Platt’s Perspective: Disruption Is Affecting Associations As Well

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

While firm leaders are working hard to address disruption in the profession, CEOs of associations are doing the same – planning their next moves to strategically stay ahead and best serve their members.

Associations have been around for more than 50 years, and the basic premise – to help members grow and better compete – hasn’t changed much. But with the needs of firms constantly changing, the landscape of mergers and acquisitions removing longtime members, and newer firms being challenged to find a home because of geographic restrictions, the world of association management can be as topsy-turvy as that of the members they serve.

As a former association executive myself, I recognize the challenges that many associations are facing: they are generally not-for-profit organizations with a relatively small staff and a volunteer board serving a diverse group of firms that are all following independent pathways.

Consider some of the changes happening in the association world recently:

  • Moore Stephens LLP (UK), the founding firm in the Moore Stephens International association, announced it is in merger discussions with BDO. How might that affect Moore Stephens International, if at all? In 2014, Baker Tilly UK, the founding firm in Baker Tilly International, made a similar move and joined the RSM network, and Baker Tilly International kept marching right along.
  • Many associations have wrestled with how best to achieve a grand goal of global branding – in a cost-effective way – without reducing the independence of their member firms or the brand value of the individual firms in the markets they serve.
  • Over the past 24 months, a number of association CEOs – with decades of experience – have retired or will soon be retiring, giving the association volunteer leadership the opportunity to create new/different strategic directions.
  • Several associations are reviewing their organizational structure, adding or enhancing the role of a global CEO. The global leader oversees and coordinates the activities of the dedicated group of regional leaders, who are highly tuned-in to the unique needs of their members.
  • Generational differences point to younger firm leaders being less inclined to join associations / peer groups / business organizations than their older peers were, adding a level of complexity to the conversation of why join an association.

According to the 2018 IPA survey, one of every 20 firms that identify themselves as a member of an association indicate they are considering leaving the association in the next 12 months. Those firms tell IPA confidentially that they are just not getting the support, direction, resources or vision of the future from their association that they feel they need to succeed in the next few decades.

I’m bullish on the future of associations. As firms grind their way through their own strategic visioning to determine what they want to be in the future, I’m confident associations will follow suit. There may be some associations going by the wayside, there may be mergers of current groups, and there may be completely new business models created to meet the fundamental needs of members. After all, like the firms they serve, the associations themselves are not immune from disruption.