Looking Beyond the Pandemic for Accounting Firm Success

The COVID-19 crisis is illuminating the benefits of sharing knowledge, helping others and staying connected, say executives of global accounting associations.

Member firms are busier than ever answering client questions and concerns related to the global pandemic, including extended tax deadlines, aid packages and the like, but it is also a good time for firm leaders to reexamine how they are positioning themselves in the market and the role their firms play in their clients’ lives.

Association executives from Scotland to Atlanta gathered in a live video conversation on March 25 hosted by futurist Ian Khan to discuss the issues. He was joined by economist Sandra Saghir and the CEOs of Allinial Global, PKF International, Morison KSI and PrimeGlobal.

Some of the changes firms were forced to make, including moving to the cloud and enabling remote work, have been embraced for years, but not by every firm. The pros and cons will be worked out in real time during the pandemic for those firms. PrimeGlobal’s Stephen Heathcote notes that some MPs are already changing their mindsets about how they run their firms – viewing multiple offices as a costly hindrance rather than a must-have.

As for client service, James Hickey, of PKF International, suggests that firms will need a new go-to-market strategy because the profession as a whole is good at proscribing what clients need but bad at asking clients what they want. At a three-day conference last year, the word ‘client’ was mentioned only five times, he says. In light of the economic downturn, some businesses may forgo advisory services after tax season, “so we’ll have to find out what they need after that and use two ears, not one.”

Terry Snyder, Allinial Global CEO agrees. Done correctly, clients will realize just how valuable CPAs are, because business owners tend to seek out their CPAs much sooner than other professionals in a crisis. It’s up to firm leaders to put themselves in front of clients to help them through this difficult time. Every now and then, he says, people rethink their roles and reinvent themselves. “Sometimes you have to be shaken really hard to get people to do that.”

Firms should go on overdrive to reach out to clients, even if it feels like too much communication, they say. A global economic slowdown has accompanied the health crisis, and as businesses are shuttered around the world, CPAs are a source of reassurance and answers on how to prepare for the aftermath.

Saghir says that accountants will be key actors in moving toward economic sustainability. Build your skills and develop trust with your clients so that when the economy starts moving again, “they’ll know that during hardships you were standing by them.”