Excerpt from Cetrom’s (CPAmerica’s newest Preferred Provider) white paper: “SOS: How to enable a distributed workforce with the cloud”
Distributed workforces are becoming the norm in the post-COVID world. Rather than a challenge to be avoided, building a distributed workforce can create better cybersecurity, create a better experience for employees and clients alike, and ultimately improve the bottom line. The following steps will help you build a capable and secure remote workforce.
1. Review what you have in IT
To start, review your current capabilities and gaps, and prioritize security when reviewing your system. At this stage, also evaluate the costs and benefits of your existing IT. How much does your in-person site cost to maintain and repair, and what would a move toward cloud-based services entail? The chances are good that a shift to cloud-based services will be less than expected.
2. Secure your remote workforce
Remote workforces can be just as secure as on-premises workforces, but firms need to take proper precautions. Learn more about what enterprise-level security looks like and ensure that your crew is protected. Also, be sure to train staff on necessary security measures, enforce a remote work policy that protects clients and the firm, and backup critical data and systems in the event of a security breach.
Remote workforces can be just as secure as on-premises workforces, but firms need to take proper precautions.
3. Provide the resources and equipment to work anywhere
Set up your team and firm to succeed whether they’re working on-site or remotely. For example, laptops and portable monitors can quickly go to and from the office, as needed. Simultaneously, virtual desktops enable staff to have access to the same screen, icons, and folders regardless of their location. Some firms provide additional resources like ergonomics, funds for home offices, and better internet connections and communications devices.
4. Get comfortable with virtual collaboration tools
These tools allow for virtual meetings, communication, and collaboration. They create cohesive relationships and work between staff and clients — and often allow for more frequent touches than could ever be accomplished in person. Virtual tools are the backbone of successful remote work because they enable seamless communica- tion between employees and clients, and lead to better customer service and more satisfied customers.
5. Look for a reliable IT provider who can also serve as a trusted advisor
IT services are the most essential and necessary services for any firm today. More than just servicing computers and install- ing updates, in today’s world, an IT provider needs to also serve as an advisor that can alert the firm to any new developments in cybersecurity, weaknesses in the company’s system, and suggestions for future security plans. At Cetrom, we pride ourselves on working exclusively with CPA firms, and we can partner with your firm to improve your existing IT infrastructure or build a robust and secure IT ecosystem from the ground up. And we will be there every step of the way, from migration through proactive maintenance and monitoring 24/7/365.
INSIDE Public Accounting Interviews CPAmerica President Alan Deichler
INSIDE Public Accounting reached out to leaders from some of the biggest and most influential groups to find out what their challenges are, where they see the profession heading and how they plan to play an integral role in that developing future. Below is the association Q&A with CPAmerica President, Alan Deichler.
Training is always a huge part of what associations do, but the need for rapid upskilling has become more urgent. How is your association responding?
We certainly offer traditional training. In 2020, the association conducted numerous additional training programs to quickly share expertise and awareness related to the pandemic. Besides relying on sharing and consultants’ expertise, the association, through our membership in Crowe Global, also has an exclusive relationship with Crowe LLP’s national tax office. This allowed members to be supported in the tax area similar to how Crowe LLP supports its regional office partners. The effect is members get the expanded support and training they need and while doing so, gain the skill for subsequent opportunities.
What was your biggest personal ‘lesson learned’ from last year?
Business – both associations and firms – can survive virtually for a while, maybe a year or even two (hopefully we will not need to), but relationships need the personal touch of sharing a meal, a drink or just a brief conversation. These relationships are the raw material for sharing and improving within associations and for firms to grow. Our members want to get together face-to-face to share soon. Another personal lesson learned is associations with a geographic consideration model like CPAmerica, or limiting members within a specific geography, may become challenged as firms recruit people and solicit new business throughout the country and regions. It may put a strain on sharing within associations if both clients and staff are recruited by other firms hundreds of miles away.
The value of deep knowledge of client businesses was reflected in the many ways firms helped clients last year. How can firms keep that momentum going?
Many firms have proven of significant value to clients in the last 12 months with advisory offerings related to pandemic economic recovery programs. Those partners and staff that maintain and grow this presence with clients will become even more of a true trusted advisor. It is important to end every meeting with two things – what have we learned today and what are next steps. These ensure firms are “hitting the mark” and providing value (as well as reminding clients of that value provided) and remain active to the client by literally staying on their calendar.
How is consolidation within the profession impacting associations and member firms?
Consolidation within the profession is not new, but is continuing. I came to CPAmerica in 2009 and M&A was a major discussion point even then as firms became aware of the need for immediate succession planning. Many of our firms have grown by acquiring smaller firms. In looking back over my tenure here, I was surprised to see that CPAmerica has attracted 45 firms to the association since 2010, but also lost 37 firms, mostly to mergers and acquisitions by other CPA firms. Associations that are not always “selling” their services will shrink. When they shrink, they may not be able to support their members’ expectations.
What is the No. 1 concern among association members?
For smaller firms, the short-term concern is that revenues will not come back as soon as expenses post-pandemic. Nearly all firms are going into 2021 with a keen eye on managing expenses, expecting a possible surge in “coming back” expenses. In the long run, the move from compliance services, increasingly supported through technology, will put the pressure on building relationships and adding value to clients through advisory services, both in vertical niche services and throughout the business. CPAs, as successful and trusted businesspeople, will have an opportunity to expand their role as advisors to all parts of the client’s business. Sharing associations like CPAmerica, which also has access to top-10 firm expertise and support, will be important to meeting our firms’ new challenges.
President’s Corner: To Everything There is a Season
This is my second to last President’s Corner. Throughout 2021, we are in the midst of transitioning the role of president of CPAmerica to Grace Horvath who will take over the role on January 1, 2022. It is indeed an interesting process full of all sorts of emotions for both of us. For me, I am looking forward to my retirement, but am also trying to imagine not being part of this organization. I will miss all the members and staff! I’m pretty sure Grace will be providing insight into her thoughts and feelings in subsequent President’s Corner articles.
Part of this transition process is giving the future staff leaders of CPAmerica a chance to participate in this column, so after this article you won’t “see” me again here until December.
I am reminded of the song by The Byrds from the mid-sixties, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 in the Old Testament. You may remember it as “To everything there is a season …” and so it is with the process of moving on. There is a time to do it yourself and there is a time to teach others to do it themselves.
The transition to a new president is moving along nicely. Grace and I built a plan for this transition last fall and with the board’s approval and regular inspection, we are proceeding along with that implementation plan.
Grace has named her successor, Jenn Walker, from our staff, to be the new leader of services. Jenn was a senior member services manager supporting A&A among other duties. So her first task will be to find and train her replacement. Grace is coaching and training Jenn on her new role as director of services.
In the coming months, Grace will start managing more and more of what is, and was, my role. She has already begun work on our innovative technology support to firms, implementing an enhanced learning management system (more on that in coming months), and preparing to assume responsibility for our marketing and new member development efforts this summer.
New member development took about 20 percent of my time. Development is critical to the association’s health. New firms not only help us grow, but replace firms that have sold or merged up. New firms and members also provide our association new thinking and a fresh perspective.
During the shutdown times of 2020, we were able to continue a number of programs and events virtually. However, the Visitation Improvement Program (VIP) was completely cancelled in 2020, putting us a whole year behind. Our plan of each firm hosting a VIP every four years was already a challenge with the recent growth in firms, but by missing a whole year of VIPs, we are seriously challenged. We are working hard to catch up and have scheduled 25 VIPs for this summer and fall. In past years, Grace
and I have split up the VIPs to assist the two visiting leading partners and we plan to continue that practice this year. That said, it will be a very busy July, August and fall for traveling to VIPs along with our regular events that are planned to be in person this year.
If all goes to plan, Grace will be trained on all her new responsibilities as president, and will be over a number of activities by fall. I’m sure she will do a great job as your new president of CPAmerica.
A phrase that made me a bit sad over my career was whenever I heard someone talk about a recently retired executive, stating, “…he retired a couple of years before he left.”
I promise that I’m working to try to not have that be a comment about my remaining time at CPAmerica. I continue to be responsible for CPAmerica and achieving our mission of members improving through sharing. It just happens that my primary responsibility today has changed from doing it myself to making sure Grace is comfortable and capable to be president on January 1.
April 15, 2021
Technology for the Next Normal
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated technology innovation for both CPA firms and their clients. Some pundits suggest that 2020 forced five years of innovation into one.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated technology innovation for both CPA firms and their clients. Some pundits suggest that 2020 forced five years of innovation into one. While work-at-home became a “new normal” during the stay-at-home orders, partners discovered that many of their professional team were more productive and happier to
work from home (WFH). So, does WFH become the common way to do business? Is work from home the “next normal”?
While the answer to the WFH question remains to be seen, the factors that drive this decision seem clear.
Can client service be maintained or improved?
Does realization improve?
Are engagements and projects appropriately covered?
Does the firm culture remain?
Is business development expanded?
Can the firm maintain team member satisfaction without losing key personnel to competitors?
I am sure you have a few questions of your own to add to this list. Further, technology is a must-have component to make this all work.
What changes are we likely to see in tech after we emerge from the pandemic?
Besides the traditional firm technology of tax, audit, and practice management software, WFH required sound document management systems (DMS), workflow, and Voice Over IP (VOIP) while adding software for collaboration and web meetings. For firms that had not embraced Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, WebEx, or various other video conference software tools, these became a must-have part of the practitioner’s tool kit. Firms running a private cloud or using a hosting company had a minimal impact during the transition to WFH. However, integrated silos of information will become more common over the next decade instead of using a monolithic suite of products using centralized computing. My firm to decided to move to WFH in the morning and completed the entire move in less than 90 minutes. By the way, we had never had a work from home culture or a desire to have our team working from home, sO this was quite a cultural transition for our firm.
But the real question is about the technology we will see emerge as vaccinations allow businesses to return to an adjusted normal, that IS. the next normal. I believe these technology adjustments will become permanent fixtures of the future:
Collaboration in the cloud will become mandatory
Client Experience tools will improve
Workflow will gain more automation from Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
DMS will become more sophisticated and easier to use Integrated web meetings that will blend a hybrid of physical and virtual meetings evolve
There will be more transition to Software as a Service introducing more silos of information and integration with digital plumbing tools
Security improvements with ease of use such as passwordless access must occur
Audit and trial balance tools will improve
Tax planning, compliance, and other tax advisory services will experience a notable change
Client accounting services tools will become more seamless and comprehensive
Cash flow forecasting and other business advisory tools will become commonplace
Practice management will evolve to enable hybrid workforces, collaborative workflows, and interactive team member and client experiences
While this list seems long, the initial transition accelerated during the pandemic year. Vendors and software publishers had time to focus on their products and discovered new needs and opportunities, while firms and their clients considered if the conditions were a new normal or the next normal. Many found that they enjoyed not commuting to an office and that productivity went up. While the comradery and culture of interacting in an office were missed, perhaps two or three days of time in the office was enough. Scheduling time on Tuesday through Thursday or on Tuesday and Friday was sufficient to handle all administrative work and needed face-to-face meetings.
Scheduling time on Tuesday through Thursday or on Tuesday and Friday was sufficient to handle all administrative work and needed face-to-face meetings.
Can your firm make the transition to embrace and adopt all the technologies mentioned before?
First, vendors may not give you a choice as older technologies are discontinued. Second, you will need to adopt many of these technologies to provide a better team member experience. Technology remains one of the best recruitment levers available to firms. Third, your clients have come to expect ease of use and convenience. Firms cannot continue to business in this third decade of the 21st century the same way they did in the 20th century! Clients may stay with your firm because they like you and your work, but they may not tell you that your client experience is terrible!
What are some potential tools to use today?
While this article cannot provide all the details to make the transition, I would encourage you to participate in CPAmerica events this year and beyond. Presenters will cover every topic above in the technology conference, and many will be covered during other events.
Consider this “best of the best” evolving product guide below for each category named above. There are many technologies to consider, but remember to look at your firm’s Mission, Vision, Goals, Strategic Business Plan, and Tactical Business Plan before adding these tools to your Strategic Technology Plan and Tactical Technology Plan. So, what can we review and select in each of these categories? While your firm strategy, size, and expertise could change these products, these recommendations should be directionally accurate.
1. Collaboration requires the right platform
Microsoft 365 (best for CPA Firms)
Zoho One (best for start-up businesses)
2. Client Experience is going through one of the larger transitions
CCH Axcess Client Collaboration Portal
3. Workflow RPA tools will notably improve productivity
Diligence for fling automation and other functions
Microsoft Power Automate
XCM with Automation Anywhere
GetBusy Virtual Cabinet
Microsoft Teams for DIY instead of a network share
Thomson Reuters ONVIO Firm Management Document Center
5. Web Meetings
6. Core accounting firm options using Software as a Service with digital plumbing tools
9. Tax planning, compliance, and other tax advisory will experience a notable change
10. Client accounting services tools will become more seamless and comprehensive
AccountantsWorld Accounting Relief
11. Cash flow forecasting and other business advisory tools will become commonplace
Commercial Loan Success
Complete Advisory Solution (F3C Advantage)
12. Practice management will evolve to enable hybrid workforces, collaborative workflows, and interactive team member and client experiences
Clarity Practice Management
Rarely would I caution you with “buyer beware” since the initial vetting of these products is already complete. However, with uncertain financial times still ahead of us, many businesses will fail because of unexpected cashflow shortages and sales that do not materialize as expected. You probably would not miss the offerings of the large publishers of Wolters Kluwer, Thomson Reuters, and Intuit, so I focused on interesting alternatives.
Can we do things the same old way?
Of course! However, you know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Your firm may be wildly profitable today, particularly since 2020 produced extraordinary financial results for most firms. What about five years from now or even ten? Do you want your team to be prepared for the future? Picking the right technology tools today can make a notable difference in your firm tomorrow.
April 6, 2021
From Member Services: A big year of transition
This will be my first of many President’s Corners as Alan referred to our transition in last month’s Advantage. This is a big year of transition here at CPAmerica as we are also excited to transition Jenn Walker into my role. Admittedly, this is a bittersweet time. I am thrilled and honored to be the next president of
your association, and can’t wait to see what Jenn will accomplish in the near future. But like Alan, I too have a hard time imagining him not being here with us. Watching your firms and understanding the importance of succession planning, it is a process done well with a methodical approach. Yet even under the best of circumstances, it is unavoidably emotional. For this year though, Alan is still at the helm while the delivery of events and services remains under my purview. We have alotgoingonandIwillbeworkingcloselywith Jenn on driving this year’s services including our events and a few other big initiatives for 2021. As the year continues to unfold, here are some of things you will hear more
about. We have made the tricky decision to proceed with our events in-person this year. We exhaustively analyzed the data together with your feedback expressing comfort in meeting in person, assessed the risks, and determined we had a strong enough case to proceed. Of course, the timing and
availability of the vaccine weighed heavily in this decision. The 2021 A&A Conference will take place in Denver. We understand not everyone who would like to attend is able or willing to travel yet, so there will be a virtual offering featuring select sessions. Taking lessons from 2020, Yellow Book will remain live the day prior, and there will also be a virtual offering because its core audience is larger than a firm can send physically any given year. Technology Roundtable will remain live as is tradition concurrent with A&A. Next Gen returns in July followed by CAS, New Partner Group and regional partners’ meetings throughout August. By fall, we expect participation very close to usual for the Leading Partners Retreat and Firm Management Roundtable, and attendance will likely grow for Tax. An added bonus for events this year is a mini Next Gen Virtual Conference to enhance the education of the live meeting. The International Group Committee is working on the December agenda right now. That is the one meeting giving us hesitancy because the multinational audience may still be restricted in their ability to travel. If we cannot meet in person, the committee is working on solutions to keep the momentum of that special interest group going.
The pandemic was a forceful distraction to our innovative technology support efforts. However, technology remained no less disruptive than COVID itself and we are revitalizing the initiative with the formation of a Strategic Technology
Support Committee. The goal is to create a program that encourages innovation and helps firms gain insights that will foster the digital transformation mindset necessary for sustainability and growth. Expect to see updates and a dedicated article to activities in this area.
We are increasing our emphasis on your training needs by exploring a learning management system (LMS) that ideally will allow your firm to centralize its training and development through the association. We have struggled for years not being able to be all things to all firms in education. Much of this has been due to varying methodologies coupled with limitations on staff time and travel. We are approaching this as an opportunity for our own digital transformation that not only allows us to continually enhance the value of membership, but also results in a deeper capacity to analyze member engagement.
This will be a fun and challenging year and it will move very quickly. I am excited to report to you throughout the year on the progress we hope to make in these areas of service. I have loved doing the work I have been responsible for here and am happy that for now I can still be closely involved.
March 15, 2021
What goes into a successful rebrand?
Gray, Gray & Gray, LLP tells us all about their experience and the power of more.
You might not think that during the events of 2020, a rebrand and launch of a new website would be in the cards for your firm, but that is precisely what member firm Gray, Gray & Gray, LLP accomplished. The rebrand, the result of a col- orful two-year journey, was embarked upon in order to support the future growth of the firm. We spoke to Laura Hampe, marketing director at the firm to find out about their process and to see if they had any insights or advice for firms thinking about doing the same.
Behind the rebrand
We wondered what was behind the decision for the rebrand. Hampe was clear in describing the back story and said that the rebrand, which included a total revamp of the logo, collateral and website, was something that management and marketing had been talking about for more than two years. The firm had started down the path of developing their business consulting services and knew they had existing brand equity. They wanted to reposition their brand in order to support the future growth of the firm. “We wanted to show that we were still the same great firm that clients had come to know and trust, but now tak- ing it to that next level where we could really add value as advisors and help clients make informed decisions about their business,” said Hampe.
Putting it together
Websites are the face and portal to any firm. Gray, Gray & Gray now had to put together the pieces needed to complete their site.
The first step was to develop a vision and come up with the domain. Their initial domain was gggcpas.com, but knowing that they wanted to reposition themselves as advisors and be viewed as “more than just a firm that offers the traditional accounting services,” they decided to drop “cpas” from the name. After numerous committee discussions and searching for available domains, they selected gggllp.com. Next, they began looking at their existing website content and feedback on it and developed a working sitemap that aligned with the rebrand focus. They then had to decide what the firm could do in-house and what would require outside resources. Hampe elaborated, “We chose to work with our current website developer on programming and building the shell. We used WordPress as our platform to create a user-friendly and responsive site. Internally, our familiarity with this platform and features of its new editor would give us the ability to have more internal control and evolve the site as our business continues to grow over time.”
Hampe said that the firm organized the new website under their four service lines: Consulting; Audit & Assurance; Tax; and Private Wealth. It was also important to the firm to break off their private wealth affiliate with a stand-alone website that had a similar look and feels to the parent Gray, Gray & Gray website. The firm created its tagline, “The Power of More,” and they are committed to delivering on this value proposition. It ties in directly to the firm’s belief in better serving their clients through their expanded offerings. For their visual identity, the new logo depicts elegance with several design elements: three dots which Hampe explained symbolize that there is more to come, and the word “gray” with a superscript “3” as the main logo mark and are a nod to the firm’s founders, the three Gray brothers, Robert, Milton and Mervin. The font is one that is modern and professional. There’s also a new color scheme for the parent brand and each of the firm’s service lines.
Hampe had some words of advice for any other firm that is con- sidering a rebrand:
Firms should have thoughtful discussions going over the challenges they are trying to solve with the brand. I would encourage them to talk to their clients, their leadership, and staff about the brand perception in order to bridge the gap between the internal and external perceptions about the brand.
Another thing firms can do is to form a branding committee and identify brand ambassadors. The committee could be a large (or small) group that meets regularly to discuss and review ideas throughout the branding journey. Include representation from different departments to capture vary- ing perspectives. Look at staff at different levels and departments of the organization to serve as brand ambassadors as well in order to get feedback from across the firm and generate excitement.
With any rebrand, you should consider what needs to change and what needs to stay the same. It’s not about your sign-changing; it’s about how your firm is showing up differently to your clients, the marketplace, and your team. It’s also critical to have the resources for a rebrand in place to not only develop a brand strategy but to be able to successfully execute it.
Berealisticaboutwhatthecostsarewithbranding.Establish what you are willing and able to spend and ensure that it aligns with the firm’s expectations. Make sure you have the support and the means to go from strategy to implementation.
Communicate with your team, clients, and business associates. Make sure that everyone understands the reasons and the benefits of the rebrand so that everyone can get behind it.
Plan for the unexpected. Because of the pandemic, we postponed our launch. We had to adjust our timing and implementation for the launch. The silver lining to this was that it allowed us to step forward and demonstrate the power of more. Ultimately, it helped us to have a greater impact when we did officially launch.
There will be other member firms that will go through the rebrand – ing experience. But there is comfort in knowing they can access others’ expertise. Hampe stressed that being able to leverage other firms that had already rebranded was huge for them – especially at the beginning. Hampe said, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know, so talking with others who had been through this and having the ability to share best practices was very important. Being able to leverage CPAmerica’s association and reaching out to fellow mem- bers was very helpful to us.”
“The rebrand was a great learning experience. We were all driving towards a brand that, internally, we could be proud of, and externally, we knew that we were making a difference for our clients.”