As COO of Peterson Sullivan, Cody Page has a broad view of how the firm runs. He saw dollars being left on the table, not because the professionals at Peterson Sullivan didn’t deliver on excellent customer service, but because the process and leverage model actually discouraged those professionals to bill their clients. As a buyer of professional services for the firm, it “drove him nuts.” After all, he knew how a good billing experience should look from a buyer’s perspective.
To remedy the situation, Page spearheaded a Lean Billing Project, removing the back and forth of paper and levels of approvals that added days, if not weeks, to the firm’s billing process. But as with many changes, this project met with some resistance. To overcome that push-back, Page says he tries to lead every conversation with “Why.” He also works to anticipate specific checkpoints where resistance will occur and head those off quickly to generate buy-in and reduce or eliminate surprises during rollout.
That push for a Lean business environment has paid off. Billing at Peterson Sullivan happens much quicker these days. Professionals can now prepare an invoice, solicit partner review and send it via email in minutes when necessary. The result? Significantly higher cash receipts since the project went live about a year ago.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Page is still working to fine tune the firm’s billing policies and work on better project management training so staff can identify change orders during client engagements. His advice for young professionals is to “never try to go at anything professionally by yourself. Build your network and empower people much smarter than you to carry out your vision.”
Get to know Cody
Page grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. His family relocated to the Bay Area and then eventually settled in Washington State. Page says he’s always had an interest in technology but recognized the need to be well-rounded because, as he puts it, “As the only boy in my family, our lineage would stop with me if I didn’t get out of the house and do more physical and social activities.” Today, Page lives in Kirkland, Washington with his wife and their five-month-old daughter. Outside of work, he enjoys getting outside and staying active with wakeboarding and golf in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.
At the Boomer Technology Circles 2016 Summit, Page received the Bridging the Gap in Technology Award in recognition of his leadership in implementing the internal Lean Billing Project, challenging his firm to take their billing practices to the next level. Page also accepted the Bridging the Gap – Technology and Firm Management Project Award on behalf of Peterson Sullivan.
Posted By Deanna Perkins, Solutions Advisor,
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Many employees seek part-time or flexible schedules based on a desire to balance their professional responsibilities and their personal lives. Whether your personal life involves family commitments, continuing your education, following a passion or a combination of all of the above, it can be difficult to juggle those competing priorities. Even if you’re able to take advantage of a flexible work schedule, it can be difficult to stay focused and productive.
The following five tips can help flexible employees, and their managers, make the most of their time on the job.
Prioritize projects with deadlines
Juggling multiple work assignments can sometimes be overwhelming. We all have the same number of hours in the day and trying to accomplish too much can lead to overload and delayed progress. Or you might be asked to switch focus in the middle of a complex project. Prioritizing assignments can be difficult.
I find the best approach is to make a to-do list and review it with your manager on a regular basis. Managers can help provide direction for your focus and help prioritize the work on your different projects. They can also discuss deadlines for each project, keeping you motivated and giving you a better idea of how long you should be working on each project to complete them on time.
Working for a company that provides flexible work arrangements makes it possible for you to get work done when it works best for you, but communication is essential. Keep your calendar up to date and share it with coworkers so they know when they can get in touch with you or schedule a conference call. Keep your manager up-to-date as your schedule changes so you can decide if/when you need to increase or decrease hours, depending on your workload. If you are behind on email, take a few spare minutes to check them. This helps you focus on projects while you’re in work mode rather than spending your time on “housekeeping” duties while in the office.
In our company, many associates work remotely, so occasional meetings – whether in-person or video conference – are a way for our company to keep in touch. These meetings are a great way to maintain connections between remote team members, but it can become difficult to stay on top of projects when attending meetings daily. To make the most of your time, try to attend only those meetings where you can make valuable contributions and receive important information to do your job.
Before a meeting, ask the organizer if you need to attend the entire time or whether the meeting minutes provide you with the information needed. You may be able to ask for a five to 10-minute update from the leader. When you do need to attend a meeting, try to schedule it at the beginning or end of your day. Having meetings dispersed throughout your workday can be distracting and detract from your productivity.
Laser Focus Time
Even if you are trying to condense your working hours into shorter periods of time, it is important to take short breaks while working on a project. Try an app like 30/30. This free app allows you to create tasks and allocate the time you need to complete them. You can set a timer to work for 30 minutes, focusing on one task with no distractions. When the time is up, you can give yourself a break to check Facebook, chat with coworkers, take a walk or any other activity that gets you re-energized before getting back to work. As a bonus, having those pockets of work time scheduled helps keep you focused, making you work faster trying to get more done before your break. Even if this app isn’t for you, try to take short breaks in between periods of focused work. This will eliminate burn-out and help prevent losing enthusiasm in your work.
Posted By Julie Carman, Intapp,
Saturday, September 10, 2016
Updated: Friday, September 09, 2016
Client risk management is the foundation for client success. It is what ensures that you’re selecting clients who are a good strategic fit for your business and sets the groundwork for long-term client satisfaction, giving you a healthy and lucrative client portfolio.
Risk management starts before you take on a new client and continues throughout the entire engagement lifecycle. Through a mix of systematized processes and technology, firms can determine if a potential client will be a valuable asset, set up the appropriate safeguards to protect against professional risks, and meet the client’s objectives and success metrics for the engagement.
First Things First, Selecting the Right Clients
A client assessment is a process by which potential clients are evaluated to determine if they are a worthwhile investment for your firm. This includes professional risks, financial suitability, strategic alignment with your firm’s long-term market strategy, resource alignment with your firm’s expertise, and terms alignment. Compliance with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations and “know your customer” (KYC) guidelines through due diligence is also a critical component of client assessment.
Many firms assign a “risk rating” to potential customers, a means of formalizing the results of the client assessment according to a pre-defined set of rules. Firms may choose to employ a different set of parameters based on jurisdiction, service line, or client industry, where there may be varying regulations or risk tolerance.
Ensure Your Independence – And Protect It
The AICPA professional standards requires your firm “to be independent in accordance with the “Independence Rule” whenever your firm performs a [client engagement].” Potential threats to independence and other possible conflicts of interest should be systematically evaluated and safeguards should be put in place to reduce or eliminate conflicts of interest. Documentation around how these threats were evaluated and what safeguards were employed will provide a defensible audit trail for regulatory compliance and future reference.
Controlling access to client information via ethical screens and information barriers is an effective safeguard to preserve independence, and can also protect client confidential information to comply with regulatory rules and terms of business established during the client assessment.
Formalize Your Client Acceptance Process
Firms should establish a well-defined process for client acceptance and on-boarding that is transparent to partners, risk stakeholders, and management. Who is responsible for the ultimate decision to approve or reject new business, and what the approvals process is should be clearly documented. Once new clients are accepted, on-boarding should follow an equally well-defined process that should include the creation and tracking of engagement letters that clearly define the scope of the engagement.
Keeping Your Clients – Engagement Management and Continuance
At this point, your understanding of your clients and their needs should be well established. By systematically codifying and centrally storing your clients’ goals, success metrics and terms of engagement throughout this process, you will be better able to deliver on the commitments you have made to your clients. For instance, real-time information on how each engagement is tracking to budget will give your partners (and your clients) more visibility and enable necessary adjustments to be made.
Continuance should be reviewed periodically to ensure that your client engagements are still meeting your firm’s client assessment criteria.
The Role of Technology
These essential components of a client risk management program are bolstered by the effective use of technology to automate key steps in the process, centralize searches, increase efficiency, enhance visibility, improve data hygiene and preserve an audit trail for future reference.
Though it may seem like a massive undertaking, solutions exist that can leverage your existing infrastructure and may be implemented with minimal change management pain.
The accounting industry is in a period of rapid change. Without the right systems and processes in lace, it may be a matter of time before you find your staff overwhelmed by client demands. Is your firm equipped to manage the increasing risks?
To obtain the full version of theIntapp+Boomer Guide to Managing Client Risk, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Grant Jones of Perkins & Co, the realization that security issues extended far beyond securing their physical premises took hold early, when an occasional email would be sent to the wrong recipient due to autofill or firm hardware would be incapacitated due to what was thought to be a harmless download. “It didn’t take a genius to see where the momentum would eventually lead us,” Jones says.
Although security awareness has been on their radar for quite a while, firm leadership recognized that security training was not a one-time event. Recently, Jones started working with Mark Barstow, Director of Information Technology at Perkins & Co, to evaluate whether the firm had the capacity to develop an effective training and monitoring initiative on their own. Barstow identified and evaluated an outside resource that could shortcut their timeframe to success at a reasonable cost, while at the same time allowing the firm to stay an active part of the process.
Although change initiatives sometimes face resistance, Jones and Barstow had no problem generating support. “Leadership at Perkins & Co has always been diligent about our responsibility to keep our systems and, correspondingly, our clients’ information accessible only to those with a legitimate need to use it,” Jones says. Knowing many companies had already dealt with breaches, all of the firm management teams recognized they didn’t want it to happen to them.
The firm is close to wrapping up their assessment phase and will soon begin setting performance goals and planning appropriate training and follow up with the intention of having the system in place before busy season.
Get to know Grant
Jones has lived in Portland, Oregon all of his life, except for the four years he attended the University of Oregon, where he earned his accounting degree. He was first exposed to the CPA profession during a high school math class when a CPA was brought in as a guest speaker.
Jones sees the key to a firm’s success in giving their people the tools to demonstrate that the firm’s objective is to enhance the economic condition of the client in ways large and small. “The young people coming to work for us today want to know that there is purpose in what we do beyond accurately executing compliance services. They want to be a part of why we’re here. It’s up to us to help them see that.”
Outside of work, Jones enjoys cycling and has participated in three Cycle Oregon events. He and his wife Elaine visit Kauai every January where he practices his photography hobby. Jones is the proud parent of two grown children. His daughter is a Communication and Public Affairs Manager for Google, and his son works for Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), focusing on education, transportation and technology issues.
Jones received the Bridging the Gap in Firm Management Award in recognition of his commitment to and passion for firm management and technology at the Boomer Technology Circles 2016 Summit. He has actively participated in the Circles since Perkins & Co joined in 2002.
The Boomer Technology Circles are technology-focused communities that bring together firm and IT leadership from peer accounting firms to share knowledge, experience and insights. For more information on The Boomer Technology Circles, visit us here.
Posted By By Marc Staut Principal & Consultant, Boomer Consulting, Inc.,
Friday, September 09, 2016
Very few people would disagree that technology can be an exponential difference maker for a CPA firm. But not just any technology will suffice, it has to be the RIGHT technology. It needs to be flexible, scalable and enable growth across all of the different service lines. It has to be secure and reliable, accessible from anywhere, and of course it needs to be up and running as quickly as possible!
Not so long ago, building a practice management solution that would meet such a long list of requirements would have taken several months - order and configure the servers, purchase licenses for the databases, install the software, convert your data and then verify the data integrity. A few more months of training for staff, deploying a mobile version, and security testing and you’d be almost ready to go. Just as you are getting ready to launch your shiny new system, out comes an updated version of the software – it has some new features, better security, maybe even an improved interface…. Now it’s decision time. Do you launch with a product that is already out of date or do you spend more time and money to delay going live so you can be ‘up to date’?
At this point in the project, the questions start flying:
How did this happen?
What can we do to ensure we are always up to date?
How do we know we’ve got the best version of the product?
Why didn’t we know about the security concerns?
Will this happen again next time too?
How can we break the cycle?
Practice Management is a critical system in a CPA firm and if you aren’t careful, you can fall into the trap above. Upgrades that stretch on and on, budgets that are busted, and a product that is stale before it even gets launched.
For Adam Odom of LSL CPAs, it all comes down to passion and people. As a math major at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, Odom questioned the career opportunities available post-college. Figuring accounting would be the “next best thing”, Odom fell in love with accounting in his very first class. He went to work at a public accounting firm after graduating in 2006 and stayed there until he joined LSL seven years later.
At LSL, Odom is known for engaging younger staff and working with them to enhance their career goals and opportunities, although he never had a formal mentor himself. The first firm he worked for did not have a formal mentorship program, but he still credits them with providing excellent support in the form of other audit staff and seniors who were always willing to help answer any questions he had. Today, Odom loves every minute of working at LSL. “It is such a great firm to work for. I feel like everyone is treated with respect and I feel very appreciated at our firm. Everyone is great to work for, and the partners are above and beyond anything I ever would have expected.”
Known for his hard work and positive attitude, Odom may not have had a formal mentor earlier in his career, but it is clear that he benefitted from having some very influential positive role models, including people from his church, school and family. Odom credits his father for passing along a strong work ethic. His father worked in construction and despite having a tough job, Odom never heard him complain. When Odom went to work for his father during the summer, he was advised to “walk from A to B as fast as you can and work as hard as you can. Don’t ever slack off.” Odom still carries that mindset with him, whether he is mentoring younger staff at LSL, helping a friend move, or working with a client to grow their business.
Get to know Adam
Odom met his wife LuAnna on their first day of college at Vanguard University. They married in 2006 and just celebrated their 10 year wedding anniversary. They have two children, Liliana (6) and Elijah (3) as well as a beagle named Bruiser. Outside of work, Odom loves soccer and plays every Thursday night.
At the 2016 Boomer Technology Circles Summit, Odom received the Bridging the Gap as an Emerging Leader Award in recognition of his commitment to mentorship, his positive attitude and constant focus on finding improvements and efficiencies in any project he takes on.
Posted By Michael Wherry, Consultant, Boomer Consulting, Inc.,
Monday, August 29, 2016
At the Australian Open in January of 2014, a heat wave had daytime temperatures reaching 42°C (108°F), yet officials did not invoke the “Extreme Heat Policy.” A few players experienced mild heat-related illnesses, but spectators and especially the press were appalled at the conditions and criticized the organizers for letting the matches continue. Roger Federer, on the other hand, chose to demonstrate the attitude that has made him one of the greatest tennis players ever. “It’s just a mental thing. If you’ve trained hard enough your entire life or the last few weeks and you believe you can do it and come through it, there’s no reason. If you can’t deal with it, you throw in the towel.”
When we help firms transition to Lean organizations, we use a mnemonic D-O-W-N-T-I-M-E+A. The letters in DOWNTIME represent examples of waste in an organization, but the +A may be the most important part of the equation because it stands for Attitude.
At its core, Lean is about changing mindsets. To change mindsets, leaders have to be an example for the rest of the team. People observe and follow actions, not words. If firm leaders seek to change a company’s mindset, it starts with leading by example.
So take a good hard look at your attitude in regards to running a Lean firm. Can you take the heat, remaining focused on possibilities and positive outcomes? Or do you tend to focus on the reasons changes can’t happen or won’t succeed?
If you need a tune-up, start practicing the Three Ps:
Positive – Be aware that remaining positive is entirely within your control. Practice positive thinking by becoming aware of negative thoughts and words and making a real effort to push them aside and replace them with positive ones. Keep negative people at arm’s distance whenever possible. When you must deal with negative people, recognize that their effect is up to you.
Persistent – Few people accomplish worthy goals on their first try. If you’ve already tried one method that didn’t get you the results you desire, try again with another approach. On the days you feel like giving up, focus on the immediate moment. Can you take one action that will bring you even the slightest bit of progress by the end of the day? Sometimes the smallest success can help get you back on track.
Patience – Transforming your firm will not happen overnight. Developing a Lean culture can be realized only through a patient devotion to what you are trying to achieve. When we practice patience, we are better people, better managers, and better leaders. Practicing patience is a mindfulness habit. We have to learn to recognize impatience and make a conscious choice to change our mindset.
The success of your shift is in direct correlation to how many people in the company take on the Lean mindset. Make sure your attitude is in the right place, and the rest will follow. When you reach critical mass, your firm will take off.
By Michael Wherry, CPA, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt
Boomer Consulting, Inc.