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.