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COVID-19 Is Teaching Accounting to Get ‘Comfortable With the Uncomfortable’

July 6th, 2020

In the post-pandemic world, life at successful accounting firms will be very different from what it was just last year.

Partners will be more mentor than boss, engaging with staff in a more personal way than ever before. There will be a new emphasis on leadership and development. The consultative part of accounting will be center stage, as clients look for guidance and help in rebuilding their business. Technology adoption will be quicker and remote work will be an accepted practice.

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Those predictions are the perspective of a group of accounting thought leaders interviewed by AccountingToday’s editor Danielle Lee.

“The pandemic is giving firms a reason to embrace change like never before,” Marc Rosenberg, president of The Rosenberg Associates, told Lee. “Why? Because they have (or will have) no choice. Life at CPA firms as we knew it pre-pandemic will never return. Normal is gone.”

With everyone working remotely, Angie Grissom, president of The Rainmaker Companies, said firm leaders are learning just how resilient their teams are. “A newfound confidence in the agility of teams will emerge,” she says.

The more progressive firms began embracing remote work long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19. Now the rest of the profession is discovering people can be as productive – or more – working remotely, which will lead to fewer hiring restrictions, says Jeff Phillips, CEO of Accountingfly.

“Some of your best people are not ever going to return to an office again, and I hope firms learn that’s OK,” he said. “If they learn that lesson, they’ll realize they can solve their own war for talent by quickly and easily hiring remote A-player talent based anywhere in the U.S.”

As the economy opens up and people return to work – millions already have – talent retention and training will be critical to firm success. Partners now “Need to be much more deliberate and planful about keeping in touch with staff, not only regarding their client work but their training, development and morale,” says Rosenberg.

Adds Sandra Wiley, president of Boomer Consulting, “As firms develop their strategies over the next few months, they should have a laser focus on talent retention and upskilling, process improvement, technology infrastructure, and new services for growth in the advisory area.”

Even the business model should be up for reconsideration, suggests Ron Baker, founder of the VeraSage Institute. “If you are still hourly billing, your firm is mired in a transactional relationship with your customers based upon inputs, and those are easy to sever when times are tough.”

More directly, Boomer Consulting's L. Gary Boomer, says, “The existing business model does not meet the needs of most clients or firms. You should move to the subscription model in order to attract new business and retain existing clients. Value can be created through packaging and pricing.”

“Now is a great time to learn or change a habit,” he advised.

Summing up, Jody Padar, vice president of strategy at Botkeeper, declared, “We can’t go back to the way things were, so we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortableness we face.”

Image by William Iven

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