If you could re-invent the accounting firm, how would it look?Jason Blumer has a few ideas for you.
by Rick Telberg
A new generation of entrepreneurial CPA is rewriting the rules for tax and accounting firms.
They are embracing change as an ever-present constant (not a sometime disruption), inventing new business models (not necessarily built on partner-to-staff leverage or the billable hour) and pushing the leading edges of technology (not always based on PCs but into the cloud and onto the smartphone).
Meet Jason M. Blumer, CPA, age 38, president and managing shareholder of Blumer & Associates, a small tax and accounting firm in Greenville, S.C. Blumer is a second-generation accountant in a second-generation firm that he has taken over from his father. But this is decidedly not his father’s CPA firm. Blumer’s father, 63, owns only 25 percent of the firm and was out hiking the day I called.
Blumer’s firm, in fact the whole idea of the firm, may be nothing but a big, rolling experiment. Blumer (pronounced like “plumber”) is attempting to create what he calls “the next generation CPA firm.”
“I want my firm to be the testing ground of new ideas,” says Blumer. His is not a big firm. They do about 350 tax returns per season, with two administration assistants — one of whom runs payroll services — and three other CPAs, one of whom works remotely and focuses on software. They specialize in professional services, specifically doctors’ practices and graphic designers. In all that, they are not unlike many other accounting shops.
But if a new generation firm is to be born, it most likely will start among small firms, which can be more agile and entrepreneurial than larger firms simply because they are easier to change, and faster. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 years or 15 years you find that CPA firms operating under today’s business models become extinct,” Blumer says.
For Blumer, the theory of “next generation CPA firm” starts with the client, as it should. Looking around at the next generation of client, Blumer sees business owners who want more from their accountant than an annual tax return or a monthly compilation. “They want real relationships,” he says. “They want crazy-good customer service, real insights into their businesses, how they work, which of their processes make money and which don’t.”
Blumer talks in terms of the four “foundational changes” needed in a professional services firm: management, marketing, processes and technology.
Blumer’s “new management” theories, for example, mean a ruthlessly honest kind of client focus, including three essential hallmarks:
- a sharply defined niche focus,
- a “clean” client list and
- innovation “to create new services as awareness of client needs grows.”
“Firms must lead their clients to the service they need,” Blumer says, “not the other way around.”
For the staff, Blumer says firms need to treat staffers like the knowledge workers they are. “It’s no longer command-and-control, but collaborate-and-lead,” he says. You will know you’re succeeding when your staffers are learning what they need to know and teaching you new things.
At the end of the day, will Blumer’s ideas build enterprise value? Only time will tell. But according to Blumer, time is running out.