CPA INSIDER

Why agility is key for firms navigating COVID-19

Clients desperately trying to weather the coronavirus storm need the assistance of accounting practices that can quickly pivot to provide services.
By Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Agility, as a business management principle, is all about the ability to rapidly respond to changes in the marketplace no matter what they are or when they arise.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic is the ultimate litmus test for the agility of accounting firms. Previous discussion or implementation of agile principles usually took the form of creating a new offering, or adopting a new technological solution, or making organizational changes to create a flatter, less hierarchical structure. The current circumstances force firms — and their clients — to deal with all these challenges at the same time.

In that light, it is essential firms do everything they can to reshape their business to generate as much value as possible. Clients and team members are counting on firms to do so, and the fastest way to get there is through a focus on agility.

Service agility

Accounting firms assessing their service mix is nothing new. As advanced technology has made compliance accounting easier, firms have been increasing their advisory services to help their clients in new and noteworthy ways.

Now, however, businesses are in desperate need of accounting firms that can help chart safe passage through the COVID-19 recession. With the response to coronavirus including opening up several avenues for business relief, among them the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Main Street Lending Program, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, businesses find themselves navigating uncharted waters.

Accounting firms are ideally positioned to offer the guidance these businesses need — and many firms have already done so. As has been said several times during the AICPA's weekly PPP Town Halls, accounting firms did about 10 years' worth of client development in the first 100 days after the PPP launched. 

The opportunity to help clients is far from over. In fact, it's just beginning. If you can help your clients make the most sense of the various government programs providing businesses with COVID-19 pandemic support, if you can advise them, you'll stand to create a long and lasting partnership. The AICPA website has a wealth of resources that can help educate you on the programs.

Technological agility

You only need to look at the stock chart for Zoom to understand how many businesses are using new technology. While some government restrictions on commerce and movement are being lifted or relaxed, many professionals will continue to work at home for an extended period. That makes it more important than ever to find solutions that make remote work as seamless as possible.

Being on the cloud used to be an advantage, one that allowed you to work whenever and wherever, on all kinds of devices. Now being on the cloud is a necessity. 

You're likely not going to have a perfect world scenario where you can shop around, test options, and create an extended, detail-rich rollout. We simply do not have that kind of time. What you can do, though, is take steps to empower your people to use these products. You can also, through virtual happy hours or other group activities, use them as a platform for team building and camaraderie. A firm's culture, after all, is built not just in doing the job, but also in spending time together and fostering a sense of solidarity. That may be harder to do with so many working at home, but it's not impossible.

Organizational agility

We'll wrap up this article by looking at the type of agility that I think will be the most important moving forward. The changes that companies are making due to coronavirus are causing a dramatic rethink of long-held business principles. Recently, for example, Twitter announced that employees will be allowed to work from home forever. People are beginning to speculate as to whether commercial real estate as we know it is a thing of the past. Businesses need to be assessing these types of huge structural changes as part of their present and future thinking.

When it comes to being agile on an organizational level, you want to engage in a two-tier process. First, create a structure that works for now, given the conditions we have at hand. Then, start thinking about what your business will look like years from now, what you want to keep from this time, and what you want to change.

We won't ever go back to "normal" as we knew it, but there will eventually be a new way of life. Those that are the most agile will help shape what that new normal looks like, and you want your firm to be counted among them.

AICPA experts discuss the latest on the PPP and other small business aid programs during a weekly virtual town hall. The webcasts, which provide CPE credit, are free to AICPA members. Go to the AICPA Town Hall Series webpage for more information and to register.

The AICPA's Paycheck Protection Program Resources page houses resources and tools produced by the AICPA to help address the economic impact of the coronavirus.

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit the JofA's coronavirus resources page or subscribe to our email alerts for breaking PPP news.

Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is CEO of The B3 Method Institute, a keynote speaker and adviser, host of the Breaking Beliefs podcast. Learn more at amyvetter.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.

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