Michael Sterling

Four Things Public Accountants Need to Change in 2016


Welcome to 2016. Time for a reality check. Are you working like it’s 2016 or 2006? 


If you haven’t completely dumped outdated ideas and processes, now’s the time for a change.  Let’s face it, public accounting is still clinging to some stale business beliefs.


CPAs need to regroup.  Maintaining solely compliance-focused, traditionalist practices will leave you in the dust of today’s fast-paced, ever-changing business world.


Here are the four outdated practices to let go of:


  1. Transactional mentality. Sure, public accounting is still about number crunching and analysis but, it’s morphed into so much more.  CPAs now need to play a broader role as real-time, strategic specialists. You may have a lot of relationships, but I encourage you to take a deeper look.  How many of your relationships are truly strategic partnerships vs. basic transactions with people you know?  How would each of your clients respond to that question?  How has the scope of your client work evolved year to year, over the last 5 years with each of your core clients?
  1. Boots-on-the-ground. Stop thinking in terms of geographic boundaries. Face-to face meetings can now be done via “FaceTime”, Skype and video   The Cloud and digital technology allow CPAs to work with far-flung clients efficiently, in real-time while offering that critical personal touch.
  1. Relying on Referrals. Referrals are a true sign of a strong business.  Relying too much on referrals is also very risky.  People tend to refer laterally or down, but rarely up.  Competitors from outside the industry, are like piranhas, gnawing furiously at the bottom and sides of the market.  That means every firm is challenged with continuously adding better clients.  Work closely with your best clients, and gratefully work those whom they refer.  But also ensure your team is working strategically to develop clients in the next layer up.  Undoubtedly, you and your team want to be challenged. So, continuously developing new and more sophisticated clients is key to professional satisfaction. Additionally, from a staffing standpoint, new and rewarding clients is an critical talent retention and attraction strategy.
  1. Chasing Away Talent. To hire and retain the best and the brightest requires a progressive mindset. Yes, most firms have taken actions to become more employee friendly, and attractive to prospective employees.  Yet, most firms have one or more partners and managers who are still driving people by ‘old school’ office practices.  Three of the most critical are:
  • If I can’t see you, you’re not working (or not working as hard enough).
  • Measuring productivity too heavily by hours worked, and too light on business objectives achieved.
  • If a candidate’s background, progression, etc, don’t match the old Big 8 candidate template….we’ll pass.


I challenge firms to open their hiring criteria and focus more on capability. Regarding time in the office, remember JetBlue built a highly successful company, in part, by tapping into an ignored talent pool – people working from home.  Today’s CPAs need and want mobile, Cloud-based technology which allows them to work on engagements anywhere, anytime. The Cloud and mobile technology have created tremendous opportunities for firm leaders to be more creative in staffing, and offer better ways to measure productivity and quality in real time. And, quite frankly, clients expect up-to-the-minute access to their financial data.


So, out with the old and in with the new. Make it a great year!


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