The CPA Firm Partner’s Role Is Changing

… like it or not.

By Ty Hendrickson

The role of a partner in an accounting firm is changing. Actually, the role of a partner in an accounting firm has changed and now too many firms and individuals are playing catchup.

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Accounting firms as a whole have changed significantly over the past 10 to 15 years with the influx of new technology that modernizes the work being done within the firm. Compliance work is now being done much more quickly and efficiently because of ever-improving software that automates many accounting tasks.

More of the day-to-day work is being done by software, which has caused the following to happen:

1. Firms attempted to pass the time savings down to clients in an effort to show better service to the client. Unfortunately, that has resulted in a change in the market where clients feel as though they should be constantly searching for a lower price.

2. The mindset of the client has shifted to one where they don’t necessarily see the value that the CPA provides when technology is automating so many of the processes, which again is driving down the price of engagement.

This shift in the accountant-client relationship has been the unwanted result of the new technology in our industry, but it truly does not have to result in a negative impact. While the relationship with the client has changed and many are now price shopping for their compliance work, there is an entirely different group of clients who want to see more from their accountant.

The majority of clients want to see their accountant as a trusted adviser and someone who can partner with them to help guide their business. Truthfully, isn’t this why we all went into accounting? I know I didn’t choose accounting just to plug numbers into tax software.

The firms and individuals that will come out on the other side of this change successfully are the ones that are embracing this new role as an adviser. They are the ones that look differently at their clients and work to understand them intimately in order find ways to support the client’s goals. They are the ones that are looking for opportunities to get involved with the clients and provide avenues for the clients to grow their businesses and/or achieve financial freedom. They are the ones that are changing the role for all future accountants.

So, why is this such an important topic to discuss? Because this completely changes the way accountants need to prepare for their futures in public accounting.

With the new role of a partner in an accounting firm being more client-facing and service-driven, the way we develop our future leaders needs to change significantly. Firms can’t afford to let individuals rely on their technical skills alone to make it to partner level and soft-skill training cannot wait until they are in a leadership role. If individuals and firms want to be the leaders that come out on the other side of this change successfully, investment in non-technical skills needs to happen early and often to match the changing firm culture.

2 Responses to “The CPA Firm Partner’s Role Is Changing”

  1. Sue Pak

    So true. Roles have evolved and far too many firms are playing catch-up. Many partners and their teams have heads down working as they always have and yet it’s not just the partners role that is changing. It’s important ato train and equip other members of the team to engage more deeply with clients. Some strategies could be shadow training – bringing intermediate staff into client conversations with partners, running workshops and sharing soft-skills knowledge across the firm.

    • Ty Hendrickson

      Sue, you are spot on. There absolutely is a trickle-down effect and you are completely right that training and providing opportunities for up-and-comers is necessary to break the cycle. Those are great recommendations on different ways to provide opportunities, but I would also recommend taking a look at your client roster and identifying some that could be pushed down a level for ownership. Training is a must, but real-life experience is where you will see the biggest growth. If the partners are there to mentor those taking over some of their clients, you better prepare the intermediate staff for success in the future and free up some time of the partners.