Is Your Firm Using An Outdated Business Model?

Is Your Firm Using An Outdated Business Model?

Accounting thought leaders often cite "relevancy” as a major issue facing the CPA profession. The business graveyard is littered with major industries that went into decline because they failed to adapt to change, thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Examples:

Ice companies failed to get into refrigeration because they saw themselves in the ice business

Railroads missed out on autos and aerospace because they didn’t see themselves in the transportation business

A DEC CEO said he couldn’t imagine why people would want computers in their own homes

To be fair, it is very difficult for even the smartest people to foresee cataclysmic changes. CPA firms have had a good, long run. To keep this going, we need to constantly re-invent and re-engineer ourselves.  Staying the same is a recipe for disaster.

The CPA industry is operating an outdated model

Here are examples.  The focus below is mostly the typical local firm with annual revenues of under $15M.

How staff see CPA firms.  Up until the relevancy issue surfaced, the words ‘boring, nerdy, uncool, long hours, tax season, work-life balance’ and ‘low use of technology’ were thought to explain the CPA industry’s labor shortage.  But we need to dig deeper.  The issues below further deter young people from seeing accounting as a lifelong career choice.

Being a trusted advisor instead of just an accountant.  Blog reader Richard M. wrote me: “If the profession continues to generate most of its revenue from selling what consumers merely need (compliance services) instead of providing what they really want (all kinds of future-looking services and planning applications), then it’s clear that CPA firms are becoming less relevant.”

Firms run like factories.  ‘Get the clients in and get the work out so we can quickly move on to the next client project, and the next…’  Partners are too busy pumping out prodigious amounts of billable hours, leaving precious little time for firm management, strategic planning and especially, training and developing their staff.  Instead of partners averaging 1,200-1,500 annual billable hours, this number should be closer to the 500-800 range.

Over-emphasized importance of ownership.  At most CPA firms, staff feel that to “make it” at their firm, they need to be owners.  Not true in most businesses.

The path to partner.  It typically takes 12-20 years to become partner, an awfully long time for bright, ambitious staff to wait. Firms need to speed this up.

Teamwork.  At most firms, partners pretty much run their own fiefdoms, each doing the same client process different ways and rarely working together on common clients.  At larger firms teamwork is a core value embraced by their partners and nicely compensated. Read more on CPA Practice Advisor.