Best Practices for COVID-19 from ConvergenceCoaching

The Rush to Remote: Advice From ConvergenceCoaching

With the COVID-19 crisis, firms are implementing social distancing, organizations around the country are scrambling to shift their employees to work remotely.

Your building management may force you to close your office. Public transportation services could be interrupted and disrupted.

We recommend that you create a plan for what it would look like to have all employees work offsite. To help you get there, we have specific steps you can take to smooth the transition, ensure business continuity, and remain more productive.

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Strategies for Managing COVID-19

These are unprecedented times. One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to guide their team through crisis and tough times with calm determination and thoughtful execution In the face of a lot of messaging, here are a few items to help you manage this crisis.

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Complimentary Remote-Work Toolkit

You may access 17 documents, articles and best practices for managing a remote workforce.

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Webinar – Remote Work: Today’s Answer to Staying Healthy and Serving Clients Amidst COVID-19

There has never been a more appropriate time to fully embrace and utilize remote work options than today. Firms know that flexibility and remote work is at the top of the list of motivators of high-potential young CPAs, and now the country’s health imperative is driving CPA firm leaders to give up their attachment to their traditional work norms of “face time” and mandated office hours to move to a remote work model. Attend this session to explore best practices to manage, communicate and serve clients and team members in a remote environment.

Sign up for the March 26 Webinar

Pandemic Forces Postponement of ENGAGE 2020

ENGAGE 2020, originally set for June 7-11 in Las Vegas, will be postponed until later this year due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

ENGAGE 2020, sponsored by AICPA and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), is one of the largest accounting and finance conferences in North America.

Details on the timing and format of the rescheduled event are still being set, as the situation surrounding the outbreak is constantly changing.

“We want our attendees, staff and speakers to be safe, so this is the most prudent step to take at this point,” says Clar Rosso, the AICPA executive vice president for engagement and learning innovation. “We also know that families, small businesses and companies of all sizes will be depending on CPAs and management accountants to help guide them through unexpected financial and economic challenges in the weeks ahead, so we are bearing that in mind, too.”

ENGAGE 2020 attendees who are already registered and others interested in details about the rescheduled event can sign up for updates on aicpaengage.com. More information about the postponement, refunds and other policies can be found in a FAQ on the site.

Several other upcoming AICPA conferences will also be postponed, including the AICPA CFO Conference, which will now be held Sept. 16-18 at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego, Calif., the AICPA Employee Benefit Plans Conference and the AICPA Not-for-Profit Industry Conference, with the latter two reschedulings still to be determined. Please visit aicpaconferences.com for more information on events in the weeks ahead.

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Platt’s Perspective: Trade 30 Minutes Of “Doing” For 30 Minutes Of “Coaching”

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

Partners are too busy to do anything but get work out the door during tax season. Or so they say. Over the years I’ve informally surveyed thousands of partners, and the majority believe less than half their work hours are devoted to what they consider to be “partner-level activities.”

The reasons are as varied as the individuals. For some partners, grinding through staff-level work brings them cozily back to their comfort zone. Some still don’t trust the quality of subordinates’ work. Others are short-staffed and don’t believe there is anyone who can take on the work. And for some, prioritizing the highest and best use of their non-billable time can devolve into “what can I check off my to-do list?” Too often, that work is not a partner-level activity that will help the firm move forward.

For all the discussions about pushing work down, these informal survey results haven’t changed – the percentage of partner-level activity hasn’t shifted over the years. It certainly hasn’t shifted at all in the two years since I wrote a Platt’s Perspective on this very topic. Everyone is just too busy to do something that, if done right, will make them less busy. That’s some crazy logic.

As you enter into yet another tax season, consider this tactic to consciously change course: swap out 30 minutes a day of “doing” for 30 minutes of coaching. Identify the work you know you shouldn’t be doing, identify someone who could take it on, and spend 30 minutes with them to review how best to get the task done. There is “mentor” time, there is “learn” time, there is “do” time and there is “monitor” time. Yes, it is true that the first couple of times you do this, you and your protégé may spend more time on the activities involved in mentoring, learning, doing and monitoring. But quickly you can go from 30 minutes of doing to 30 minutes of mentoring to 30 minutes of monitoring. Then 20 minutes of monitoring. Then 10 minutes of monitoring. Then it’s just a quick review and the work is off your plate for someone else to get done.

You will have succeeded in not only delegating work and knowing it can be done, but you will also have empowered a subordinate who, with your help, has just added a skill to their growing repertoire.

When you can swap out 30 minutes a day of “doing” in exchange for 10 minutes of “reviewing,” you’ll ultimately recover many hours over a year, raise your percentage of time doing partner-level activities, build a stronger team, and maybe even find time to take off a couple of days to go on a vacation with the family.

February 2020 Transformation Survey: Employee Transformation

“Transforming while performing” is the mantra of firms today, ensuring current performance while re-tooling and re-engineering the firm for the future.

In February, IPA began gathering information on staff transformation in a mini-survey series. Here are a few results from the 49 respondents, mostly MPs, firm administrators and human resources leaders.

What does employee transformation mean for your firm?

1) Increased Technology Training

2) Cultural Changes

3) Focused Retraining / Reskilling Firmwide

4) Hiring Staff with Talents Beyond Traditional CPAs

5) Updating Firm Processes

6) More Clearly Defined Firmwide Strategy

7) Accelerating Advancement Opportunities for Staff

8) Firm Structural Changes

9) Rethinking who can be Admitted to Equity Partnership

10) Flattening / Changing the Traditional Organizational Chart

Currently, where is your firm in the process of employee transformation?

1) Exploring Options and Needed Changes

2) Have Implemented Plans in Some Departments

3) Creating a Plan, But Have Not Implemented Yet

4) Have Successfully Implemented a Firmwide Plan

What specific skills / changes are needed to meet the challenges your firm is facing?

1) Increased Firmwide Innovation

2) Increased Employee Engagement

3) Career Development Coaching and Advice

4) Cross-Functional Collaboration

5) Increased Agility

6) Redesign of Firm Processes

7) Increased Technical Skills Firmwide

What metrics / indicators does your firm use to track your transformation efforts?

1) Profitability Metrics

2) Employee Retention / Turnover

3) Employee Engagement

4) Productivity Metrics

5) Positive Behavioral Changes (firmwide)

What challenges is your firm facing in the process of employee transformation?

1) Lack of Clear and Defined Strategy

2) Partner / Owner Resistance

3) Unavailable Talent

4) Cultural Resistance

5) Financial Constraints

JP Morgan Bullish on Blockchain

JP Morgan, in a recent report, describes numerous uses for blockchain and foresees widespread adoption in the financial sector.

The report says “groundwork is now in place” for the massive adoption of the distributed ledger technology in the realm of “payments, trade finance and custodial services,” according to Bitcoinist.com. JPMorgan has created its own digital money called JPM Coin.

Additionally, China is reportedly developing a digital Yuan and the Bank of England has announced it will start research on creating a digital currency. JP Morgan says blockchain can ease cross-border payments using digital assets and some equity trades.

While the report discusses rise of blockchain technology, it also says, “Developments have not altered reservations about the limited role that cryptocurrencies play in global portfolio diversification or as a hedging instrument.”

“The conclusion is that, while cryptocurrencies are interesting, even 1% exposure with them is an extremely risky and impractical endeavor since they don’t have a legal tender,” Forbes reported.

More news on Blockchain

Same-Old Professional Development Costing Firms In Talent War, Succession Progress

One of the ongoing challenges firms face is bringing in the right people with the right skills and keeping them engaged, rewarded and prepared to become partner. At the same time, firms need to ramp up technology – and fast – bringing even greater urgency to planning for the future.

Firms are taking various approaches. Some are hiring outside technology experts; some are merging in smaller tech, cybersecurity or consulting firms and some are stealing partners from other firms or seeking out free agents. The biggest firms have the resources to do all of these things while making sizable investments in up-and-coming technologies, but they are the exception not the rule.

Some observers fear the profession is too slow and too reliant on outside experts to shake up professional development. The result could be firms without the necessary next-generation skills and future partners.

Technology transformation is a huge challenge, says consultant Kris McMasters, formerly the co-CEO of CliftonLarsonAllen. While many firms are focusing on technology tools, and hiring tech talent into the firm, it’s critical that firms create a thoughtful strategy around upscaling the skills of the existing professionals. And that means more than improving technology skills, but analytical thinking and creativity as well. Lower-level tasks will be transformed by automation, she says, and the accounting firms of tomorrow will look far different than those of today.

The Choice: Buy Versus Build: Dom Esposito, who consults with small and mid-size CPA firms, says the No. 1 shortcoming of these firms is buying the next generation of partners instead of building them from within. Because some firms are only paying lip service to professional development, they look for lateral hires to fill the gaps.

For example, a firm may hire a professional with 10 or 12 years of experience in technology with the intention of making that person an important part of the firm’s growth as a partner. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” says Esposito, CEO of Esposito CEO2CEO LLC. “Often it doesn’t.”

Lateral hires are necessary sometimes, but they’re also risky. Do these hires come from a firm with a similar culture, work ethic and workload? Was the same level of quality expected? Ambitious professionals can view a lateral hire as “cutting in line” and taking a partner position that could have been theirs. Esposito says that in his experience, laterals often don’t make the impact anticipated, exit after a short time and leave the firm with morale problems, disruption, dissatisfied clients and an expensive lesson learned.

Small and mid-sized firms often fail to take care of their own, he says. “They don’t spend enough time developing that talent into a real client executive. They let them linger and pump out work every day but they’re not looking beyond the immediate benefits,” says Esposito. Slow and steady wins the race, and rigorous leadership development academies smooth out professionals’ weaknesses, strengthen their confidence, increase their ability to sell and create lasting business relationships, he says.

Finding the Right Fit: It’s not easy to find the right kind of professional development program, but Chuck Mullen says you start by asking for help rather than trying to figure it out on your own. “I think firms get pretty stale year after year conducting training the same way. It can very much become a pattern. All you have to do is listen to your staff and they’ll tell you if it’s any good or not.”

Mullen is chairman of Akron, Ohio-based Apple Growth Partners. He went through an MP boot camp about a year after taking the top spot at the firm. The experience taught him how to be innovative, how to think in the long term and how to question the status quo when it comes to training.

Director of Operations Erin McCafferty says that in 2019 and 2020 Apple Growth Partners will undergo a full assessment of the professional development offered now and where it should go in the future.

In the meantime, the firm has made a significant investment in the concept of intentional coaching, which takes the whole person into account and is championed by Erica Ishida, the new CEO of LEA Global. “If you focus solely on someone’s career and their performance, you never get to true growth and development,” she said in a recent podcast.

McCafferty says the firm works with three coaches, all with different styles, who work with firm professionals confidentially on professional or personal issues. It’s not counseling, it’s coaching, and the guidance helps professionals sort out where they stand on that blurry line between professional and personal.

“If people can bring their best self to work every day and work through challenges at home or at the office, it’ll make all the difference,” Mullen says. “Even a little improvement will have a ripple effect.”

What’s Our Purpose? Why Do I Work Here? Ishida says intentional development is a new way to think about coaching in the profession, and she is receiving inquiries from multiple firms on the topic. To start, each professional needs a sense of purpose, or a good answer to the question, “Why do I work here?” Organizations that operate at their best communicate a clear intention of purpose and make sure they have the culture and strategy to support it.

“Lots of CEOs think they have that,” Ishida says. “They have it in their heads, but if you ask people in the halls, they can’t answer. They have no idea.” Going through a holistic coaching process helps professionals define their core values and prioritize their activities.

A clear purpose, strong culture, an openness to new ideas and a forward-looking approach to professional development are some of the elements that keep professionals involved and interested in advancement.

Mullen recognizes that technology will be a bigger part of the firm’s future. “I just don’t think it’s going to be as fast and drastic a change as some of the fear mongers say it’s going to be.” A CIO was brought in about four months ago, and together with the IT director and a technology committee, the firm is evaluating what types of artificial intelligence and data analytics would make the best investments. Meanwhile, the firm is hiring the most tech-savvy professionals it can find.

Mullen says many firms have it backwards. Rather than focus internally, their “grow, grow, grow” mentality can result in a disgruntled workforce and a loss of clients who sense professionals don’t want to work there. Recruitment and retention are easy if you create a top-notch workplace, or a “workers’ paradise,” as Mullen puts it.

“This is an inside job. I’m not looking at the market all the time. I’m looking inside.”

Boomer Launches New Certified Consultant Training Program

Boomer Consulting has started a year-long training program for accountants wishing to learn about adding consulting, forecasting and strategy services for clients.

The program is available to accounting firm partners, managers and directors to help deepen client relationships, deliver more value and increase profits for their firms, Boomer Consulting announced. Participants will learn how to build a consulting service line, including business development, trends analysis, and sales and marketing best practices, during an intensive workshop, scheduled for July 14-17 at the Boomer Accounting Innovation Center in Kansas City, Mo.

In addition, industry leaders teach the skills needed to confidently deliver new consulting services. Following the workshop, trainees receive ongoing coaching and support, including progress assessment and guidance.

“Many accountants are looking for a clear path to becoming more consultative with clients, and Boomer Certified Consultant Training provides just that through foundational training and access to key tools,” says Sandra Wiley, president of Boomer Consulting. “Combined with a professional’s current knowledge and strong understanding of their clients’ business, the advanced skillset they gain allows them to serve clients in new beneficial ways while growing their own bottom line. It truly is an investment in their own firms’ future.”

Tim Lyons Named PIC of Mauldin and Jenkins’ Columbia Office

Tim Lyons

Tim Lyons

Atlanta-based Mauldin & Jenkins (FY19 net revenue of $52.5 million) announces that Tim Lyons has been appointed PIC of the Columbia, S.C., office.

He will be responsible for the management and strategic expansion of the office, which serves clients throughout the Carolinas. Lyons succeeds Chuck Statler, who has served in the role since 2017 when Mauldin & Jenkins merged with Derrick Stubbs and Stith.

“Tim is a forward-thinking and capable leader whose guidance will help support the firm’s overall strategy and grow our presence in the South Carolina region,” says MP Hanson Borders.

Lyons specializes in serving clients in a wide range of industries including state and local governments, higher education and not-for-profit organizations. His experience covers audits and attestation services, consulting and advisory work.

He joined the Atlanta office in August 2009 and relocated to the Columbia office in 2018.

More news from Mauldin & Jenkins

Ernst & Young Aims to Become Carbon Neutral

Big 4 firm Ernst & Young (FY18 net revenue of $14 billion) plans to reach carbon neutrality globally by the end of the year.

Ernst & Young says the firm will focus on reducing travel emissions, following sustainable procurement practices, and buying more energy from wind and solar sources. In addition, the firm anticipates purchasing carbon credits, and investing in projects such as reforestation that can help address emissions, according to environmentalleader.com.

Previous steps to reduce the firm’s carbon footprint include:

  • Designing an environmental strategy that aligns with the United Nations Global Compact
  • Working with hotel suppliers to lower emissions from Ernst & Young employees
  • Introducing global supplier code of conduct and procurement environmental criteria

Between FY17 and FY19, Ernst & Young says the firm decreased office energy emissions by more than 11%, resulting in a 25% reduction in energy emissions per full-time employee.

The firm has agreed to finance and construct two large-scale wind farms in Texas to become 100% powered by renewables this year. In the UK, the firm says it is pursuing a solar agreement for its power demands there.

Blucora Announces Acquisition of HK Financial Services

Blucora, an Irving, Texas, wealth management provider focusing on tax strategies, has announced its acquisition of registered investment advisor HK Financial Services (HKFS) for about $160 million in stock.

The transaction, which adds $4.4 billion in client assets to Blucora, is expected to close by March 31.

HK Financial Services is an affiliate of Dubuque, Iowa-based Honkamp Krueger & Co. (FY18 net revenue of $80.2 million), an IPA 100 firm. HKFS partners with 75 CPA firms to provide wealth management services to 4,100 clients. The firms are expected to benefit from software called Tax-Smart Investing to better serve clients and ultimately, increase revenue. HKFS employs about 100 people, 70 of whom work in Dubuque.

Louie Rosalez, president of HKFS, says, “Blucora embodies our mission to take a holistic approach to serving our clients’ wealth management needs, and is the ideal partner for HKFS.”

HKFS offers asset management, business retirement planning and insurance services. Blucora plans to augment these services with estate planning and trusts.

Blucora president and CEO John Clendening says the acquisition will give CPA firms, advisors and clients additional capabilities and choices, while Blucora’s Avantax Wealth Management advisors get new opportunities for growth, among other advantages. As part of its rationale for the acquisition, Blucora points to HKFS’ retirement plan services for small-business clients.

The arrangement comes nearly a year after Blucora announced it would buy 1st Global for about $180 million in stock. Since then, Blucora, the parent company of HD Vest and the software maker TaxAct, brought together HD Vest and 1st Global wealth management divisions and rebranded them as Avantax Wealth Management, with a focus on tax-planning advice.

Blucora anticipates that HKFS will operate as a third division of Blucora, in addition to Avantax Wealth Management and TaxAct.