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Shifting the CPA Firm Structure



Two major forces impact firms today. First is the need to shift toward more advisory and consulting services. Second is the intensified war for talent, which threatens a firm’s ability to build its consulting and advisory teams. Both challenges have a common solution: changing the structure of your firm.


The idea of changing your firm structure may sound overwhelming, but chances are you’re already taking steps in that direction by outsourcing and automating certain tasks.


Changing the structure of your firm

Your firm today resembles a pyramid, with many doers or preparers at the bottom of the pyramid and a small number of strategists/partners at the top. Your goal is to shift that structure to a diamond by outsourcing and automating many of the tasks of your doers/preparers.



The next logical question is how to fill in the bottom corners of the firm of tomorrow.


Outsourcing

Outsourcing is not a new strategy, but we see more interest in offshore talent than we’ve seen since the early 2000s. At that time, offshoring fell out of favor because firms wanted to keep their outsourcing U.S.-based. The problem is, we just don’t have enough skilled workers in the U.S. to meet the demand.


Today, your firm can leverage several outsourcing companies, and we anticipate several more to enter the market in the coming year.

This past tax season, prices ranged from a low of $75 to $125 per client for Federal and State individual income tax returns. The firms that committed to over 200 returns this past season reported fixed prices well under $100 per client.

Automation

I want to change the term robotic process automation (RPA) to just “process automation” because the robotic piece tends to scare people.

  • Process. A series of actions or operations conducing to an end, a continuous operation or treatment.

  • Automation. The technique of making an apparatus, a process, or a system operate automatically.

When you take away the robotic piece, it all starts with process. At times we use the words workflow and process interchangeably. Workflow is how work flows through a process, but looking at workflow can help us identify opportunities for automation in our processes.

When you hear the word automation, you may think of replacing humans doing the work with computers. But for now, someone still needs to oversee those automations and verify that they are doing what they’re intended to do.

Processes are suitable candidates for automation if they are:

  • Time-consuming

  • Impacted by changes in transactional demand

  • Highly dependent on employee attention and involvement

Members of our Boomer Technology Circles and Boomer Business Transformation Circle have shared how they’re using automation in their firm. A few ideas include:

  • Automate e-filing. One member of our Boomer Business Transformation Circle used RPA combined with CCH APIs to automate e-filing once the signed Form 8879 was received from the client. Another worked with a Bot as a Service provider. When the client sent a signed Form 8879 to a central email address, the signed 8879 would be saved to a folder, then moved to the client’s folder. CCH Workstream would be updated. This simple automation allowed them to free up the capacity of one full-time equivalent in the first year. They’re now looking into automating engagement letters.

  • Job Creation. Using Microsoft Power Apps, the firm allowed employees to create jobs in Practice Engine for themselves. The employee fills out a form, and Power App creates the job. As a result, admin time was reduced, and the staff didn’t have to wait for job creation to get started on a project.

  • Creating Microsoft Teams. The firm leveraged the MS Teams API to automatically create a Team that becomes their virtual portal with the audit client. Next up, they’re working on automating moving documents uploaded from the Team into the firm’s document management system.

To lead your team through business transformation toward more advisory and consulting services, you’ll need to create capacity for your team through process and technology. The processes and systems that got you to where you are today likely won’t get you where you want to be in the future.

As you start exploring outsourcing and automation, don’t be surprised if some members of your firm are less than enthusiastic. Accountants are trained to be critical rather than creative thinkers. Critical thinkers will quickly come up with obstacles. But I encourage you to give creativity some space before deciding that outsourcing and automation aren’t for your firm.

 
Is your firm ready to stop wasting time on inconsistent and bloated processes?

Boomer Process Consulting can help you create a lasting process improvement strategy that frees up the capacity to deliver higher-value services to your clients. Schedule a discovery call today to start seeing real results.

 

Jim Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He serves as the director of the Boomer Technology Circles, The Advisor Circle and the CIO Circle. He also acts as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser to CPA firms across the country. Accounting Today called him a “thought leader who can help accountants create next-generation firms.” Jim is a prolific writer with a monthly column in The CPA Practice Advisor and has been published in a number of industry publications including Accounting Today, Accounting Web, the International Group of Accounting Firms and several state society publications.


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