The evolution of accounting firms during the pandemic

The fast-paced evolution of independent accounting firms over the past two years has been highlighted in a set of illuminating interviews with Managing Partners and Senior Partners at the sharp end.

The interviews, conducted by Praxity Global Alliance, reveal how member firms have had to evolve at speed to become super-responsive to client needs while protecting employee health and wellbeing.

Emerging trends include: • More client focus • Increased flexible working • Greater value placed on Praxity membership

Interviews were conducted with four of the Alliance’s leading voices and innovators: Matt Snow, CEO of DHG (US); Jamie McKeough, Group Chairman and Managing Director of William Buck (Australia & New Zealand); Chris Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Moss Adams (US); and Bindi Palmer, Senior Partner and Head of Audit & Assurance at Rouse Partners (UK). Their stories highlight how firms have quickly transitioned, internally and externally, to maintain high service levels despite the challenges of the pandemic. Below we summarise the key points. For the full stories, please click here

New work patterns

Many accounting firms had introduced flexible working programmes long before Covid, but the onset of the pandemic led to entire workforces working remotely. Firms that were one step ahead found it easier to transition and are now leading a hybrid revolution. Matt Snow says DHG employees “provided excellent client service and remained productive” while working remotely, and there was no reason to reduce this flexibility. The firm’s DHG Anywhere programme allows individuals to work based on their team and client needs. This shapes when, where and how every person works. While “the voice of the client comes first”, Matt insists the firm must always be prepared to accommodate individual expectations. At the start of 2022, 10% of DHG employees were back in the offices full-time, 11% were totally virtual and the remainder had opted for the hybrid model. This highly flexible approach relies on trust and honest conversations. “By consistently pulsing team members to gauge their feedback on the firm’s re-entry plan, we felt we were already on the front foot and consequently better placed to deliver clarity to people naturally concerned about how the future workplace would look,” Matt says.

Similarly, Moss Adams is developing a “hyper-flexible workplace model” that accommodates individual preferences without compromising client service, team connectivity or culture. Chris Schmidt says flexible workers have maintained high quality standards and provided excellent client service but he stresses “we must remain ever mindful of the emotional, physical and mental toil caused by Covid fatigue”. Moss Adams has introduced meditation and “virtual breakouts” to mitigate against cognitive overload from increased use of digital tools such as videoconferencing. Chris adds:

“I cannot underplay the level of pride I feel for our teams’ and partners’ resilience and flexibility throughout Covid. I believe our firm will emerge from this pandemic even stronger.”

Greater client focus

Being responsive to client needs has been more important than ever for Praxity member firms during the pandemic. These needs have varied enormously but key issues for clients have included government support, compliance, labour force and supply variations, and digital adoption. Bindi Palmer says:

“We’ve been busier than ever but our strategy has flexed to the need of clients. This has allowed us to remain clear in our objectives, succession planning, recruitment and technology goals.”

Flexing to client needs has also fuelled growth at William Buck. Jamie explains: “From our firm’s perspective, clients remain active and continue to seek our advice. Our growth has been a combination of this organic stream of work and mergers we’ve undertaken in the last 18 months. As many Praxity firms will probably attest, advisory work has been harder to come by at times, opposed to compliance work. Bus as things settle, demand for both will I’m sure level out again.” Clear communication is vital to enhance client engagement and this is a priority at Rouse Partners. “Our messaging is absolutely a focus as we strive to develop an engagement platform that really resonates with our audience,” Bindi says.

More value from Praxity

The ability to tap into global expertise across the Alliance has been vital during the pandemic as firms seek to provide greater support to clients doing cross border business, especially mergers and acquisitions. “If anything, it’s reaffirmed the value”, Matt says. “The M&A activities we are seeing right now present an array of opportunities as well as challenges. Yet, as DHG's client base grows and we support larger entities, being able to pull in global expertise is absolutely an advantage.” The leaders all agree that the pandemic has enhanced the value of being part of Praxity. Jamie states: “Despite no in-person conferences, the importance of Praxity and the enduring relationships remain constant.” He adds that sharing information has been “really useful” to highlight common issues and provide reassurance that firms adopted consistent approaches. “That’s testament to the quality of the firms and how swiftly each could flex their models without compromising client service or value.”

Chris concurs:

“If anything, our experience throughout the Covid pandemic has made us even more efficient at sharing best practices and enhancing collaboration.”

Bindi cites the example of multi-firm tenders which members put together remotely during the pandemic, adding: “Without this group of likeminded firms, clients would have been really limited in their options.”

Click Below to read the Managing Partner and Senior Partner stories in full.

On behalf of Praxity by Ian Lavis thewritingroom