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.

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.

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IPA INSIDER: May 2017 News

Listed below are the Top 10 most-read stories on the INSIDE Public Accounting blog for the month of May.

  1. Elliott Davis Decosimo Names New Chief HR Officer
  2. Grant Thornton Adds to Cybersecurity Services
  3. Settlement Reached in Andersen Tax Trademark Dispute in California
  4. The Bonadio Group Manhattan Office Moves, Hires
  5. Mowery & Schoenfeld Announces Newest Partner
  6. Marcum Adds Meyers Harrison & Pia
  7. IPA Vendor Spotlight On … Allan Fisher, Premier Financial Search
  8. LBMC Acquiring Intacct Practice
  9. Withum Adds IT Consulting Firm, Portal Solutions
  10. Gail Rosen Merging into Wilkin & Guttenplan

IPA Vendor Spotlight On … Allan Fisher, Premier Financial Search

Name: Allan Fisher

Allan Fisher

Allan Fisher

Company: Premier Financial Search

Title: President and Founder

Accomplishments:

  • 20 years of recruiting specifically for public accounting firms
  • Works with 25 of the IPA 100 firms, 42 of the IPA 200 firms and 64 of the IPA 300 firms.
  • Placed 1200+ candidates within CPA firms
  • Actively involved in CPAFMA
  • Acted as ‘matchmaker’ on multiple firm mergers

Many accounting firms have their own recruiters on staff, but what extra value can an outside recruiting service bring to the table?

Internal firm recruiters are a key part of the HR and talent acquisition process, and that is why we partner with them to fill their staffing needs. They do an outstanding job of promoting the benefits of their firm, and we do an outstanding job of identifying candidates they might not reach. Our team has created a strong national network. This enables us to target specific candidates by job, geography and industry specialization. We have built our success on relationships, and see this again and again in referrals. We see the big picture, and come at recruiting from a different vantage point. When combined with what CPA firms have in place for staffing, the value we add is tremendous.

What’s the biggest opportunity for CPA firms that Premier Financial Search can help them with?

Two of the biggest challenges facing CPA firms are staffing and succession planning. These are two of our largest areas of focus. As we work solely with public accounting firms, our entire inventory consists of candidates coming from local, regional and national firms. Our candidate interview process is in-depth and allows us to determine a candidate’s ultimate career goal. We can then make ideal matches based on the needs of the hiring firms.

How has the staffing industry changed with the rise of social media, specifically LinkedIn, in your years as an executive recruiter?

Much has changed in the industry since I started recruiting in 1998. LinkedIn has leveled the playing field when it comes to identifying talent. Recruiters and HR professionals alike can easily determine a talent pool at a particular level within a geographic area. Candidates tell me that they receive five to 10 emails via LinkedIn from recruiters and firms per week. This has created a Tinder-like atmosphere in which candidates feel they can be selective, swiping past opportunities until they find their perfect match. Recruiting is, and has always been, about relationships. For us, Monster, Indeed and LinkedIn open the doors to relationships. A positive for us is that LinkedIn allows us to reach more candidates on a national level. Interestingly, 30% of the candidates we place are relocating from one geographic area to another.

What makes Premier Financial Search different than other staffing companies?

We recruit and place nationally. We have placed candidates from almost every state into Top 100, 200 and 300 firms. We know what differentiates one firm from another. When a candidate considers making a move, their knowledge of firms is often focused on the very recognizable national firms. We assist by educating candidates on many things: the differences among national, regional and local firms; which firms offer industry specialty services; how one firm’s succession plan may be vastly different than another’s; how one firm’s culture compares to others. We know the market. With 20 years of expertise focused on one area, we know the trends, firms to watch, M&A rumors and important details not included on firm websites.

Final thoughts?

Our passion is placement within public accounting. In an overheated market for talent, we provide top candidates, allowing our clients to grow and properly plan for partner succession.

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

IPA INSIDER: April 2017 News

Listed below are the Top 10 most-read stories on the INSIDE Public Accounting blog for the month of April. IPA Logo - with tag line

  1. KPMG Fires Head of U.S. Audit, Others After Improper Warning of Inspection
  2. IPA Spotlight On … Loretta Doon, California Society of CPAs
  3. BDO USA Acquires Hilton Consulting
  4. Elliott Davis Decosimo Admits Ten New Shareholders
  5. Cybersecurity Firm SDGblue Joins Crowe Horwath
  6. Settlement Reached in Andersen Tax Trademark Dispute in California
  7. Grassi & Co. Welcomes COMPASS-Regulatory and Compliance Advisers
  8. Montana Society of CPAs Announces New Executive Director
  9. Sikich Strengthens Employee Benefit Services with Acquisition of Milwaukee-area Firm
  10. Dean Dorton Acquires Metro Medical Solutions

IPA Spotlight On … Jodi Ann Ray, Texas Society of CPAs

Name: Jodi Ann Ray

Jodi Ann Ray

Jodi Ann Ray

Association: Texas Society of CPAs (TSCPA)

Title: Executive Director/CEO

Accomplishments:

  • Took over the top job Jan. 1 from John Sharbaugh, who ended a 17-year run as CEO and now serves as managing director of governmental affairs.
  • Leads one of the nation’s largest state accounting organizations, representing 28,000 CPAs in 20 chapters across the state.
  • Previously served as vice president of membership and volunteer experience with Meeting Professionals International, where she was the responsible for governance and community development, which encompassed membership and more than 90 chapters and clubs in 24 countries.
  • She also served as the CEO for chambers of commerce in Connecticut, North Carolina and Texas, where she oversaw all operations including membership, government affairs, economic development and finance.

Progressive firm leaders are focused on re-imagining their future to ensure they remain relevant to their clients. How does “remaining relevant” play a role in your strategic planning, and what are some examples from the past 12 months of new services/programs/approaches that you have instituted that addresses how the State Society will remain relevant to its members?

The Society is taking a hard look at its strategic plan now, with plans to launch an updated plan to the membership in the fall. We’re looking at our vision for the organization, how it should look five to 10 years from now, and how to inspire our members and future CPAs about the organization and their practice in the field. We’re asking members what keeps them up at night, and which areas the organization should focus on. We’re upgrading our website to help members cut through the clutter to get accurate, timely and relevant information. The society is also very active in advocacy at the federal and state level.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the profession?

We are in such a period of change, not simply in our profession but in all industries, and I think the transformation affecting so many companies will impact the role of CPAs. What we consider the core services of CPAs is going to expand and evolve. For example, for some of the larger firms we’ve seen a very clear trend toward more advisory services.How do you see the role of the accountant changing over the next few years?

CPAs will become more of a strategic business advisor in addition to reporting financial performance. In the association world where I come from, the business decision-making models have changed and companies are relying on better, faster data and that’s changing the emphasis on what’s being produced. CPAs will be producing trend information, dashboards and projections to provide information that can be used in new and valuable ways.

Which aspect of technology should firms be paying closer attention to?

We’ve added new programs into our spring lineup of CPE offerings on risk management and cybersecurity. Firms are concerned about ensuring that the transfer of client data is secure and that their liability is adequately addressed.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are big topics in the profession. Can you give me some examples of member firms that have done something innovative and proactive to help clients?

Firms are reinventing themselves and doing it quickly to help their clients think ahead and adapt to coming changes. While the core services won’t go away, they may be delivered differently. The same is true for the Texas Society of CPAs – the services we provide to support our members will evolve and adapt.

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

IPA INSIDER: March 2017 News

Listed below are the Top 10 most-read stories on the INSIDE Public Accounting blog for the month of March. IPA Logo - with tag line

  1. Firm Using Andersen Name Denounces Andersen Tax Claims
  2. IPA Spotlight On … Jim Proppe, Plante Moran
  3. BDO USA Announces Addition of LBA Wealth Management
  4. Polk & Associates and Rogow & Loney Merge
  5. MPs: Partners Can Be Complacent And Ego-Driven, But Their Success = Firm Success
  6. Carr Riggs & Ingram Merges Atlanta Firm BNKJ
  7. UHY Advisors Returns to Texas with Union of Berkeley Research Group
  8. Yeager & Boyd Joins Aprio
  9. KPMG Names Thomas as Global Chairman
  10. Suggestions to Recruit and Retain the Future Leaders of Your Firm

IPA Spotlight On … Loretta Doon, California Society of CPAs

Name: Loretta Doon

Loretta Doon

Loretta Doon

Association: California Society of CPAs (CalCPA)

Title: CEO of CalCPA and California CPA Education Foundation

Accomplishments:

  • Leads the nation’s largest state accounting organization, representing 40,000 CPAs in 14 chapters across the state. Immediately prior to becoming CEO in 2006, she was the COO for both organizations.
  • Served for 25 years as associate executive director for the California Teachers Association, one of the most well-known and influential unions in the country with a budget of $130 million. Doon is a former teacher.
  • Named one of Accounting Today’s 2016 Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting, and has been named by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the most influential women in business.
  • Served as the AICPA’s CPA State Executives Association chair 2014-2015.

Progressive firm leaders are focused on re-imagining their future to ensure they remain relevant to their clients. How does “remaining relevant” play a role in your strategic planning, and what are some examples from the past 12 months of new services / programs / approaches that you have instituted that addresses how the State Society will remain relevant to its members?

Remaining relevant means providing services to members that help them advance their careers, improve their skill sets and find new markets for their services. It is essential to help accounting students learn about various career paths, and help them improve their chances of landing good jobs when they graduate. Our Campus Ambassador Program is active in more than 30 California universities and colleges, and we are starting a pilot program in high schools. For members, we are undertaking a communities initiative pilot program to provide resources, including white papers and information banks, to help them improve client services. We also have instituted a managing partner forum to share best practices. Our Education Foundation is exploring new ways to deliver content and become more mobile friendly, including nano courses and developing event apps for conferences. You’ll also find that we are increasingly incorporating social media into our programs and events.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the profession?

Increasingly, firms – even small ones – need to simultaneously generalize and specialize, including in such niche areas as valuation, wealth management and financial planning. Software and artificial intelligence are entering many accounting and auditing tasks. Most CPAs in the future will focus on consulting and advising rather than processing numbers. I believe that at some point in the future, the attest function will be broadened to include sustainability factors, including ethics, environmental conscientiousness and community contributions.

How do you see the role of the accountant changing over the next few years?

CPAs and firms will become more specialized, while at the same time expand their services and presence. They will focus more on particular kinds of services. As society becomes more complicated, accountants are going to have to focus on a particular segment, while being an overall business adviser, to be successful. Sounds like a dichotomy and it is. The professional needs to meet the needs of clients and the public –and these needs are not always one-dimensional.

Which aspect of technology should firms be paying closer attention to?

Mobile devices to capture and transmit information. Everything a firm does should be available on an app or two that clients can access on their phones. If a client has a question or needs some service immediately, the firm that can provide that service over a mobile phone within seconds. That added value will keep that client as a customer. If a firm can’t do that, then it likely won’t be around for long. Convenience and immediacy will be keys to success.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are big topics in the profession. Can you give me some examples of member firms that have done something innovative and proactive to help clients?

CalCPA represents many firms throughout California. An observation that I have is that major firms are creating community beyond their client base. These firms are using technology, as well as in-person events, to create community and facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and information to include more than just their clients. CalCPA, through its Education Foundation, provides its members and member firms with information and tools to also assist with improving business skills. The idea is to innovate and grow business by addressing and helping a broader community.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Jim Proppe, Plante Moran

Name: Jim Proppe
Firm: Southfield, Mich.-based Plante Moran (FY16 net revenue of $480.7 million)
Title: Managing Partner-elect
Accomplishments:

  • Beginning July 1, will serve as the seventh MP in the firm’s 93-year history.
  • Served 13 years as Plante Moran Group MP, coordinating client service, growth, people development and risk management.
  • Assisted with the development and launch of several firm services, including Plante Moran Group Benefit Advisors, Enterprise Risk Management, Tax Solutions Group and ERP implementation services.
  • Helped launch firm offices in Shanghai, China, Monterrey, Mexico, and Mumbai, India.
  • Led the design of Plante Moran’s partner performance management process.

Your term starts July 1 – what work are you doing now to transition into the role?

Jim Proppe

Jim Proppe

After being elected as managing partner, my focus was on selecting our next management team. I wanted to surround myself with people who have a skill set that is complementary to mine and will bring strong diversity of thought. The six partners selected will begin their appointments July 1 when my term begins. A big part of preparing for my role is to help the new management team transition into theirs: preparing them to take on new responsibilities and transitioning their previous roles to their successors. This transition has created a lot of great opportunities for people across the firm – it’s a really exciting time.

You’ve said that you plan to place a strong focus on anticipating client needs – how can Plante Moran solve clients’ problems before they even know they have them?

We have deep knowledge in a variety of industries and services. Our staff can leverage that knowledge by collaborating and identifying disruptors in one industry that will eventually impact others. For example, the driverless car will impact more than the automotive industry. It will also impact retail auto dealers (what is the impact on vehicle sales?), design and construction of real estate (how much parking will you need?), insurance companies (will they have fewer claims?), local government (what changes in infrastructure will be required?) and the list goes on. Many times business owners aren’t aware of disruptors in other industries that could significantly impact their business. We help our clients stay in front of these issues.

What kinds of opportunities are available to the firm through technology?

Advancement in technology –  things like machine learning and data analytics – will significantly change our profession and create new opportunities to serve clients. We’re already working with clients to find better ways to analyze and use their data to develop strategies around creating new products, services and/or business models. Plante Moran is built for change, and we feel we’re well positioned to lead in this area.

Which practice areas at Plante Moran are ripe for growth?

While I think the changing economy creates opportunities for growth in all the industries we serve, as the world becomes more technology-dependent, we’re seeing a lot of growth in our technology consulting practice, particularly in cybersecurity. Plante Moran Wealth Management also continues to experience significant growth as we have uniquely integrated investment advisory, trust, life insurance, estate planning, tax and family office services. Also, with a new administration, there could be significant changes in tax reform, regulations and how organizations do business internationally. We’re prepared to help clients navigate those changes and adjust their business strategies accordingly.

Gordon Krater called you a “natural leader,” do you agree? Which aspects of leadership don’t come so naturally to you?

I’ve had the good fortune to spend my entire career at Plante Moran. From training opportunities to formal mentoring initiatives to a robust career development program, the firm’s first priority has always been developing staff to become incredible client servers – and it’s hard not to develop some pretty strong leadership skills along the way. For me, I am a compulsive helper and one of the most challenging parts of leadership is realizing you can’t do it all by yourself – especially at a firm with the breadth and depth of Plante Moran. Fortunately, there’s always a pool of qualified partners and staff ready to lead.

Final thoughts?

As Plante Moran’s seventh managing partner, I look forward to guiding the firm’s client service, growth, people development, risk management and strategic direction – all with the goal of being a good steward and working to leave the firm better than I found it, just as Gordon did.

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