The Younger CPA Firm
By David A. Lopez, CPA, David A. Lopez and Company LLC –
October 3, 2016
Traditionally, accountants have been seen as boring stuffed suits worried only about “the numbers.” But with the influx of younger accounting professionals forming their own full-service CPA firms before the age of 40, those perceptions are quickly changing.
In 2003, at the age of 32, I opened my practice with the mindset that we were not going to be “your parents’ accountants.” As a practice made up of younger CPAs, we saw ourselves as businesspeople, not just accountants. We aspired to be a resource in every aspect of our clients’ businesses. And as we grew, it proved to be the cornerstone of our success.
Fast forward to 2016: The firm is still young. The oldest accountant in our practice is 46 years old. We use our younger ages and mindsets as an advantage, even as a marketing tool. I will highlight three ways a firm owned and managed by younger professionals approaches client service and the establishment of a dynamic culture.
We Are More Than Just Number Crunchers
I mentioned earlier that we consider ourselves businesspeople who happen to be CPAs. When I tell people that I am a CPA, usually the first thing out of their mouths is, “So, you do taxes?” The general public still views CPAs as tax preparers. Internally, we work hard to dispel that notion by explaining that the new accountant does more than tax returns. We actively pursue businesses and individuals who want to work with us throughout the year. Our practice has only a few “tax-time” clients we see once a year; we have contact with the majority of our clients on a monthly basis. We have adopted this approach because today’s entrepreneurs often look for an accountant who can provide a myriad of services. Business owners become frustrated when they hear that an accountant only prepares taxes or can come in no more than quarterly.
Younger CPA firms look to alleviate that frustration by building practices that can provide high-quality, comprehensive services to their clients on a regular basis. For example, within our firm, we have a mix of professionals who have degrees in various disciplines. This allows us to provide a catalog of services that are diverse but in line with our core CPA principles. We have the skills and experience to provide not only tax and accounting services for our clients but also process payroll, manage their customer relations and build new business segments. These types of services extend well beyond what are considered traditional accounting firm services. It helps us work with clients on at least a monthly basis, thus increasing fees and providing a steady cash flow.
We Not Only Use Technology, We Embrace It
In our firm’s 13 years of existence, the manner in which business is conducted has changed tremendously. Technology has been a driving force behind these changes. Most firms
use technology on a daily basis, but many older firms still see it as a necessary evil. Younger firms tend to embrace technology and implement its use more effectively than our more mature counterparts. Younger professionals do not know a world without technology, so technology tends to play a major part in the client service plan. For example, face-to-face meetings have been replaced by web-based meetings and video link-ups, text messages are replacing emails, Google calendars allow clients to set meeting dates and times, and social media provides free marketing and visibility.
In addition to client service applications, technology is essential to business development. Understanding and embracing technology provides CPAs with the tools needed to work on a national and even global level. It allows us to meet our potential and existing clients “where they are.” Even though personal contact is important, younger professionals see video meetings as an efficient and effective way to make initial contact, thereby extending reach to other regions without the expense of travel.
Our Culture Is Professional But Relaxed and Inclusive
One of the most enjoyable aspects of a younger CPA practice is the firm’s dynamic culture. My entire career has been in public accounting. Starting at a local firm, then moving to a regional one, and finally concluding my employee career at a national firm, I have seen the traditional culture at each level of the firm pyramid. One common characteristic was that the culture was overly structured and inflexible. In addition, only upper-level staff members were encouraged to take part in the firm’s overall operation. Younger firms have seemed to change that dynamic. Our firm is built using the traditional model of professional levels, such as staff, senior manager and partner, but the roles and responsibilities of each level are very flexible. Younger firms tend to greatly reduce firm policies and procedures. Of course, we do not totally disregard structure. Our system of engagement review, quality control, and regulatory and professional compliance assurance is top-notch. But we do not get handcuffed by an overload of policies and procedures that limit employee individuality and enthusiasm. Younger firms tend to encourage all levels of personnel to take an active role in the firm’s operation and growth. We cultivate our talent to be leaders and expect them to build relationships with our clients. I have observed that in older firms, the staff’s interaction with clients is suppressed. We train our people to be there every step of the way, even if to simply observe how client meetings are conducted. Giving staff members a sense of ownership reduces turnover and promotes longevity within the practice, which makes us all winners.
When younger firms are compared to firms managed by professionals in their 50s and 60s, the differences are easily noticed. Being different doesn’t make one better than the other, but those differences highlight how our profession is evolving and how we need to keep pace with the youth movement in other industries if we want to remain the trusted advisor.
This article appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.