Every year, INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA) surveys accounting firm leaders on a range of operational and financial issues. The 2020 survey generated 540 firm responses, which included consulting company recommendations.
This year’s Most Recommended Consulting Companies were asked to provide insight, advice and thought leadership to the IPA readers on a few chosen questions.
Keep reading to learn what our very own thought leader and Director of Firm Technology Strategy, Roman Kepczyk, thinks will carry over from this unprecedented year–and what he is predicting for 2021.
Q: 2020 has been a year like no other with so many changes happening to the way business is done. What changes do you think are temporary and what changes will become a permanent part of how firms do business? What surprised you most about how firms adapted?
A: We think it will be May 2021 before COVID vaccines and therapeutics become commonly available enough to get firms to comfortably allow personnel and clients back in the office concurrently. By that time, we will have been through another busy season, and a hybrid environment of in-office and remote work will have become “normalized” for both internal collaboration and client collaboration, which of course will have transitioned to being primarily digital.
The majority of firms will realize the benefits of this hybrid environment and continue to have personnel requesting to work remotely at least one day per week, which we believe will be permanent. The components that will be temporary and disappear once COVID has been beaten back will include the mask wearing, social distancing and elbow bumps that we awkwardly work around at this time. Hopefully hand washing will be permanent.
Once the work environment is deemed safe by the majority of firm personnel and clients, we believe there will be a growing surge of physical meetings/activities for reconnecting, culture-building and more frequent, but shorter time frame, strategic planning.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your clients and/or other thought leaders this year on the future success of the firms and the profession?
A: Adaptability is key, and firms are more agile than most believed, as evidenced by the remote work transition that happened this past busy season.
“Adaptability is key, and firms are more agile than most believed, as evidenced by the remote work transition that happened this past busy season.”
Q: How are you advising firms and leaders to plan for 2021, considering there is still so much uncertainty?
A: Many firms have learned they can be agile when they need to be, and we are promoting they maintain that mindset to focus on looking for opportunities that help their clients grow and thrive during this unprecedented time.
By default, this means being more advisory in nature on top of delivery of existing compliance services. From a technology perspective, it means becoming expert at digital collaboration, both internally and with clients, and utilizing tools such as Microsoft Teams to connect and complete engagements. It means being expert at managing the firm’s workload in real time by using the dedicated workflow tools that can be fine-tuned to incorporate quickly evolving opportunities for new services. It means having everyone learn to use, and teaching clients how to use, the digital tools needed to service those clients.
Q: Which service line(s) will gain the most traction and experience the most success in 2021 and why?
A: Lower-end tax returns and routine accounting services are increasingly being disintermediated by online/technology solutions that are becoming easier for those clients to access, so firms will need to upskill their services to remain competitive. We believe the expansion of advisory/controllership services will provide the greatest opportunities in 2021 as firms have or can quickly develop the skills needed to meet our clients’ increasing needs. Most firms had a taste of this while assisting clients navigate PPP/CARES and should make a concerted effort now to formalize advisory by continuing to let clients know we can help them navigate the accelerating changes ahead.
Q: In your field of expertise, what things should firms pay more attention to over the next 6-12 months?
A: Obviously within technology, it is the transformation to digital technologies provided through the cloud and hosted solutions. COVID forced a unique opportunity to help our clients adopt digital solutions that do not require physical interaction – portals, electronic signatures, digital organizers, returns, invoices, etc.
These solutions are not only safer from a health perspective, but they actually help firms be more efficient by taking digital custody and processing virtually, thereby eliminating manual handling, scanning and mailing that adds administrative cost and time (but no value). Firms that take advantage of this and permanently transition their clients will find they have a significant competitive advantage over those that go back to their manual processes.
The technology component facilitating this includes having reliable remote access solutions. By default means moving to cloud/hosted applications. These are proven to be more cost effective and reliable than firms managing them internally with understaffed and underfunded solutions that are increasingly harder to support (security, stable/consistent remote access, disaster recovery, etc.).
“[Digital] solutions…help firms be more efficient by taking digital custody and processing virtually, thereby eliminating manual handling, scanning and mailing that adds administrative cost and time (but no value).”
Q: Some say the transition to becoming more of an advisor will finally happen. Assuming you agree that this is a good thing, what can firms do over the next 12 months to ensure that the transition is a permanent one?
A: Firms should realize most have already been providing advisory services, but oftentimes they were hidden within traditional compliance services. Having a frank discussion on when “value-added” advice was provided that resulted in significant benefit to the client opens up the discussion. Talk about where advisory services should be broken out and how creating formal advisory work codes and proactively providing training these next few months can effectively seed the advisory practice.