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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