Charting the Evolution of the Firm Administrator

From personal assistant to true COO: How firms are delineating the job.

Sophisticated CPA firms are adding the position of firm administrator at an increasing rate. But there is still little consistency in what that entails. Some firm administrators have the authority and responsibility of a chief financial officer or chief operating officer. Others may be little more than personal assistants to the managing partner.

After years of study at hundreds of CPA firms, practice management consultant Marc Rosenberg has formulated a 16-item checklist by which to gauge an FA’s role within a firm. In “CPA Firm Management and Governance,” where his findings are spelled out, he plots the 16 criteria along a three-point scale of authority, showing how an FA’s duties evolve from the lowest level of authority to the highest level.

Some things are predictable. It’s clear that one key measure of an FA’s role is the relationship to the managing partner (MP). At the lowest level, he or she is an aide de camp. At the highest, she operates as a COO alongside the MP as CEO.

But other things are less predictable, and this is where Rosenberg’s study breaks new ground. Rosenberg, for instance, has been able to chart the evolution of the FA role using more subtle criteria, such as their activities in mergers, partner meetings, budgeting and strategic planning.

Here is his analysis, plotted on a grid:

The Evolution of the Firm Administrator

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                            (Copyright 2010-2012 Rosenberg. Adapted with permission.)