Praxity 2020 Global Conference review

Empowering business through collaboration and inclusion

Praxity’s first ever Virtual Global Conference sent a strong message to member firms and their clients that collaboration and inclusion is the best way to overcome today’s business challenges. The ground-breaking conference – held entirely online – provided tangible evidence that cross-firm partnerships and a more inclusive approach to working is not only the right thing to do but perhaps the only way to survive and thrive. From guest-speaker Kimberly Ellison-Taylor’s inspirational rallying call for firms to be more inclusive to numerous examples of cross-firm, cross-border partnerships, the conference celebrated the importance of working together to add value. The Global Conference attracted professionals from Praxity member firms worldwide. They connected through the Alliance’s new virtual conference platform, which enables delegates in different countries to interact, and question speakers, in real-time.

Well received

While far removed from the hugely popular conferences that Praxity holds each year in the world’s most exciting destinations, the online event – organised and staged in the middle of the pandemic – was nonetheless well received. Praxity Chairman Gordon Krater described the extraordinary event as a “smashing success”, adding: “Obviously participants missed networking and seeing each other in person but such are the times we live in today. Many people told me they thought the content that the Management Board selected was valuable and the way it was delivered was very effective as well as efficient. Clearly our guest speaker, Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, was very well received and her important message on inclusion and diversity resonated with the audience.” Commenting on the months of planning and organisation to ensure the event went smoothly, he said: “Our Praxity staff, along with our contractor Flipside, did an outstanding job and worked tirelessly to make sure the conference format was optimal and the technology worked – no small undertaking. We all thank them for their efforts and results.” Steffen Ahrens, Partner at FALK in Germany, who updated colleagues on European developments, said he appreciated efforts to stage the conference during the pandemic even if it lacked the added value of being able to network in person with international colleagues. James Blake, COO, Mazars USA, who presented an update from North America, said the use of technology, live panels and content allocated for participants in different time zones “effectively kept all members informed”. He added: “I felt a sense of connectivity with many even though the virtual framework does not allow for the live networking, and I always come away with new insights every time I attend a conference or presentation that includes Kimberly.” Professionals at member firms will be pleased to know Praxity is already planning a return to its much-loved networking-based event in New Orleans in 2021, Covid-permitting.

Inclusive approach

This year’s extraordinary conference shone a spotlight on how Praxity’s award-winning collaborative approach can help international companies overcome today’s health, economic, social and environmental challenges. Moreover, it showcased how a more inclusive approach to the workplace could pave the way for future success for individuals, teams, firms and their clients. A highlight was the keynote speech on inclusion by Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, one of the most successful women in public accounting and the first person from an ethnic minority to serve as chair of US and global CPA organisations. Kimberly reminded accounting and consulting professionals that everyone should have a seat at the table, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation or any other difference. The US-born accountant, now working as Executive Director of Thought Leadership at Oracle, told delegates that when she was growing up, her parents warned she was going to have to “work twice as hard for half the credit”. She refused to let ethnicity and gender be a barrier to success, rising from humble beginnings to leadership through sheer determination and a belief that she could succeed at anything she put her mind to. She urged firms to adopt more inclusive practices, through leadership and training, to enable everyone to reach their potential. This, she argued, would put firms in a better position to respond to today’s business challenges.

She said: “We have to change with the pace of the world around us. The next growth area is sitting in one of your team leaders’ hands but we haven’t asked them. We need everybody’s ideas the table.” She continued: “We need leaders that lead from the front, who are bold and who realise we can all rise together. We need to continue with leadership initiatives. We have to have the best and the brightest around the table. Diversity of thought is non-negotiable in today’s world.” A more inclusive approach is a key priority for the Alliance. However, in his opening address on the State of the Alliance, Gordon Krater acknowledged more needs to be done. He suggested the forthcoming elections of new members to the Governing Council and Management Board will provide an ideal opportunity to take positive action on inclusion. Both Kimberly and Gordon’s presentations set the tone for a refreshingly upbeat conference which highlighted how individuals, teams and firms can work together more effectively to serve international clients during and after the pandemic.

Successful collaborations

A collaborative approach to solving client challenges is fundamental to Praxity’s success as the world’s largest alliance of independent accounting and consulting firms. The conference provided an opportunity to learn about the latest cross-firm, cross-border collaborations, including:

  • William Buck and Rouse Partners’ successful joint proposal to deliver audit and tax services for the UK business of an Australian publicly listed company.
  • A multi-firm collaboration between Plante Moran, MNP and William Buck to provide tax expertise on cross-border operations for a US multinational.
  • Moss Adams and Mazars USA’s partnership to deliver tax and audit support during the transfer of client headquarters from France to Amsterdam.
  • A multi-firm collaboration between DHG, Mazars UK and other member firms worldwide including Australia, Spain and Romania, to provide a US$20 billion client with expertise in tax, audit, provisions, transfer pricing and R&D.

Explaining the reasons why these collaborations work so well, Partners highlighted shared approaches and values, strong cross-firm communication, diversity of teams, and expertise tailored to client needs.

Opportunities and risks

The conference also highlighted the opportunities and uncertainties that businesses face as a result of the pandemic and new audit and tax regulations in different regions of the world. Latest global developments include:

  • European audit reform
  • EU mandatory disclosure of cross-border arrangements (DAC6)
  • Foreign investment law changes in Australia
  • Stricter entry and visa requirements in China
  • New tax changes in India including a 35% reduction in corporate tax
  • New anti-money laundering and KYC regulations in Singapore
  • Changes to regulation resulting from the US election
  • Advisory services to help clients during and beyond the pandemic
  • Enhancement of remote working capabilities

While the impact of the pandemic is proving challenging for clients in many sectors, especially in Latin America and Africa & the Middle East, there are pockets of optimism. Globally, there is greater focus on doing business differently and being more agile. James Blake, Praxity Regional Chair for North America, highlighted the transformation in working practices within the Alliance, pointing out that “less than 10% of firms’ professionals are working in offices or at client sites during the day” in North America during the pandemic. Despite the level of disruption, he is upbeat for the year ahead, adding: “Firms are enhancing their remote capabilities and developing new ways to identify prospects, develop new solutions and recruit talent. There is great optimism for 2021, with all the firms predicting growth.”

New for 2021

To help firms and their clients respond effectively to the opportunities and risks in 2021, a large number of Praxity initiatives are being rolled out to facilitate greater knowledge sharing and collaboration. Gordon Krater outlined plans to take the Alliance forward with:

  • Closer collaboration between member firms worldwide
  • Greater insight for accounting firms and their clients
  • An inclusive approach, with greater ethnic and gender diversity
  • Identifying champions
  • Challenging poor performance
  • Showcasing success
  • Better value membership
  • ICAEW films at no cost

Other key initiatives include the continued roll-out of software to enable cross-firm teams to collaborate more effectively, plans for an IT database to access specialist support, and a directory of ‘go to’ people for audit, tax and consultancy needs. Gordon Krater concluded: “The strength of Praxity has always been the quality of its member firms. The depth of the relationships between the professionals at the member firms has been what has paved the way for providing seamless client service. The pandemic has highlighted the need to make sure that every Praxity firm treat every referral like their most important client. Only by doing this can we provide the best client service possible and prove that the Praxity Alliance model is the best in the world.”