IPA INSIDER: June 2018 News

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

  1. Plante Moran Acquires IPA 100 Firm
  2. Guest Article: Identifying Future Leaders
  3. Grant Thornton Names Baril National Managing Principal of Innovation
  4. Citrin Cooperman Acquires Massachusetts Firm
  5. AICPA Council Member Joins Whitman Business Advisors
  6. Rylander Clay & Opitz Joins BKD
  7. Michael Platt: Future Brings Opportunity for CPA Firms – Along With Angst
  8. IPA Spotlight On … Jennifer Briggs, Indiana CPA Society
  9. Wipfli Expands Presence in California as Price Waterman Joins Firm
  10. BST & Co. Acquires Northeast HR for Hire

Michael Platt: Future Brings Opportunity for CPA Firms – Along With Angst

The accounting profession is expected to undergo more change in the next 50 months than it has in the last 50 years – a prediction that is sparking anxiety among firm leaders, but also a recognition of vast opportunities, says IPA Publisher Michael Platt.

“They’ve been very, very successful getting to this point, but going forward it’s going to be a little bit of a different ball game – different business model, different services and different ways to serve their clients,” Platt said in an interview with Jody Padar, CEO of the New Vision CPA Group.

Platt appeared on “Let’s Get Radical,” hosted by Padar and David Knoch, president of 1st Global, which provides wealth management services to CPA firms. The interview was broadcast live on the Voice of America Business Network June 12 at the AICPA’s ENGAGE conference at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Platt, in an interview that hit upon major issues affecting the profession, provided a glimpse of some of the trends emerging from IPA’s annual survey of more than 500 accounting firms.

He says profit margins are shrinking for two reasons – fee pressures, particularly for audit services, and rising staff costs, which are increasing by 6-7% per year. Billing rates are going up only 4% in the same time frame. “The accounting profession is one of the few professions that has a monopoly,” he says. “They’ve taken the monopoly, in this case the audit, and just driven the price of the audit into the ground.”

The most successful firms, which IPA recognizes every year as “Best of the Best” firms, are those that are changing the definition of a CPA firm and articulating the value of their knowledge to clients. Progressive firms are no longer selling products and services; they’re selling help and solutions for clients, Platt says. “Shifting from the expert who has all the right answers to the advisor who has all the right questions is a big hurdle for a lot of people to get over, but one that is quite achievable.”

View the entire interview.

IPA Spotlight On … Sheila Enriquez

Sheila Enriquez

Sheila Enriquez

Name: Sheila Enriquez

Title: Managing Shareholder-Elect

Firm: Houston-based Briggs & Veselka Co. (FY17 net revenue of $36.2 million)

Accomplishments:

  • Elected managing shareholder of Houston’s largest independent CPA firm and will assume the role from John Flatowicz on July 1.
  • Leads the firm’s forensic, valuation and litigation support services, and its consulting practices.
  • Named one of the “Women Who Mean Business 2017: Outstanding Leaders in Banking and Finance” by the Houston Business Journal. 
  • Serves on AICPA Governing Council and the Texas Society of CPAs Board of Directors.

The AICPA says that in 2016, only 2% of CPA partners were Asian/Pacific Islander. Also, according to IPA’s data from 2017, of all IPA 100 firms, no Asian/Pacific Islander was MP and only one held the top job outside the Big 4. Do you feel any special responsibility, as a first-generation American, to increase diversity within the profession?

In our firm, over 20% of shareholders are of Asian descent and we have professionals who speak 17 different languages. I am a first-generation immigrant, who came to the U.S. on a scholarship to pursue a college education, and have now lived in Houston for over a decade. According to census data, it is the most diverse city in America. The 2017 AICPA trends report says the pipeline of CPAs in 2016 reflect a greater percentage of non-whites, with 37% graduates and 41% enrollees in undergraduate programs. This increasing pipeline is encouraging, and I am very passionate about promoting the CPA profession and increasing its visibility to students below college. I believe this will naturally increase the diversity within the profession.

You said you’d like Briggs & Veselka to become a top 50 firm in the nation. How do you plan to achieve this goal, through acquisitions, organic growth or both?

The short answer is “all of the above.” We are committed to remaining a legacy firm, which means we will remain independent. We understand that this requires investment in people, processes and technology, which we are ready, willing and able to do. Our organic growth will be focused in strengthening our core services of tax and audit, while thoughtfully expanding into related advisory services to provide better value to our clients and opportunities for our staff. Acquisitions are also part of our growth strategy, and we will continue to look for the right fit for acquisitions in new or expanded niche services and/or geographic markets in the region.

How do you envision the audit of the future at your firm?

One thing my firm is good at is embracing innovation. In fact, we have a firm-wide Technology and Innovation Committee made up of partners, managers and administrative staff that keeps a pulse on new technology and innovation, and makes recommendations and implements new solutions. In audit, we are transforming how we deliver our services, supported by the adoption of new software to better access client data, and building data analytics into our work programs. The buzzwords in the profession are AI, robotics and RPA, and we are actively exploring the best ways to implement these to make our audits more efficient and effective, and allow our audit staff to focus on more value-added activities for our clients.

Which areas of advisory services at the firm are ripe for expansion?

We’re basically integrating consulting in all aspects of our traditional core services, such as SALT, international tax and tax provision services in our tax group, and internal audit, outsourced accounting, pre-audit and technical implementation of new accounting standards consulting in our audit group. We are also building specific consulting niches, such as forensics, valuation, litigation support, transaction advisory services and IT consulting. IT consulting is an area of growth given the cybersecurity risks our clients are facing, and the opportunities for process improvement. While the skills to deliver these advisory services emanate from our core competencies, we believe that pivoting these skills to the new economy are vital to creating value and relevancy with our clients. At the same time, we are creating new opportunities for our people to expand their scope and career trajectories.

Final thoughts?

I’m honored to assume the leadership of a firm that has created such a market presence in Texas, and I am committed to being a good steward to continue its success. Our firm has grown throughout our 45-year history, thanks to the leadership of Johnny Veselka, our founding shareholder, who led the firm in its first 37 years, and followed by John Flatowicz, who grew the firm three-fold during his tenure. Both of them epitomize our core values of excellence, dedication and compassion. I have been blessed to have John as a mentor during my 11+ years at the firm, and I’m blessed that he will help guide and shape our future.

Platt’s Perspective: On Slaughtering Sacred Cows

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

It’s no secret that change doesn’t come easily. The best change agents are fundamentally curious, not only wondering why a system or a process is done in a certain way, but digging deep to uncover the root cause. Using the “ask five ‘whys’ ” technique in their exploration, the best leaders will often get past the surface answer and expose what is at the core of a “fundamental truth” about how business is done in their firm.

As an example, consider a common complaint in firms today – staff turnover is high and often the wrong people are leaving. Why is that? Professional staff are often frustrated because they don’t know what it takes to get ahead, and they make a decision – often in a vacuum – based on what they think is their best career move. Why is that? In many firms there is not a well-defined or well-communicated path to advancement from staff person to partner. Why is that? Because often there is not just one path to success, and by defining the path, partners feel they are boxed in to one approach. Why is that? Because when they were coming up, partners had to define their own path and demonstrate their own entrepreneurial “chops” to get ahead, and often feel that handing a defined plan to someone is short-circuiting what it takes to get ahead. And why is that? Because ultimately partners believe that the staff haven’t yet paid their dues and should not be given a free ride.

This ultimate partner belief – that staff haven’t paid their dues – contributes to high turnover rates and may no longer serve the firm the right way. This type of a belief system is an example of a sacred cow of the profession.

What other sacred cows should be analyzed? See how many of these beliefs you recognize in your own firm:
1. Our pyramid-shaped business model is the key to a successful firm going forward.
2. There is no time for additional value-added work during busy season.
3. Partners own the relationships.
4. Partners are best to run the firm.
5. As a partner, no one else can do what I do.
6. Minimum hours are required during tax season.
7. Face time is critical, the team needs to be in the office.
8. Entry point to a client is compliance services.
9. Technology can’t replace what we do.
10. We need to treat all clients like “A” clients.
11. Career success = Partnership.
12. Firm success = Net Income per Partner.
13. Traditional metrics tell us all we need to know about our success.
14. We are a service organization, not a sales organization.
15. High quality work will ensure that we keep our best clients.

Without a doubt, many sacred cows exist in firms today, and the list above is just a fraction of the many (outdated?) belief systems that dominate the profession. Ask your partner group and key staff to identify their own list. Slaughtering these sacred cows can be a liberating experience for all involved, and will make room for a new set of beliefs that will better serve the firm by propelling everyone into a more successful future.

IPA Spotlight On … Jennifer Briggs, Indiana CPA Society

Name: Jennifer B. Briggs

Jennifer B. Briggs

Jennifer B. Briggs

Title: President and CEO

Association: Indiana CPA Society

Accomplishments:

  • 25 years of association management experience, with state and national organizations and at an association management and lobbying firm
  • Chair of Interchange 2018, a conference for the AICPA and State CPA Societies and one of my all-time favorite educational events
  • Not my accomplishment, but a team accomplishment this year was managing the launch of a new logo and improved website, all while preparing to move our office this summer and developing two new leadership programs.

As only the fifth CEO in the Indiana CPA Society’s 103-year history who replaced a 33-year veteran, do you feel a special responsibility in taking on the top job?

Absolutely! It’s a great privilege to work in an organization with a long history, and it involves a balancing act of honoring the past, delivering value in the present and leading the organization to the best possible future. My predecessors were all with the Society for a long time and developed extensive relationships. Having already been here for 16 years I feel fortunate to continue that tradition and am grateful for the many members I’ve known who have helped inspire my work over the years.

You’ve held numerous positions at the society, beginning in 2002 as a special projects manager. Has the variety of experiences within the society helped you in preparing for your new role as CEO?

No question. Having served in membership, communications and professional development positions here, I have a broad view of the Society and a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges the leaders in those areas face. Having said that, I tend to be the type of person who is very open to new things, so I try not to rely on past experience – even here at the Society – as a gauge for what will work in the future, it’s simply nice to have reference points.

Progressive leaders are focused on re-imagining and challenging the status quo. How does “remaining relevant” play a role in your planning for your 8,000+ members of the Indiana CPA Society?

We think about it every day. With INCPAS 2025 we have set “4 Bold Challenges” to ensure our relevance and to maintain the CPA brand. Our bold challenges encompass diversity, both in the profession and among our members, and ensuring our members are trusted business resources and advocates. We also are focusing on competency-based education through the Society and our subsidiary organization the CPA Center of Excellence®. Bringing the latest information to our members and engaging them in meaningful ways related to innovation and technology is paramount to our continued relevance. The changes coming to the profession due to AI, robotics and machine learning are real – it’s an exciting time.

Can you give me some examples of firms that have done something innovative and proactive to help clients?

Kruggel Lawton has done incredible work on their internal teams using CPA Center of Excellence® courses on core skills like communication and leadership and our insight assessment tool. This has translated into better internal relationships, improved goal-setting and stronger client relationships. Summit CPA Group is changing the traditional business model with an entirely virtual team offering outsourced CFO services. We recently created an INCPAS Innovation Award so we can recognize those firms and companies that are doing great things – Summit CPA Group won the award last year.

Final thoughts?

As automation advances, CPAs will need to consider next-level services they can provide. There is a huge opportunity here. People skills will never be obsolete (in conjunction with understanding the technical issues behind the automation) and I’m a firm believer that core competencies can be taught and improved upon. Not everyone will have the same strengths, but we also can’t wait to find the ‘born leaders’ – the profession can do a better job developing them.

IPA INSIDER: May 2018 News

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

  1. BDO USA Acquires Smith & Gesteland
  2. How Do CPAs Remain Relevant in a Disruptive World? Research Points to Eight Key Competencies
  3. BKD Admits New Partners and Managing Directors
  4. Gantz Named AAM’s 2018 Marketer of the Year
  5. WithumSmith+Brown SOC Team Authors and Presents Inaugural AICPA SOC for Cybersecurity Certification
  6. IPA Spotlight On … Jill Boyle, Sikich
  7. PwC Invests $45M in Wellness Perks and New Parents’ Benefits
  8. IPA Spotlight On … Daniel Young, Schenck
  9. Resnick Joins Friedman as a Tax Principal
  10. EY Reaches Settlement with Partner Who Alleges Sexual Harassment

Gantz Named AAM’s 2018 Marketer of the Year

Nicole Gantz

Nicole Gantz

Nicole Gantz, marketing partner at Dubuque, Iowa-based Honkamp Krueger & Co., has received the Association for Accounting Marketing’s (AAM) 2018 Marketer of the Year award, sponsored by INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA).

The winner was announced by IPA May 16 at AAM’s 2018 Summit in Portland, Ore.

Gantz leads strategic marketing, communications and client experience initiatives while also offering marketing consulting services to other CPA firms and businesses. Honkamp Krueger (HK), the largest Iowa-based CPA firm, is ranked No. 60 on the 2017 IPA 100 list of largest accounting firms in the country.

HK President and CEO Gregory Burbach praised Gantz’ vast experience and “ahead-of-the-curve” approach to social media, website upgrades, development of a client patronage app and a new marketing automation program.

The client patronage app, which received national attention, allows the firm’s 500 employees to purposefully shop at firm clients, find locations, get driving directions, submit spending amounts and win prizes. The app, which has tracked $14.2 million in spending and almost 57,000 receipts submitted since its launch in 2014, increases client retention and referrals, and attracts new clients who want to be part of the program. The marketing automation tool, Pardot, was implemented early last year, and in nine months produced 58 qualified leads to business developers, which resulted in five new clients.

“Nicole and her team are that nice balance of being creative and innovative, but not so over the top that they forget the end goal or ROI and effectiveness I want to see in our marketing investment,” Burbach says. “We believe so much in her that she became our first marketing partner Jan. 1, 2018.”

Gantz, who calls the recognition the “honor of a lifetime,” thanks IPA, AAM, her firm leaders and the talented accounting firm marketers from whom she has learned so much. “With the support and leadership of Greg Burbach and our business development partner, Ryan Hauber, Honkamp Krueger nurtures a strong marketing and growth culture. Our innovative and entrepreneurial partners are continuously supportive and value our talented marketing team’s efforts and role in our organization. Together, we have a deep passion for our clients’ successes, and I feel lucky to play a small part in that.”

Art Kuesel, president of the Kuesel Consulting, says, “It’s hard enough to earn a partner spot at a firm when you directly generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in billable time – but when you can earn that position via a combination of direct measurable contributions and indirect hard-to-measure contributions, you’ve truly achieved something special. And HK has someone very special in Nicole.”

Gantz also serves as director and marketing consultant for the HK Alliance, made up of nearly 30 member CPA firms that are wealth management affiliates of Honkamp Krueger Financial Services. She’s heavily involved in HK’s accounting association, CPAmerica International, and serves as a board member and volunteer for eight nonprofit organizations around Dubuque.

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

IPA Spotlight On … Jill Boyle, Sikich

Name: Jill Boyle

Title: Senior manager, not-for-profit tax

Firm: Sikich

Accomplishments:

Jill Boyle

Jill Boyle

  • Named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 2018 “40 Under 40” list.
  • Serves as a leader in Sikich’s not-for-profit tax practice.
  • Co-founded Momentum Milwaukee, a networking community for emerging women leaders.
  • Named a finalist for BizTimes Milwaukee’s 2016 Nonprofit Excellence Awards.

You’ve said you believe in blending your passion for volunteering around Milwaukee with your career specializing in nonprofits. Why is that so important to you and how does this weave into your practice and leadership?

Volunteering has always been an important part of my life, and when I moved to Milwaukee, I wanted to dive right in and do my part to make the city a better place. I did that by joining organizations such as Running Rebels, the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin Family Services and Momentum Milwaukee. At the same time, I have a passion for helping not-for-profit organizations with tax planning and compliance. My volunteer work provides me valuable exposure to the operations of not-for-profit organizations that allows me to bring added insight to my client engagements.

What are you most proud of relating to how you’ve served as a resource to client(s)? Share an example.

I am passionate about educating my not-for-profit clients on important accounting rules and regulations that may seem arcane and overwhelming to them. For example, I frequently guide clients on how to not only properly complete their Form 990s, but how to do it in a way that tells a positive story about their organizations. It is rewarding when I educate one board member, and that leads to additional follow-up meetings with other board members and committees. There’s a desire for financial knowledge at these organizations, and I’m happy to draw on my experience to meet that need.

Can you offer any solid advice for young professionals on ways to develop leadership skills early on in their career? What can they do?

Meet people by being proactive. It’s important to build a professional network so you can learn from others, and grow personally and professionally. Volunteering with local not-for-profit organizations is a great way to not only give back to the community but also expand your network and build additional leadership skills. Also, seek opportunities to join senior members of your organization at professional development and networking events. Often, senior managers don’t invite younger members of their teams to these events because they simply don’t think about it. So, young professionals should be assertive and ask to attend these events, when appropriate.

When you look ahead 10 years from now, how do you see the profession changing / morphing?

Technology is rapidly transforming the accounting profession. As it does, much of the compliance work we do today will likely be automated. This presents a challenge and opportunity for CPAs. We will need to become even better consultants as we guide clients on tax planning and strategy. And as the behind-the-scenes compliance work goes away, younger accountants will need to step into these client-facing consulting roles earlier than they do today. This will present a great opportunity for ambitious CPAs to become innovative, forward-looking consultants for organizations.

Final thoughts?

Not-for-profit accounting is an exciting and challenging field, and CPAs offer great value to these vital organizations. Sikich has a robust not-for-profit practice, and I’m proud to come to work each day and help not-for-profit organizations overcome challenges and improve their tax strategies.

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

IPA INSIDER: April 2018 News

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

  1. EY Faces Sexual Harassment Complaint
  2. IPA Spotlight On … Daniel Young, Schenck
  3. Moss Adams Acquires Transacction Partners
  4. PwC Invests $45M in Wellness Perks and New Parents’ Benefits
  5. Client Experience Impacts Firm Growth
  6. Grant Thornton Exits U.K. Audit Market
  7. Marketers Prepare to Act as Change Agents for their Firms in 2018
  8. CLA Joins the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance
  9. Apple Growth Partners Opens New Ohio Office
  10. New White Paper Identifies Potential Blockchain Implications for Audit and Assurance

Platt’s Perspective: Diving Into The World Of Big Data

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

Last month, the IPA leadership team took the opportunity to attend the four-day Gartner Data Analytics Summit in Dallas. Nearly 4,000 data engineers, data scientists, chief data officers and other dedicated analytics professionals gathered to discuss the latest trends in predictive analytics, Big Data, blockchain, business intelligence platforms and artificial intelligence.

With thousands of the smartest people in the field sharing best practices and success stories, we were overwhelmed with where the technology is going and excited about the amazing possibilities for the future.

Identifying, capturing, storing, analyzing and harvesting massive amounts of consumer data is the holy grail for most companies. The majority of attendees came from Fortune 500 companies with multi-million-dollar budgets dedicated to leveraging and customizing services and products to individual customers. (As an example, think about how Amazon or Netflix “suggest” your next purchase based on past behaviors.)

It’s not surprising that the accounting profession is far behind corporate America in taking advantage of available data and harnessing it to build the enterprise. The bigger takeaway for me is that so few firms even recognize what kinds of data they have, never mind its value and potential.

Most firms don’t have the resources to hire data analytics professionals and implement new technologies at the scale discussed at the Summit. A handful of firms can capitalize on some of these opportunities, and are making strides to do just that. But where does this leave the other firms? What should they be doing right now to get on the bandwagon?

Leaders can:

  • Acknowledge that this trend of micro-experiences [Amazon- and Netflix-type recommendations] for customers is not going away.
  • Recognize that Fortune 500 companies are targeting your clients using these data analytics efforts, which are shaping their view of how business is conducted.
  • Understand that you can access much of the same kind of customer data today – the challenge is how to harvest it.
  • Stay up to date on the latest in analytics, artificial or augmented intelligence, blockchain and other new technologies, and play out scenarios among your leadership team as to what you could do with the new technology once you have access to it. Better yet, bring in your younger leaders to take control of that discussion.
  • Embrace the idea that your knowledge of clients, their challenges and their opportunities can be used to create a lot of the unique-to-each-customer experiences that larger companies are trying to deliver. You have an advantage over companies like Amazon or Disney because you are much closer to your customers and you understand the nuances of what they are looking for. Make sure you maximize this advantage.

What was the biggest lesson garnered at the Gartner Summit? The accounting profession needs – once and for all – an ‘all-in’ mental shift. Firm activities should not be viewed as a series of transactions (“we do tax returns and audits each year”) but as part of a continuous, trusted relationship with clients. Through these connections, firms can uncover issues specific to each client and help find solutions, even if the answers lie outside the world of accounting. Then – and only then – can your firm deliver personalized services on par with what your best customers are already receiving from the Fortune 500 companies that are spending millions of dollars to serve them today.