These tips from panelists at an AICPA virtual fall Council session show how leaders can help create a path forward as they cope with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Get the data for making quick decisions. The finance team at Volvo Financial Services pivoted toward gathering and analyzing data to inform strategic decisions that were being made on a daily or even hourly basis. The company had recruited data analysts and data scientists before the pandemic, and that proved helpful. "The demands on finance are changing quickly and have accelerated with the pandemic," said Brian Dumbill, FCMA, CGMA, the company's senior vice president and chief risk officer.
Don't discard long-standing best practices while using new tactics. The pandemic may have accelerated the popularity of fintech, but Angela Ho, CPA, CGMA, chief accounting officer of OceanFirst Bank, said that since branches have reopened, traffic patterns have shown that older customers from the Baby Boomer generation are likely to want to do business in person rather than online or at the drive-thru window. To those customers, the human connection may be more important than the bank transaction, as they enjoy an opportunity to just say hello to their branch manager or teller. "There is certainly opportunity for us to rethink what value our branches offer," Ho said.
Show customers and clients that you care. Immediately after the pandemic hit, Dixon Hughes Goodman implemented a program that required partners and managing directors to get in touch with all their clients as quickly as possible and stay in touch with them as much as they could. They asked clients about cash flow and new risks. And they asked something more basic. "The purpose behind the calls was, 'How can I help you?'" said Matt Snow, CPA, the firm's CEO.
Find the right answer for your employees. Sheila Enriquez, CPA/CFF, managing partner and CEO of Briggs & Veselka in Houston, believes that some sort of hybrid working arrangement will emerge for her firm post-pandemic, with some work performed at home and some taking place at the office. But the decisions are being driven by the staff's desires. "In many ways, our decision to pilot a program to return some of our associates to the office is really driven by what we're hearing from some of our people, that they're not feeling connected," Enriquez said. Snow also is eyeing a hybrid model for DHG that's focused on employee learning and development and the principle of apprenticeship. He said some jobs may ultimately need to be full time in the office, while other people in jobs such as website management may be able to be fully remote. But he believes many people in the accounting profession learn best while sitting together and watching how colleagues and mentors perform on the job and interact with clients. Snow doesn't believe that can be done most effectively in a completely virtual environment. "As we come back, we're wanting to do that very carefully to be sure we're doing it in a way that is [best for] the future of the profession and where we want to go as a firm," he said.
— By Ken Tysiac, the JofA's editorial director. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.