its practice.

One thing I witnessed in 2020 is the separation between the “haves” and “have nots” in CAAS. For over ten years now, I’ve been involved with a digital CPA community that has embraced the cloud and transformed their CAAS practices. At AICPA’s Digital CPA Conference in December 2020, I had the honor of presenting with Erik Asgeirsson, President of CPA.com, during his keynote address about this very topic.

During the pandemic, traditional bookkeeping practices continued as they were but with the added challenges of getting access to client information and getting the work done. Often, when those same clients were asking for help in advisory around government program support or ideas for back-to-work and business strategy, firms didn’t deliver in the same cohesive way.

In contrast, firms that have truly transitioned to a CAAS practice thrived during 2020. Some even had clients who had previously turned down outsourced services calling back asking for help! So, what does a successful CAAS practice look like? Let’s explore some of their defining characteristics.

1. Business model strategy developed and initiated. Many believe that changing the name of their existing bookkeeping operation will solve the business model issue. Not so. Starting with a clean slate and thinking about what it is you want to define, create, capture, and deliver in this service line is critical. The AICPA and CIMA created a great tool for this called the Business Model Framework. I’ve used this over the last few years and am happy to have that conversation with our member firms.

A few years ago, I was discussing this issue with the CEO of a firm that had just been through this process. Their business was entirely tied around CAAS in the old model. They had been performing outsourced CFO/controller-for-hire services along with some standardized bookkeeping. The CEO decided to sit down with his firm down and ask, “If we were starting our business today, what would it look like? Who would we work for? How would we deliver the services, and what resources would we need?” They started with a blank sheet of paper, and when they were done, they looked at what they created and realized they had an entirely new line of business. They even decided to start a separate company under that new model.

2. Selection of industry vertical(s). Part of the business model creation is choosing a vertical that you already know you’re good at or passionate about. It’s important to understand the marketing flow, how the business makes money, and the tech stack that will best serve that vertical. From there, the firm can create a standardized technology tool set, GL, chart of accounts, financial statements, dashboard, onboarding process, and go-to-market.

I spoke to one of our member firms in Europe recently about this exact thing. Their firm created a tool set for physiotherapy practices (known as physical therapy practices in the US). Their practice is thriving and continued to grow during the pandemic. They even decided to move their physiotherapy practice into a separate building because the personalities and the work environment were so different from traditional professionals. The firm is also providing incredible insight into the physiotherapy community and helping clients when they see opportunities to improve operationally. They are now looking to leverage similar insights in other personal service and healthcare-related practices to grow into another vertical.

At Allinial Global we are “all in” on helping our member firms transform and grow their CAAS practice. In fact, this February we will have a firm assessment available for our members to complete to help with CAAS transformation. We also have pilot programs with Sage coming soon and a CAAS workshop on transforming the practice in May. In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 2 and be sure to mark your calendars for our CAAS firm assessment coming in February!


      
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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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