Main Takeaways from the CPAFMA Connections Conference

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Last Updated September 1, 2023


The Right Networks team was on the road again this week at the CPA Firm Management Association’s Connections conference in Portland, Maine.

In addition to leading morning “power walks,” Right Networks sponsored the Lobster Bake on Peaks Island which included a harbor ferry on the bay.

CPAFMA attendees 2022
The CPAFMA conference offered numerous pearls of wisdom for the modern accounting firm.

The highlight of the conference was the keynote presentations which included the following golden nuggets of sage advice.

Reality-Based Leadership  

(Alex Dorr)  

One study recently re-affirmed that the average employee spends 2.5 hours per day on non-productive complaining. These activities not only reduce their own productivity but also that of their cohorts. As a leader, it is our responsibility to educate our personnel on ways to use their time productively and do something beyond criticizing.  

When an employee comes to you with a grievance, for example, Dorr suggests listening with purpose and responding with “Given that (insert issue) is occurring, what ideas do you have to improve the situation?” and then providing paths to correct it. 

This may not work or be an appropriate way to handle conflict in every instance, but if it is having a negative effect, you need to address it. By addressing employees’ conflicts head-on, you can regain 300 hours of productivity per year, according to Alex! 

CPA Technology Optimization 

(Roman Kepczyk)  

My technology keynote focused on innovations that firms adopted during the pandemic and what to pay attention to in the future. While major accounting application vendor product development stagnated over the last decade, there were major influxes of “best of breed” applications that filled the gap.  

These innovations significantly improved CPA firm productivity.  

Examples such as workflow (XCM/CCH Workflow, Thomson Reuters FirmFlow), portals (SuraLink, Thomson ONVIO Client Manager), client signature (cPaperless SafeSend, Practice Ignition), and payment (QuickFee, Affinipay CPACharge) were highlighted along with “Lean” process improvements.  

Firms are allocating resources to identify and implement such optimized tools but are falling short on providing ongoing training. Businesses must also learn to address the needs of ALL firm personnel, for this reason, we recommend firms proactively promote a learning culture environment.

Remote and Blended Workforce 

(Jennifer Wilson) 

Remote work within the accounting profession is here to stay and may be the only savior to addressing the current staffing shortage. Jennifer stated that for remote work to be successful all firm leaders need to change their mindset. 

Wilson provided the following five recommendations.  

  1. Trust first: You trusted your employees enough to hire them so let them do their work and don’t worry about what they may be doing at any given moment.
  2. Let go of 3D: Learn to manage your team without physically seeing them.
  3. Avoid sludge: Jokes about remote personnel working in PJs, sarcasm such as “You still work here?”, “10 am—you stay out last night?”, etc. demeans remote workers and does not promote an inclusive team environment. 
  4. Be consistent/fair: Remote workers should be given the same opportunities, benefits and “personal attention” given to those working in the office.
  5. Let go of the “right way to work”: Working 8 am-6 pm and passing everything by your supervisor may be what partners expected in the past, but with remote work, firms must get used to using technology to communicate. Understanding this aspect enables firms to collaborate during times when people are most productive. 

Attract and Retain Engaged Talent 

(John Garrett)  

Professional comedian, prior EY employee, and CPA, John Garrett closed the second day of the conference by stating that most firms focus on 90% of a candidate’s resume. This focus primarily deals with education, prior experience and (gulp) work objectives. 

Hiring under this criterion creates a homogeneous workforce which may not be ideal. The reality is that the uniqueness of the individual (usually highlighted at the bottom of the resume) is what brings new perspectives into the firm. It also provides an opportunity to make the individual member stand out and as an extension, the firm as well.  

Garrett also revealed that bringing unique staff members along on client meetings and engagements creates opportunities to highlight a multitude of distinct characteristics that may resonate with the client/prospect and create a connection beyond “We do excellent quality accounting work and advisory.”  

He promoted “make accounting weird,” which in the context of having a firm full of people with vibrant experiences and knowledge, could be more attractive to future talent.  

Managing a CPA Firm Today 

(Sam Allred) 

Sam reiterated the importance of managing the firm as a business and advised the need for firm owners to be intentional, as opposed to focusing on a strategy of hope alone. This means making focused decisions regarding your top priorities and taking the time/energy to work “on” improving the firm as opposed to working “in” the firm.  

Too often partners spend time dealing with “D” clients and problems that are below their work level. Allred stated the only thing worse than chasing a ”D-level” client is obtaining them, so getting rid of this type of clientele opens the door to working “on” improving the firm.  

He later recommended firms re-read Steven Covey’s “7 Habits” and focus on the section about doing “Quadrant 2” which lays the groundwork for upgrading your personnel skills.  

While there were many other sessions with golden nuggets of wisdom, the items above resonated with me and the audiences in the sessions I attended the most.

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