The smallest firms have been the biggest winners among U.S. accounting firms during the past two years. That’s one of the findings of the 2012 National MAP (Management of an Accounting Practice) Survey, a biennial benchmarking survey conducted by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section in conjunction with the Texas Society of CPAs.
More than 2,300 accounting firms took part in this year’s poll, which revealed that revenue and net client fees per professional at most U.S. public accounting firms have remained flat since 2010, while net client fees per partner have fallen among larger firms.
Bucking that trend were the smallest firms, those with annual revenue of less than $200,000. This group, a mix heavy on sole proprietors and one-partner firms, reported growth of 30% or more in net client fees per professional and per owner/partner (see Exhibits 1 and 2) along with a double-digit revenue increase.
“Because of their size, small firms can be the most nimble as market changes occur,” said James C. Metzler, CPA/CITP, CGMA, vice president–Small Firm Interests with the AICPA. The 2012 MAP results were scheduled to be made public as this JofA issue was going to press. (Full results are available at aicpa.org/pcps/MAP2012.) The JofA’s December 2012 issue will take a deeper dive into the survey’s findings, which allow firms to compare themselves to their peers in a number of performance and policy categories tracked by annual revenue and region of the country. Also in this issue, “Follow MAP to better firm” outlines how firms can best use the results.
A comparison of the 2012 and 2010 survey results shows relatively flat to limited growth in gross fees. Net client fees per professional tell a similar story. Many firms were accustomed to double-digit growth, which still hasn’t returned in the 2012 survey. Firms did at least stabilize or show limited growth in their revenue, which is a sign of slight improvement over 2010.
In contrast, net client fees per partner fell in each of the four largest revenue categories, as detailed in Exhibit 2, with firms in the $5 million to $10 million range reporting a 15% decline and the largest firms ($10 million and up) showing an 11% drop.
“Firms have still continued to promote to partner for retention purposes, so there are more partners, and the revenue didn’t increase,” said Mark Koziel, CPA, CGMA, vice president–Firm Services & Global Alliances with the AICPA. “Firms reduced the partner count going into the 2010 MAP report and spent a few years holding off on partner promotion and have promoted those who have waited the last three years getting ready for the succession issues about to unfold for many firms.”
Editor’s note: The online version of this story and the two Exhibits contain revised results as of Oct. 17, 2012.
Jeff Drew is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-402-4056.