Armanino Launches Data-Driven Return-to-Work Solution

San Ramon, Calif.-based IPA 100 firm Armanino LLP has launched a new suite of return-to-work tools designed to help businesses take a thoughtful, strategic and safe approach to reopening, with preparations related to technology, people policies and operations planning. The new COVID-19 Return-to-Work App provides real-time insight and visualization related to everything from employee wellness monitoring to workspace scheduling, as well as access to the firm’s COVID-19 Recovery Tracker.

The suite’s people policies provide access to HR consultants who help organizations update policies regarding remote working, health testing, workplace safety programs, travel, family and sick leave management, CARES Act employee retention credits and more. Operations guidance, meanwhile, prepares businesses for reopening by focusing on everything from lease renegotiation and insurance policy reviews to tax matters affected by a changed work environment, company privacy policies and workplace visitation rules.

“When the time comes to reopen, each business has a responsibility to create a work environment for returning employees that prioritizes safety and protects the company through risk mitigation planning,” says Jenn McCabe, a consulting partner at Armanino and a member of the firm’s Rapid Response Team. “Using our Return-to-Work App, businesses can securely and discreetly work with employees to monitor COVID-19 symptoms and generate floorplans that meet CDC social distancing guidelines. Additionally, they need to consider appropriate HR policies and operations guidance that appropriately responds to new challenges and potential liabilities created by the pandemic.”

More news from Armanino LLP

IPA Pulse Survey: Growth Amid Turmoil

Accountants frequently speak of wanting to be trusted advisors for their clients, and the COVID-19 crisis provided a crucial test of that aspiration. So how did they do? More than 100 MPs weighed in on client feedback and other revelations in the wake of the pandemic in IPA’s latest pulse survey.

One of the topics the June survey covered was a potential upside arising from the pandemic – that is, amid lingering client attrition and/or cash flow issues, how many firms have seen an uptick in business from both existing and new clients to help offset some of these challenges?

Almost 66% of survey respondents reported having gotten new unique business from their existing clients during the crisis, much of which was related to PPP work, but some crisis management and cybersecurity consulting as well.

Meanwhile, 85% of respondents reported earning new business from new clients over this span (much of it again PPP-related), thanks in part to increased exposure from webinars and thought-leadership pieces they offered during the early weeks and months of the crisis.

Catch up on more insights from this IPA Pulse Survey:

Pandemic Priorities

IPA Pulse Survey: Pandemic Priorities

Accountants frequently speak of wanting to be trusted advisors for their clients, and the COVID-19 crisis provided a crucial test of that aspiration. So how did they do? More than 100 MPs weighed in on client feedback and other revelations in the wake of the pandemic in IPA’s latest pulse survey.

One of the topics the June survey covered was how, exactly, firms stepped up to help their clients navigate the economic downturn, and, given what they know now, what new or existing services they might focus on going forward.

It’s clear that the single most important service most firms could provide in the immediate wake of the crisis was consulting on various aspects of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan applications and forgiveness, with 73% of survey respondents tabbing PPP work as their most valuable service based on client feedback. In fact, the only other option with a double-digit response rate was providing general COVID-19 resources and information at 13%.

In retrospect, though, could better general business planning have made a difference for some organizations that wound up getting hit hard by the pandemic? Perhaps additional consulting around things like cybersecurity, cloud-based services (for more efficient remote work), disaster/crisis management and cash flow management would have been helpful for some clients. Many survey respondents obviously thought so, with 42% indicating they will be more aggressively marketing/promoting some of these existing services they believe would have helped clients during the past few months.

Meanwhile, it was a 50-50 split among respondents as to whether they were planning to market new services as a result of the pandemic, with those in the “yes” half of the field looking to focus on things like turnaround/restructuring services, data analytics and cash flow consulting/forecasting.

More IPA Pulse Surveys:

Compensation, Cuts and the Crisis

Hiring on Hold?

A ‘New Normal’ at the Office

An Interesting Interlude for Internships

Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

Leaders Need to Listen to the Brain to Engage Employees in Uncertain Times

Plenty of ink has been spilled and Zoom bandwidth occupied over the past few months with ideas about how to keep employees safe and productive during the pandemic. Most of the information out there, however, has been largely built on traditional business concepts and principles, when the notion of employee engagement may in fact be better served in the same way that other aspects of this crisis have been – by listening to the science.

That’s the angle that E3 Solutions CEO and past IPA PRIME Symposium keynote speaker Don Rheem took in his recent IPA webinar “Engaging Employees in Uncertain Times.”

Rheem says the stresses and isolation brought on by the pandemic will have a serious impact on employee engagement, which Rheem defines as an employee’s willingness to freely give discretionary effort. In other words, the less engaged someone is, the less likely he or she is to go above and beyond; employees may manage to remain productive throughout this crisis, but they’re unlikely to excel.

Why? Rheem says it’s because humans inherently feel safer in groups – with the work tribe being one of the most common. Without a sense of team and togetherness that they get in communal office settings, employees are less likely to have confidence and may not perform at their very best – particularly when many may be grappling with the mental health effects of the current situation, such as unfamiliar remote work, isolation, family stressors, time management challenges and more.

Leaders and frontline managers can help, Rheem believes, by being as consistent and predictable as possible, since these, according to Rheem are two of the most important needs employees look for to feel secure. Consistency should take the form of more validation and recognition, while predictability is best demonstrated through a greater emphasis on ongoing feedback and support. This is where frontline managers need to excel, since 70% of employee engagement is related to an employee’s direct manager/report.

Rheem believes the importance of emotion cannot be understated during this pandemic, or any crisis, since emotion serves as the internal GPS in human beings, guiding actions, behaviors and thoughts. As the COVID-19 crisis slowly pans out, he says it’s critical for leaders to acknowledge the stress employees may be feeling and to not dismiss the very real sense of fear that they may be experiencing.

Some important messages to convey during this, and any crisis include continued reassurance, encouragement, connections, clarity and consistency. Supportive leaders can demonstrate these qualities by being inquisitive listeners through conversational support, while also offering the tactical support of real-world solutions like family care, technological resources, home office assistance and work reallocation. The result will be employees will feel supported, heard and secure – and will be more engaged as a result.

“The future of work will be determined more by how it feels than what it pays,” Rheem says.

U.K. Accounting Watchdog Orders Big 4 to Split Consulting and Auditing Business

In light of numerous high-profile accounting scandals in the U.K., the Financial Reporting Council has ruled that the Big 4 must separate their audit functions from the rest of the firm.

The FRC, the U.K.’s accounting watchdog, decided Monday that the Big 4 have until June 2024 to make the move, with Oct. 23 of this year as the deadline for submitting a plan to do so.

The move, in response to concerns about a real or perceived conflict of interest, aims to draw a sharp line between consulting with clients versus overseeing the accuracy of a company’s financial records. Consulting revenue has grown, while audit revenue has shrunk to about one-fifth of total firm revenues of the Big 4, according to CNN London. Some fear the shift is dimming the focus on high-quality audits.

The FRC declared that profit payments to audit partners “should not persistently exceed the contribution to profits of the audit practice.” Additionally, auditors “should work for the benefit of shareholders of audited entities and wider society” and were “not accountable to audited entities’ executive management.” An independent audit board will oversee the practice, according to The Financial Times in London

Some observers say the reforms aren’t enough, according to two people who spoke to the newspaper. “It is a semi-split that is unlikely to be the last reform that will be needed,” says Erik Gordon, professor at the University of Michigan. One senior executive says, “If this is held out as the solution to audit quality then we’re all kidding ourselves.”

The Big 4 are the only firms impacted by the rule because they conduct more than 95% of the audits of the top 350 companies in the London stock exchange (FTSE 350), according to the FRC. All the Big 4 firms expressed support for the move in prepared statements and called for even more stringent reforms.

Some recent scandals include:

  • EY’s audit of Wirecard, a payment processing company in Germany, which filed for bankruptcy following discovery of a $2 billion hole in its accounts. The FRC says its reform measure was unrelated to Wirecard, as the move had been in the works previously, CNN London reports.
  • KPMG’s audit of Carillion, a construction company that went bankrupt in 2018. The firm was also investigated for its failure to detect corruption by South Africa’s Gupta family, which has close ties to President Jacob Zuma.
  • PwC’s audit of India-based Satyam Computer Services, which falsified its accounts. PwC was banned from auditing public companies there from 2018 to 2020.
  • Deloitte’s audits of collapsed furniture retailer, Steinhoff, and the lender African Bank, also in South Africa.

More news from EY

More news from KPMG

More news from PwC

More news from Deloitte

MPs Take Slow, Safe Approach to Reopening Offices With Dozens of Data Points to Consider

As firm professionals have adjusted – first to the shock of the pandemic and then to working from home – another anxiety-ridden shift is beginning as states slowly allow returning to work.

Firm leaders interviewed by IPA are in no rush to unlock the doors. They are giving staff the option to come back when they are comfortable to do so, while weighing the risks of reopening and consulting guidance from numerous sources: their own HR experts, legal counsel, and state and federal health officials. Some are contacting vendors to conduct temperature checks, hiring sanitation crews and planning for social-distancing safeguards that were unimaginable even a few months ago.

Here are some of their comments:

  • A survey of staff by Miami-based MBAF, an IPA 100 firm, shows close to half are so concerned about their health that they want to continue to work from home at least through the summer. To avoid staff from working too close together when the office reopens, about 40% of the 30,000 square feet will have to remain unoccupied, says MP Tony Argiz.
  • Lou Grassi, MP of New York-based Grassi, says the IPA 100 firm won’t push employees to come back to the office immediately. Staff were invited to return starting June 15, with plans to sanitize offices weekly and implement six-foot distancing and other precautions. Grassi says staff will be encouraged to give feedback. “If there’s something about this that doesn’t make sense, we need to know.”
  • At Atlanta-based Aprio, an IPA 100 firm, Larry Sheftel, vice president of human resources, says the firm has contacted vendors about on-site temperature checks, and he expects far more remote working than pre-pandemic times. He says firm leaders are well aware that many staff will likely feel nervous about coming back. “Things may not really approach normal until the fall.”

Remote work under an extended lockdown has its own stresses and many will welcome their cubicle like an old friend, but even so, employees who walked out the door in March are different people now.

Todd Nordstrom, author, public speaker and coach, writes that some will be fearful of their health; some will be grateful for the care and concern they’ve been shown; some will be raring to move forward; others will be thinking that work isn’t as important as they once believed.

“We must realize that we don’t yet understand the emotional impact this pandemic has created in the hearts and minds of employees. And, we’ll never know unless we ask,” Nordstrom says in Forbes magazine.

Here are some of the considerations, compiled from legal and business publications:

  • Remember that at a bare minimum, follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and state and local governments. Rules are constantly changing and may not be consistent.
  • Create a re-entry task force to write interim policies until the pandemic is over, including disciplinary actions for violations of policies, including frequent hand washing, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and the like. Even-handed, consistent and thoughtful are the watchwords here. Don’t wing it, the National Law Review
  • Ask employees whether they have been exposed, have a sick person at home, or are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or loss of taste and smell.
  • Supply paper towels instead of hand dryers because the jets can disperse virus particles, the Harvard Business Review reported. Disable water fountains and ice machines. Close common areas altogether rather than enforce social distancing.
  • Make a plan for notifying employees if they have been in contact (within 6 feet) of a coworker who has tested positive. Attorneys say the infected staffer should not be named; otherwise employers are in violation of federal privacy laws.
  • Think about how to approach concerns from employees about actions of their coworkers who congregate in crowds outside work.
  • Review time-off policies, including sick leave, and revamp business continuity plans to deal with the next crisis.

“It will be a fragile environment, so you want to be really deliberate and consistent in how you approach things,” says Kent Lambert, managing shareholder in the New Orleans office of Baker Donelson, on the legal news website Lexology.com. “Try to be responsible and fair and even-handed and put safety first. If you approach things in that way, you’ll be in good shape.

Other resources:

IPA Pulse Survey: Compensation, Cuts and the Crisis

IPA’s latest pulse survey tapped the knowledge of nearly 150 MPs in late May on several key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the topics of the pulse survey covered staffing and compensation and what moves, if any, firms had made (or were planning to make) with respect to layoffs, pay cuts and/or partner draws. And while many firms indicated they planned to hold steady in these areas, others were clearly taking action to stem some of the current or anticipated economic repercussions of the pandemic.

For example, only 5% of survey respondents indicated they had instituted across-the-board staff pay reductions as a direct result of the crisis – though the percentage was much higher among firms above $125 million. Meanwhile, 19% of firms had made pandemic-related layoffs (the percentage increased to 43% for firms between $75 and $125 million, and 31% for those above $125 million), but these cuts amounted to less than 10% of the staff for 90% of those respondents making cuts. And while the split among all respondents on partner draw reductions and/or adjustments to partner compensation schedules was right around 50-50, firms above $40 million were far more likely to have taken this route.

In terms of what lies ahead, most MPs seemed optimistic (at least back in late May) that they wouldn’t need to impose pay cuts or layoffs in the coming months, though the outlook among respondents in the $40-$75 million range wasn’t nearly as positive, with 47% in this group saying the possibility was either very likely or somewhat likely.   Catch up on more insights from this IPA Pulse Survey:

Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

An Interesting Interlude for Internships

A ‘New Normal’ at the Office

Hiring on Hold?

Report: Women Twice as Likely Than Men to Leave Employer Within a Year Following Pandemic

New research conducted by the WerkLabs division of the Chicago-based The Mom Project reveals the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic on employees – particularly women and working moms.

In a recent survey of approximately 2,000 professionals across the country, women reported they are twice as likely than their male counterparts to leave their employer in a year’s time due to their workplace experience during the pandemic. That number is deeply connected to workplace satisfaction during the pandemic, with women scoring an average of 15 points lower than men on all drivers, meaning their work experience was more negative.

The impact of COVID-19 continues to hit many working moms, who are trying to juggle day-to-day lives and childcare on top of their careers. The economic impact of working moms’ coronavirus-related anxiety is estimated at $341 billion. Not only are women and working moms balancing a plethora of responsibilities, they are also fearing for their jobs – approximately 60% of the jobs eliminated in the first wave of pandemic-induced layoffs were held by women.

Of the professionals surveyed, more than one-third (38%) reported both their work and well-being have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Many participants who volunteered to offer more information on how the pandemic has impacted them and/or their work experience note that leadership believes because social activities are lessened or nonexistent as a result of the pandemic, the employee has more time for work and thus can handle a larger workload – regardless of work-life balance or other responsibilities like child care.

With the lines between parenthood and career blurred indefinitely as a result of the pandemic and various shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders and mandates, parents need greater support now more than ever. More than 50% of working parents are currently without childcare, and 1 in 5 working parents said either they or their partner are considering leaving the workforce to care for their children.

Full-time working mothers in two-parent households average 22 hours of childcare per week during the current climate while maintaining their jobs. Married men provide an average of 7.2 hours of childcare per week compared to 10.3 hours for married women, among those employed full-time.

“The pandemic has forced an unprecedented rapid shift in workplace culture and it’s important we understand and address the positives and negatives of this change because this may be the ‘new normal’ moving forward, or at least for an indefinite time,” says WerkLabs president Dr. Pamela Cohen.

IPA Pulse Survey: Hiring on Hold?

IPA’s latest pulse survey tapped the knowledge of nearly 150 MPs in late May on several key issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, given the disruption that many firms have endured and the uncertainty that lies ahead, we were interested in how firms are altering their hiring plans (if at all) for the remainder of 2020.

Among all respondents, more than half (51%) aren’t letting the pandemic interfere with their hiring plans. Some, however, are either pushing back start dates for new hires (17% of all respondents, but more than 50% of firms over $125 million) or putting a freeze on new hires altogether for the time being (24% of all respondents, but more than 40% of firms in the $75-$125 million range).

Other firms, meanwhile, are playing offense when it comes to hiring amid the ongoing crisis, with about one in five of all respondents planning to ramp up hiring. This aggressive stance is most prevalent among firms in the $75-$125 million range, where 57% of respondents are not letting the pandemic derail their quest for new talent.

Catch up on more insights from this IPA Pulse Survey:

Shrinking the Physical Office Footprint

An Interesting Interlude for Internships

A ‘New Normal’ at the Office

2020 Marketer of the Year Discusses Sales Culture in Awards Video

Annie Somermeyer, the 2020 Marketer of the Year for the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), shared sales advice and the importance of focusing on client success during a recent video awards presentation.

IPA managing editor Christina Camara interviewed Somermeyer, director of business development at Madison, Wis.-based SVA Certified Public Accountants, an IPA 100 firm, during AAM’s virtual awards event June 3. This is IPA’s seventh year sponsoring the most prestigious award in the accounting marketing profession.

Somermeyer discussed the numerous initiatives she led to create more business for the firm, including a sales program for young professionals launched last year. Additionally, a sales entrepreneurs program for principals produced over $700,000 in new sales in FY19.

“We were trying anything and everything to create a sales culture because the more you do it, the more you talk about it, the more it’s top of mind, the more opportunity there is for it to develop.”

The panel of five Marketer of the Year judges was impressed by SVA’s Measurable Results campaign. The Measurable Results tagline, implemented as part of a firm rebrand several years ago, highlights the successes of its clients through popular video or written stories. Last year, CEO John Baltes encouraged the team to boost its output with eight client videos.

Not all accounting firm marketers have $1 million at their disposal and a team of eight, but understanding the business of accounting lays the groundwork for good results, no matter how many dollars you have to work with, Somermeyer says. “It’s less about the money and it’s really more about the impact that you’re making, so regardless of how big or small a budget is, it has to do something for the firm, and you need to be able to prove that out with some sort of data or measurement.”

Watch the video.