CPAs are very good at advising their clients about strategies for running a successful business. However, they may not take the same critical look at that own firms. While historically, firm operations has taken a back seat to the core business of compliance and advisory work, in the future, firms will need to devote more resources to these vital functions.
However, as the business of running a firm becomes more complicated, partners are increasingly starting to recognize the strategic importance of firm operations. Trying to complete more work in less time or with fewer resources requires a tight ship. So-called “professional” staff must focus more on work that makes use of their expertise. And at the same time, the work that falls under “firm operations” also requires more and more expertise – often in very different areas.
The functions of firm operations
Even the term “firm operations” is inadequate in describing the many functions that fall under this hard-to-define category. Firm operations can include:
- Marketing – Creating newsletters, managing/maintaining firm websites
- Technology – Installing and maintaining software, managing information security policies.
- Human resources – listing jobs, screening candidates, handling resumes/applications
- Internal accounting – accounts payable/accounts receivable
- Facilities management – maintenance, procurement
- Client service – answering client emails/phone calls, providing information via Portals
- Scheduling – balancing workload, managing vacation calendars
- Production – printing, collating, mailing
- Time and billing – Making sure time is posted, sending invoices
- Training – onboarding new staff, updating policies & procedures, tracking CPE
- Project management – monitoring deadlines, sending reminders
- Benefits administration – researching programs/vendors, managing paperwork
- Team building – Organizing events, coordinating activities
- Financial reporting – collecting data from disparate sources, compiling reports, analysis
Filling the role of firm operations
With so many different tasks and processes falling under the category of “firm operations,” firms tackle these challenges in different ways. The largest firms of course have IT, marketing, HR and other staff members that specialize in one or more of these areas. While this approach ensures that each function gets the attention and expertise it deserves, it’s just not realistic for the majority of mid-sized and smaller firms.
In many firms, especially smaller ones, a partner may take on many of these roles, delegating some tasks to various staff members. Unfortunately, these types of tasks can be a distraction from client work that the firm needs to do. And if they are a secondary part of someone’s job, they won’t get the level of attention needed to run a successful firm. For these firms, a dedicated firm administrator can take the reins and get things done.
Today’s firm administrators are much different than administrative assistants that many old-school partners think of. More and more, firm operations and administration is getting executive-level attention. Chief Operating Officers and other partner-level titles are becoming more common, even at mid-sized and smaller firms. That’s because these firms know that firm operations can no longer take a backseat to client work. In fact, without adequate attention, these traditionally “back office” functions can sink the whole firm.
To learn more about the changing role of firm operations, watch this webinar from Accounting Today: Firm Operations and Administration: Building a Strong Foundation for Successful Firms.