FIRM OF THE FUTURE SR• 22 4
of dense, dark green foliage. “It’s a jungle out there …
and in here, too,” a sign cheekily proclaims. Whimsical
staff biographies include statements like this one about
Jason: “His exquisite blackberry-toe jam makes him a
community jelly role model.”
Prominent on the Web site is a philosophical
statement intended to set the tone both for clients and
prospective hires: “In the end, life is about more than just
business — it’s about the people you love, the time you
spend, the things you give, and the legacy you leave.”
The message is that Lawhorn & Associates can act as
a “guide” to “improve your quality of life.”
Sounds good, but does it sell?
“We’ve had new clients who have said, ‘Your Web
site is the whole reason I’m here,’” Lawhorn revealed.
The ;rm’s client base is primarily small-business
owners. “Our vision,” Lawhorn said, “is to become a
national ;rm for small business.”
Lawhorn & Associates is converting from a
partnership to a corporation, in part so that all employees
can own equity in the business. Also, Lawhorn said, “That
corporate governance structure makes sure everybody is
on the same page; it’s a model of shared vision.”
Lawhorn & Associates may be somewhat over
the top even for a hipper crowd of Gen Y CPAs, but its
apparent success in snagging clients and talent cannot be
ignored. Sometimes, however, ;rms simply evolve in a
progressive direction due to circumstances that crop up.
For example, regional Ohio accounting ;rm SS&G has a
few part-time partners.
“We didn’t plot this out,” said Rebecca Osborn, the
;rm’s HR director. She explained that it arose from a need
by some senior members of the team — typically women
— to accommodate their work-life balance needs, and
they were too valuable to lose.
“It has been part of the culture for a long time,” she
said. “If people are well-quali;ed, the number of hours
they work doesn’t matter.”
But within reason: “A CPA who works part-time
gives up the fast track to upper management, but at least
won’t be forced out,” she said.
That ;exibility, said Osborn, “is a great thing for
recruiting. We can say, ‘We have work-life balance,’ and
people can really see it.”
Consultant Rosenberg reminds his clients about
the glaring disparity between the percentage of women
graduating with accounting degrees — half of the total
— and the percentage of women in the partner ranks of
public ;rms — about 15 percent.
“We have not done a good job of retaining women,”
he said. Doing better will require not only adopting
policies like part-time positions, but actively promoting
them, and training senior managers how to get the best
productivity out of part-time CPAs.
Beyond that, senior partners need to take an active
interest in the work schedule needs of their staffs. He
recalls being appalled when hearing a managing partner of
a ;rm sing the praises of a female staffer who was about to
FROM PAGE 22
have a baby. Rosenberg asked if the woman was planning
THE VIRTUAL FIRM
to return. “He didn’t even know. I said, ‘Time out. You
need to offer her anything she wants if she’s that good.’”
Still, Wiley said there are two words that typically
de;ne the limits of work schedule ;exibility: tax season.
Job-sharing arrangements might enable CPAs who cannot
give up nights and weekends and live at the of;ce to
continue to ;nd their jobs manageable.
But is it necessary to have an of;cial of;ce —
whether you work 80 hours a week, or 30?
The concept of the “virtual of;ce” as the work model
of the future has some adherents. Sometimes ;rms land
in that situation for reasons beyond their control — like
2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
That’s what happened to Eric Rigby, CPA, of The
Rigby Group in New Orleans. When it became apparent
that the hurricane had the potential to create catastrophic
damage, “I told my people to get out of Dodge,” he
recalled. While his of;ce on the 22nd ;oor of a downtown
of;ce tower was unscathed, he could not resume working
there for months, and his staff was scattered. In the process
of rebuilding, he hired a CPA who works from her home
in Charlotte, N.C. “I haven’t actually met her in person
yet,” Rigby conceded. “And to our clients, it doesn’t matter
where she is.”
Rigby has re-established a new physical of;ce, but
said that the only person who really needs to be there on a
regular basis is his executive assistant.
A model for the CPA ;rm of the future?
Perhaps for some — but not all, maintains industry
consultant Rita Keller.
“I don’t see bricks and mortar going away
completely,” she said. But if a valued accountant is forced
to leave town due to a spouse’s relocation, keeping that
CPA on the job, working from their home at another
location, is generally a smart move, she advised.
One of the ways that ;rms may be driven to
modernize their personnel and other policies, Keller said,
is through the adoption of “corporate” organizational
structures. Doing so does not require abandoning a
partnership legal organization format, however.
While many Top 100 Firms have already embraced
the concept, smaller ;rms with revenues in the $8-million-
to-$10-million range are also ripe for the structure, she
said. This essentially involves limiting the managing
partner’s duties to high-level leadership, strategy
development, being the public face and “rainmaker” for
the ;rm, and delegating matters like technology, internal
;nance and human resource administration to a non-CPA
chief operating of;cer. An executive committee consisting
of the managing partner, four other partners elected
to ;xed terms with expertise in key areas of the ;rm’s
business, and the chief operating of;cer on a non-voting
basis, offers a good governance model for CPA ;rms that
have at least a dozen partners, Keller explained.
While some partners may grumble at being removed
from the governance structure, they may be consoled by
the knowledge that the ;rm isn’t giving up so many top-dollar billable hours, Keller said.
1. What are the main forces
shaping the firm of the future?
Cloud technology (software delivered
via the Web) is exerting overwhelming
influence on CPA firms, specifically in the
areas of practice management and client services. By design,
the Web enables a highly collaborative relationship between a
CPA and a client. At the same time it empowers firms to deliver
more (services) with less (overhead). These are two primary
drivers of client loyalty and client retention.
In the end, the Web
will cause clients to
have increasingly higher
expectations. Firms who
fail to respond will be at a
Firms who embrace
technology will prosper
and in the end have clients
who place greater value
on the relationship with
2. What are you doing
to help them prepare?
CPA2Biz has developed a
platform of best-of-breed
cloud solutions to make
the management of an
accounting practice more
efficient, at the same
time transforming how
services are delivered out to firm clients. However, CPA2Biz
appreciates the learning curve that precedes the broad adoption
As a result, we are launching a new Practice Development
Center to aid firms in their transition. The Practice Development
Center will include a Webinar Series developed around
Practice Development issues, a Firm Training Program and a
Firm Consulting Program—all focused on helping firms position
themselves for success in the future.
President and CEO
CPA2Biz is a leading national provider of Web-based
solutions to CPAs and a subsidiary of the American Institute of
Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The company provides
marketing and technology services to the AICPA for its wide array
of products and services. CPA2Biz also develops and manages
client-focused business solutions programs (e.g. payroll, bill
management) that enable CPAs to build stronger relationships
with their business clients or employers.
For more information, visit www.cpa2biz.com.