IPA Vendor Spotlight On … Chandra Bhansali, AccountantsWorld

Name: Chandra Bhansali
Company: AccountantsWorld
Title: Co-founder (with wife Sharada) and CEO

Accomplishments:

Chandra Bhansali

Chandra Bhansali

  • Introduced the first Windows-based based professional tax system in the 1990s.
  • Created the first payroll processing solution exclusively for accountants.
  • Used cloud technology to create Accounting Power for firms to offer client accounting services, countering the impact of do-it-yourself accounting systems on accounting practices.
  • Named one of the “100 Most influential People in Accounting” by Accounting Today for over 10 years.

You’ve been “in the cloud” for much longer than most and seem to have a knack for identifying emerging technologies. Can you offer any practical advice on how accounting firms can be more ‘future-ready’?

I’d tell them, “You are your clients’ most trusted advisor. What makes you their most trusted advisor? Your ability to analyze all the facts and help your clients make informed decisions based on those facts. To be future-ready, you need to use this important trait. It’s a fact that migration to the cloud is inevitable. Given that fact, when will you benefit the most from the migration? Should you wait until you are pushed to the wall, or move to the cloud sooner, in a more strategic way, to make the most of the migration?” It’s ironic that many of the same accountants who are their clients’ best advisors falter when making some of the most important decisions about their own practices.

Client accounting services seems to be a growing niche. Are accountants taking better advantage of the power of technology to help their clients?

Very few accountants are taking full advantage of technology to help their clients. Part of the problem is that most accountants don’t realize the capabilities of professional cloud solutions like Accounting Power. Given the choice, a large percentage of small businesses would not want to do their accounting in-house. They consider accounting to be a hassle and would love to offload it to their accountants, but most accountants don’t offer client accounting services (CAS), because functions like bill payment have traditionally been low-margin services. But with programs like Accounting Power, an accountant’s staff can now do everything their client’s staff did, only much faster and more accurately – all without leaving the office. Because of advances like this, many accountants are currently offering highly profitable CAS, which will ultimately become a major growth area.

What’s the biggest mistake firms typically make when making the move to the cloud?

The biggest mistake firms typically make when migrating to the cloud is to make a lateral move in which they move from desktop to cloud, yet their practices realize only marginal gains. That happens primarily for two reasons. First, these accountants don’t do their homework and learn about all the available solutions. Second, they are stuck in their current processes. To take full advantage of the cloud, you need to change your processes. If you keep an open mind and align your processes for optimal performance, then you will be able to take your practice to new heights that were never before possible.

There’s been lots of talk about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence on the accounting profession. What’s your view?

My view about Artificial Intelligence is very simple – accountants with “Predictive Intelligence” will actually benefit a lot from AI. I’ll give you a simple example. AI will certainly minimize mundane tasks like data entry. If you let your clients offload their accounting work to you today, your fees will be based on what they currently spend on their bookkeeper or in-house accountant. When some of the capabilities of AI kick in to virtually eliminate data entry, that will greatly reduce your staff’s work and you will reap the benefits of that productivity gain. That’s “Predictive Intelligence.”

Final thoughts?

You know you have tremendous influence with your clients. Until now, accounting software vendors and payroll service providers have used your client relationships to make themselves billions of dollars. Would you like to continue doing that, or would you rather use your client relationships do what is in your, and your clients’, best interest? If you prefer the latter option, then download and read my whitepaper, “Forget Value Billing. Think Value Building.”  It will show you how you can use the cloud to greatly raise your bottom line, better serve your clients and feel the pride of being an accountant. Please visit www.AccountantsWorld.com/value to download the whitepaper.

Do you know someone else who would make a good Spotlight? Contact Christina Camara.

Kucera Named AAM’s 2017 Marketer of the Year

Laura Kucera

Laura Kucera

Laura F. Kucera, chief marketing officer at New York-based Citrin Cooperman, has received the Association for Accounting Marketing’s (AAM) 2017 Marketer of the Year award, sponsored by INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA).

The winner was announced by IPA June 14 at AAM’s 2017 Summit in Las Vegas. The Marketer of the Year presentation was the highlight of the 23nd annual gala, which also honors winners of dozens of marketing achievement awards.

Kucera leads strategic marketing, communications and business development strategies for Citrin Cooperman, which is ranked among the top 25 largest firms in the country, according to IPA.

Citrin Cooperman CEO Joel Cooperman, who nominated Kucera for the award, praises her “marketing and business acumen, analytical mindset, motivational leadership skills and innate client-focused approach.” He says that her leadership has contributed to the firm’s significant growth of 17% in 2016, which included the joining of two firms and three new offices in New England, the development of four new consulting practice groups and the restructuring of the firm’s advisory services line.

Kucera led integration efforts for the newly joined firms, developed in-depth marketing and business development strategies for the New England market, formed a new international strategy group and launched a global go-to-market plan with Mark Fagan, MP of the firm’s Norwalk, Conn., office and board member of Moore Stephens N.A.

Kucera played an important role in pulling together a new technology and risk advisory consulting practice. She created a four-hour cross-selling class with Fagan and taught it to more than 100 staff. Finally, Kucera developed an in-house design team and launched a new visual identity for the firm.

“Citrin Cooperman’s brand awareness has grown tremendously under Laura,” says IPA Publisher Kelly Platt. “She’s a great communicator, mentor and morale-builder who has unified all professionals to do their part to grow the firm. She richly deserves this award.”

“I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for this recognition,” Fagan says. “Not only does Laura have a full-scale understanding of marketing principles, she has a deep understanding of the firm’s business goals and works relentlessly to implement strategies to achieve those goals.”

Alan Badey, MP of the Citrin Cooperman White Plains, N.Y., office, says Kucera “gets it.” Her knowledge of the profession, the marketplace and what differentiates the firm “has completely changed the look and feel of Citrin Cooperman both internally and externally,” he says. “She created our brand, ‘Focus on What Counts,’ which says everything about us and everything that our clients have come to expect from us.”

He adds, “Not only is she running our marketing and sales, she is involved with most significant initiatives in the firm – from mergers, to service line restructuring, to staff mentoring and infrastructure upgrades.”

This is the fourth year that IPA has sponsored the Marketer of the Year award. A panel of independent judges, who are themselves leaders in the profession, were selected by IPA to review and score each of the nominees.

Platt’s Perspective: Classifying Clients – It’s Good For The Top And Bottom Line (And Everything In Between)

By: Michael Platt

Have you ever noticed that after you a buy a new car – let’s say it’s a 2017 silver Mercedes-Benz – you start seeing the same make, model and color every time you look around?

In similar fashion, firm professionals can begin to home in on their ideal clients and recognize them instantly. To help accomplish this, they need to go through two exercises that the majority of firms neglect: Define the firm’s best to worst clients, ranking them A through C or D, then outline a plan to improve their grades so they become better clients.

IPA’s most recent survey data, from more than 540 firms, show that only 30% are formally classifying their clients in this way. The other 70% are missing an opportunity to sharpen their focus, make more money and limit unnecessary headaches.

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

Many firm partners have their own ideas on who their A, B, C and D clients are, but it’s rarely agreed upon firmwide, and lower-level professionals may hold vastly different views on the attributes of a “perfect” client. The more clearly this is defined up front, the easier it is to target that group.

Every firm over the years has collected all kinds of clients – some are ideal fits for the services the firm provides; some were ideal at one time and are now legacy clients; and some are no longer appropriate.

So, how would a firm decide which clients are As and which are Cs or Ds? That’s up to every firm to define, but typically A clients are ones with growth potential, who are cooperative, pay premium fees for premium services, come to you before making major decisions, rely on your advice and refer other clients to the firm.

B clients, for example, may not access a full range of services or actively refer your firm, but they are owners of up-and-coming companies who could likely become A clients someday. C clients may be your 1040 tax return customers, and D clients could be those who are late providing information, argumentative with staff, late paying bills and constantly complaining about fees. Some D clients are unavoidable (think your brother-in-law, or the grandson of your best A client), but all should be reviewed and culled on a regular basis.

I believe so strongly in classifying clients that I suggest identifying them by letter grade in a firmwide database that is accessible to all professionals and reviewed every few years. Obviously, keep this information confidential – no client wants to hear that they’re a C client.

Once clients are classified, the firm should define a plan to move clients up. Can your firm guide tax return clients on ways to streamline operations of their businesses, grow and become more profitable? If so, those B clients may become more reliant on the firm’s expertise and opt to take advantage of more firm services, becoming A clients in short order.

Classifying clients moves the right metrics. When a firm focuses its energy on providing great service to A and B clients, realization goes up, fees go up and profitability goes up. At the same time, clients are fulfilling their dreams for their businesses, and they’re more successful and happier as well.

Classifying clients helps with business development. When you’re out looking for new clients, you don’t want to just grab whatever’s out there. Zero in on the kind of client the firm wants to pursue. That’s because not all revenue dollars are the same. Generating a dollar’s worth of revenue from an A client often costs far less than generating a dollar’s worth of revenue from a C or D client.

Don’t limit your thinking to believe that classifying clients is just a marketing activity. It is, but it’s much more than that. This exercise can focus the firm in a clear, targeted way on key metrics related to profitability, realization, revenue per charge hour and contribute to business development opportunities, growing the top line as well.

One other benefit to consider – once A clients are defined, future A clients are much easier to find, just like those 2017 silver Mercedes-Benzes you’re seeing everywhere.

2017 INSIDE Public Accounting Benchmarking Report Pre-Publication Offer

The 2017 Benchmarking Tools will be available in September.

IPA’s National Benchmarking Report is one of the most thorough, complete and insightful analyses of CPA firms in the U.S. The report is well-respected throughout the profession for being independent and accurate.  Benchmarking is one of the most effective processed firms can do to improve operations, increase profitability and productivity.

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Note: some associations have partnered with IPA to provide some of the benchmarking products to member firms. Please contact our office with any questions.

The Internal Operational Benchmarking Reports

The Firm Administration, Human Resources and Information Technology reports assist firm management uncover trends, areas of policy improvement, operational and procedural issues and to assist firms with planning, budgeting and implementing needed changes to move ahead in best practice style. Click on any one of the images below to find out more, and to view an excerpt from 2016.

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The Financial and Operational Report Card

Understand Your Performance Relative to Your Competitors

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Deloitte Study: Only 13% of U.S. Workforce Is Passionate About Their Jobs

Despite 2017 corporate spending estimated at over $100 billion for training and over $1 billion for employee engagement, 68% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged at work, a new Deloitte’s Center for the Edge study says.

Further, the study found that only 35% of the workforce had the disposition to seek out challenges in their organization; even among engaged employees, more than 60% didn’t seek challenges. This lack of passion for work exists at all levels surveyed and job types in the workforce with 64% of all workers and 50% of executives and senior management surveyed being neither passionate nor engaged in their work.

These findings indicate that employers might be focused too narrowly on employee engagement, rather than developing a workforce with the necessary passion to solve complex challenges and pursue new opportunities during this period of rapid technological change. In addition, the findings indicate a shift to new types of learning and collaboration environments could in fact address key barriers to a more engaged and passionate workforce.

“We are in the early stages of a shift in the global economy that will require us to transition from an angst economy, driven by fear and erosion of trust, to a creative economy focused on markets with expanding opportunity,” says John Hagel, managing director, Deloitte Services LP and co-chairman, Center for the Edge. “Worker engagement may no longer be sufficient for performance improvement. In an environment of mounting performance pressure and increasing unpredictability, companies need a workforce that embraces challenge. Worker passion is becoming a key attribute for employees with the skill set that will contribute to sustained performance improvement for companies in increasingly competitive markets.”

According to the study, passionate workers generally exhibit three attributes: long-term commitment to making a significant impact in a domain; questing disposition that actively seeks out new challenges in order to improve faster; and connecting disposition that seeks to build trust-based relationships with others who can help them get to a better answer.

Respondents fell into three clusters:

  • Passionate Employee – 13% of respondents have all three attributes of worker passion.
  • Contented Employee – 23% of respondents score high on an index of engagement indicators, but do not have all three attributes of worker passion.
  • Half-hearted Employee – 64% of respondents do not have all three attributes of worker passion and do not score high on engagement.

The study found that only 38% of engaged employees had the questing disposition, and nearly half of engaged workers also lacked a desire to make a significant impact in their industry, function or specialty. Engagement seemed to have the most significant effect on workers’ tendency to reach out to others to solve challenges and improve their own performance.

Of those employees who are “passionate,” the study revealed the following:

  • 71% report working extra hours.
  • 89% report feeling focused, immersed and energized in their work.
  • 68% are optimistic about the future of their company.
  • 71% feel they are encouraged to work across the company.
  • 67% the company collaborates well with customers.

Furthermore, while position had some effect, with those in senior positions being more likely to be passionate, age wasn’t a significant factor: Millennials don’t have an edge when it comes to passion.

The study showed that respondents who were not passionate reported a lack of autonomy, inability to work across teams and a lack of involvement in decision-making.

Worker passion clearly needs to be “activated” in the workplace. To begin with, business leaders should evaluate whether they are acting with passion in taking on difficult challenges and pushing boundaries in potentially exciting directions. Tapping into this kind of passion can shift individuals from the fear of change or failure – to excitement about the opportunity to test boundaries. Additionally, some workers would benefit from guidance and role models who can serve as practical examples of how to quest, connect and create impact within the context of a specific organization.

The study suggests that trends such as automation, could open up new opportunities to drive worker passion. As more and more mundane, repeatable tasks are automated, the study identified opportunities for existing employees to focus on high growth areas that tap into capabilities that are uniquely human: curiosity, imagination, creativity, and emotional and social intelligence. Ultimately this has the potential to move the U.S. workforce toward higher levels of engagement and worker passion.

WithumSmith+Brown Unites with PWM Advisory Group to Form Withum Wealth Management

Princeton, N.J.-based WithumSmith+Brown (FY16 net revenue of $147 million) has united with Red Bank, N.J-based PWM Advisory Group, an independent registered investment advisor, to form Withum Wealth Management (WWM).

For several years, PWM has been providing private wealth management services to Withum’s high-net-worth individual and family clients residing primarily in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.

“This alignment of brands in forming Withum Wealth Management underscores our commitment to being a full-service provider to our clients, helping them to be in a position of strength,” says MP Bill Hagaman. “The relationship helps us achieve our goal to have Withum Wealth become a leading accounting-related wealth management firm in the country.”

An affiliate of Pinnacle Associates, a national firm with over $6 billion of assets under management, WWM is led by an experienced and highly credentialed team with Jim Ferrare as president.

Apple Growth Partners Acquiring Schlabig & Associates

Akron, Ohio-based Apple Growth Partners (FY15 net revenue of $10.9 million) is buying another accounting firm, Schlabig & Associates Ltd., with offices in Akron and Kent, Ohio.

The deal marks AGP’s second acquisition in six months. Its goal is to double in size by 2020. With the addition of Schlabig, revenue will grow to $17 million and staff will grow to 100, Apple Growth says.

Apple Growth also has offices in Cleveland and Beachwood, Ohio. The move expands Apple Growth into Portage and southern Geauga counties.

Whitlock Company to Acquire RPA CPAs

Springfield, Mo.-based The Whitlock Company (TWC) has reached a deal to acquire RPA CPAs of Fairway, Kan.

The acquisition will expand TWC’s consulting services and build on their community bank expertise. The combined banking practice will serve more than 175 community banks throughout the U.S., the firms announced.

RPA President Matt Radetic will be director of merger and acquisition consulting services for community banks. TWC partner Tom Beisner will continue to be the community bank practice leader. RPA adds deep consulting expertise, including merger and acquisition services, compliance services and bank secrecy act services. RPA adds 20 employees, including four partners, to TWC.

“The single, stronger practice that will result from this acquisition will better position us to assist community banks across the country,” Beisner says. “RPA’s single focus of working with community banks will not only triple the size of our banking practice but also add a depth of services we weren’t able to offer in the past, like compliance, merger and acquisition assistance and regulatory filings.”

TWC has an office in Overland Park, Kan., managed by Chuck McCann, who was a founder of Mayer Hoffman McCann, and served for more than 10 years as the firm’s first MP. RPA and TWC will continue to operate in the Kansas marketplace and will eventually merge offices with about 22 employees.

PKF O’Connor Davies Launches Recruitment Service

New York-based PKF O’Connor Davies (FY15 net revenue of $123 million) has launched TalentConnect, a new outsourced recruiting offering that allows clients to utilize the firm’s deep team of HR experts and network of accounting and finance professionals to identify and recruit top talent for their organizations.

The service will be offered at a fraction of what it would cost to engage headhunters or employment agencies, the firm announced.

“Talent is the key to winning, and we believe this offering can help level the playing field for some of our clients that don’t have the HR depth to compete in the recruiting game,” says MP Kevin J. Keane. “We have a deep team of HR experts and an unmatched network of accounting and finance professionals that have helped us grow, and now we can do the same for clients.”

TalentConnect brings together businesses with key industry players – from CFOs to bookkeepers – including those who may not be actively searching but receptive to a move. Additional TalentConnect services include formulating job descriptions, advising on salaries and benefits, creating and posting job listings in online and print media, collecting and reviewing responses, cover letters and resumes, and collaborating on candidate assessments.

CBIZ Acquires Private Equity Consulting Firm, Insurance Agency

Cleveland-based CBIZ (FY15 net revenue of $610 million) has announced that it has acquired substantially all of the assets of Philadelphia-based CMF Associates and a South Florida insurance agency, Slaton Insurance.

Founded in 2001, CMF provides transaction and transition-focused financial, operational and human capital solutions to private equity firms and their portfolio companies across North America.

CMF MP Thomas Bonney said the firm was looking for a partner who shared their “growth-oriented vision.” He adds, “We found in CBIZ an advocate that will provide us with offices across the country, complementary tangential services and the resources to drive portfolio value creation in a more comprehensive way and on a national scale.”

CMF has served more than 135 private equity funds across more than 500 companies with transaction advisory, office of the CFO, strategic financial planning and analysis, and executive search offerings. It has three U.S. offices and one in Vancouver, British Columbia. CMF has more than 75 associates with about $19.2 million in revenue in 2016.

Jerry Grisko, president and CEO of CBIZ, said, “Our intent is to provide a level of service and breadth of expertise – that doesn’t currently exist – to one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S.”

In addition, it has acquired an insurance agency that specializes in golf and country clubs. West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Slaton Insurance provides property, casualty and personal insurance for clients in and around Florida’s North Palm Beach County.

The company has 14 employees and recorded $2.6 million in revenue in 2016, according to a statement by CBIZ.

“The addition of Slaton will enhance our South Florida operations and complement our Delray Beach office by expanding our expertise in North Palm Beach County,” Grisko says.

John “Cal” Boynton, president, and Casey Cunniff, MP of Slaton say, “Joining CBIZ gives us the opportunity to continue to provide our clients with the service they have come to know and trust. Our clients will further benefit by having access to the full suite of CBIZ’s offerings including risk management, payroll and financial services. Additionally, CBIZ’s culture closely aligns with that of Slaton, making this a seamless transition for our employees and clients alike.”

In 2014, CBIZ purchased Weekes & Callaway, an insurance agency in Delray Beach, Fla. W&C had about $9 million in annual revenue and many of its largest clients were golf, yacht and country clubs.