CPA INSIDER

The pandemic pushed us forward. Let’s keep evolving

Continue the changes you’ve made into 2021 and beyond.
By Joey Havens, CPA, CGMA

A close friend of mine had a slight stroke, and it changed his life for the better. He immediately made changes to his lifestyle, eating, and exercise habits. Today, he is healthier, happier, and more productive. All of these changes were things he kept making promises to do "someday," but that turned out to be a very risky idea.

Before the pandemic, much like my friend before his stroke, members of our profession would often say they'd make changes "someday." We had vague concepts, ideas, and experiments for how we'd change, but didn't act on them.

The pandemic, though, has pushed us forward, causing us to make genuine transformation. I believe we are healthier today because of it. Here is why this is a defining moment for us:

  •  It forced us to adopt flexibility in how, when, and where we work. The power of remote work has been demonstrated for more than a year now. Serving clients remotely has been a huge success, and we are doing it with less travel expense. Our ability to attract and serve clients in all geographies has been expanded. Firms are also attracting job candidates that they might have passed on due to geography, or who might have declined an offer because they did not want to relocate. We will see the ability to reduce our office space footprint while building hybrid teams that use rotational schedules to capture the best of face-to-face and remote benefits.
  • Until the pandemic propelled us forward with a workforce serving clients remotely, our profession struggled with this vision. Yes, a few firms or teams operated virtually, but our profession was mostly clinging to being in the office as much as possible. Suddenly, we are on equal footing with consulting and professional service firms who were way ahead of our profession's efforts to completely integrate flexibility into the workplace. Our team members are empowered to integrate their careers and personal lives and will not want to return to the old model.

  • It led us to create new services to meet clients' increased needs. The pandemic has also created more client needs than we have seen in our recent history. Clients and markets are screaming for certainty, strategic direction, and insights to combat the hyper-speed of change. We are answering the call with many new services that we had never contemplated or that were still on our "someday" plan. Firms are providing more strategic consulting, delivering insights from data analytics, offering Paycheck Protection Program loan services and COVID relief work, transitioning clients to the cloud, assisting with cybersecurity and SOC readiness, and the list goes on.
  • Many firms are experiencing growth and/or improved margins. I participate in two top 100 managing partner roundtables, and these firms are consistently reporting higher margins with reduced expenses while capturing growth on new services. This has also been true in our firm. I found it very interesting that several of the participating firms who are active in mergers and acquisitions reported the value of firms is going up with new market pressure to put some cash upfront for the firm being acquired. Has the pandemic made our firms more indispensable and valuable? I think so.

  • It caused us to rethink how we measure work and bill for it. The pandemic has finally led many firms to reconsider whether time should determine the value of our services. In our roundtable meetings, firm leaders have discussed working on new pricing models and learning more about the worth of high-impact consulting services. What creative ways can we evolve our pricing to reflect our worth?  
  • It accelerated our learning curve. The last reason I am convinced the pandemic propelled us forward and made us healthier is the validation I hear from fellow managing partners. They have shared how much and how quickly they have learned and grown as leaders. Managing partners have shared how their firms are learning faster and becoming more agile to address client needs. It's these conversations that convinced me that the game has changed, firms are moving into high gear, and our future is extremely bright.

Reality check

The pandemic forced many of us to examine some of the excuses we made for only changing at an incremental pace. Until it hit, we, as a profession, were simply not moving fast enough to grow our relevance in the 21st century. We were, like my friend, living a comfortable lifestyle but not the healthiest one. Our accountability as partners and owners was not grounded in the reality of the hard trends we are facing from a competitive landscape. We were not making the significant investments in people, focus, and technology to anticipate and capture new opportunities from digital transformation.

This is a defining moment for our profession. Why should we not plan for and expect significant organic growth based on the transformation that has occurred? Isn't the market screaming for our skills, knowledge, acumen, experience, and resources? This is our moment. Let's be the most emphatic, most creative, most powerful, most anticipatory profession we can, and move with urgency from essential to indispensable!

— Joey Havens, CPA, CGMA, is the executive partner at HORNE LLP, where he leads the 1,000-employee firm's strategic visioning for culture, growth, and client experience. Learn more at hornellp.com. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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