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More with less: Transforming your CPA firm amidst COVID-19

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

The idea of transforming your CPA firm amidst COVID-19 is often met with fear or negative connotations. However, the current situation is the perfect opportunity for change, growth, and more success than ever before.

In this episode of Pulse of Practice “More with Less”, Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, Joey Havens, Executive Partner of Horne LLP, and I discuss the concept of ‘more’ and ‘less’. COVID-19 is continuing to impact our industry in unpredictable ways. How can our firms evolve with the changes and rise above the economic impacts of a global pandemic?

Transforming your CPA firm amidst COVID-19 is more anticipatory, less reactionary.

‘More with less’ is not a concept for cutting costs by doing more work with less people. Instead, it is all the hard trends that we see with the pandemic and understanding that with this challenge comes a lot of opportunity.

“It starts with the mindset of being more anticipatory and less reactionary,” said Joey. “Things like pandemics are going to end. Every organization is going to be changed. You’re either going to become stronger or weaker.”

We know there is going to be a financial crisis. There is going to be small businesses that will not recover and new regulations around recovery money. We see these trends happening, and our jobs are changing weekly. By doing more with less, we are realizing some of the tasks we’ve been doing in the past may not be as valuable now, but there are things to do today that we need more than ever.

Take the example of the SBA and PPP loans. There was not a defined process. Many accounting firms were apprehensive to act because, stereotypically, accountants love clear and confident procedures. While it is counter-intuitive to the DNA of accountants, in this situation we must risk getting it wrong. Make your decisions with instincts and experience. We are in a situation where you’re likely to get a portion of it wrong, but getting it wrong means you’re making process and moving forward.

More clarity, less certainty.

While transforming your CPA firm amidst a pandemic with the ‘more is less’ mindset, we must encourage our firms to think differently.

“One of the things I talked to my firm about was more clarity, less certainty,” noted Joey. “We’re clear on what we ought to be doing and working on, and that will change more frequently than normal. We’re going to have clarity about what the client’s most urgent needs are, but we are going to have less certainty on how to execute that.”

“You could have had a 30-minute conversation with a client about a PPP loan, and now 50% of that conversation is irrelevant today,” added Paul. “Firms struggle with that. How do I move forward in a time where I don’t know if I’m going to be right?”

The correct mindset is to realize your firm did what they could with what they knew, and it was right at the time. Maybe your guidance has changed, but what did you learn through those conversations with clients? Do you have a better sense of their needs than you did before? Because you engaged with your client, even as information changes, it was not a waste.

More focus on relationships, less focus on formality.

The client engagement aspect around transforming your CPA firm amidst COVID-19 must be more focused on relationships and less on formality. Issues, rules, and regulations are changing at a rapid pace. We can’t promise our clients that everything we talk about today won’t change tomorrow, but we can promise to be there with them every step of the way.

“I laid on the sword and promised clients I would go out there and try to figure it out,” said Paul. “Many clients embraced it. They wanted guidance.”

Nobody has the perfect map on how to get through a pandemic. Your client could be on the upper end of it, their business is greater than ever, or struggling to make it through. They need your help to understand either side.

“Advisory is predicting the future,” Paul pointed out. “The client wants someone to lead them. Many firms’ leaders feel leadership means being right. Leadership doesn’t mean being right. It means taking action.”

“I really encourage people to think outside of the box,” added Joey. “We have moved with this pandemic and being successful is more about doing the right thing and less about doing things. Structures and processes have ruined too much of client service in the past. Now we need the mindset of, ‘am I doing the right thing for this client’ and less, ‘am I doing things right?’”

Our firms are changing and that is not scary, but a tremendous opportunity. If a firm wants to look at their services and reinvent themselves, this is the time.

“We’ve seen each other’s lives, pets, children, t-shirts, pajamas, snacks…” said Joey. “It’s more about value work and relationships now. So why not as a profession keep that front and center?”

Listen to the “More with Less” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google Play, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here.

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