CPA firm tackles talent and technology trends


When it comes to the future of certified public accounting, local CPA firm Crowe Horwath is looking at a changing landscape.

Representatives from the Grand Rapids branch of the national public accounting, consulting and technology firm see a few trends in play: an increasingly competitive talent pool, the need for more diverse workers and the rise of technology in processes that historically have required more manual effort.

Crowe Horwath, 55 Campau Ave. NW in Grand Rapids, which reported 2016 West Michigan revenue of $39,158,912, up from $38,605,895 in 2015, has seen growth year after year, said Rhonda Huismann, a Grand Rapids office managing partner.

“Over the last year, with the economy getting better, there was more mergers and acquisitions activity, and there was further expansion into new client work, as well,” she said.

As the company continues to grow, it has watched fresh-out-of-college CPAs enter the job market with an array of choices of where to work — and Huismann said Crowe is not about to fall behind the competition.

That’s why earlier this year, Crowe instituted a few new policies to make the company more attractive to anyone looking for a job with more flexibility.

The first two initiatives, called Where to Work and What to Wear, are part of what it calls a “mobility strategy” — an effort to attract and retain employees by being flexible.

Employees can wear jeans in the office any day of the week if they aren’t meeting with clients, and workers also can choose not to come into the office but to work from home or another location if they prefer.

“It’s all been in response to the millennial generation that makes up a large portion of our workforce. The demands they expect are a little bit different than what we’ve seen in the past,” Huismann said. “Flexibility is a big thing. We have to trust that they will be productive, and many times (they are) more productive than if they were working in the office.

“That, coupled with What to Wear, being able to be more comfortable on days when you’re not meeting with clients, is really appealing for them.”

The other new initiative is an expanded parental leave policy that includes a short-term disability period for birth mothers and an additional six weeks of full paid time off for all parents — mothers, fathers, partners and adoptive parents. The policy allows the parents to take the six weeks all at once or in separate chunks throughout the year.

Arjun Kalra, a principal in Crowe risk consulting, said the new parental leave policy was a game-changer for him and his family, according to an article on the company’s website.

“It provided us with the flexibility to plan for time off, both when my son was born and when my wife went back to work after her maternity leave,” Kalra said. “Crowe’s parental leave demonstrates its recognition that all parents, regardless of gender, serve as caregivers.”

Last month, Crowe was ranked 20th on the Fortune 50 Best Workplaces for Parents list for its parental leave program.

Huismann said a companywide employee satisfaction survey issued several months after the changes took effect showed 90 percent of Crowe’s employees participated in the Where to Work and What to Wear initiatives, and overall satisfaction regarding other programs also was high.

But, Huismann acknowledged, there are some challenging trends in play, too.

One is the lack of diversity in the talent pool.

Huismann serves on Grand Valley State University’s accounting advisory board, and she said the school is trying to boost the amount of diversity in the accounting field by reaching out to students sooner — when they are in high school, and more often — when they have started accounting classes in college and may be considering dropping out or changing majors.

“Mentoring is another big part of that,” she said. “Can we provide support for students as they’re going through accounting programs? And how do we prevent losing individuals in the beginning of their studies?”

Beyond talent recruitment and retention, Crowe is seeing growth in technologies used in the industry.

In August, Crowe launched a new audit service delivery platform that streamlines the amount of manual data entry needed, so the accountants can focus on higher-level analysis.

“It gets them dealing with specific auditing, accounting and tax technical concepts versus spending time with data entry,” Huismann said.

Crowe also acts as a consultant to businesses looking to test and update their cyber security platforms.

“We’re trying to stay on the front end of (all these trends) and really challenging ourselves to stay in touch with what’s coming down the pipeline,” Huismann said.

Huismann said regulatory reforms that “could change the face of accounting” will affect all firms, not just Crowe — and are anyone’s guess at this point.

“In regards to what’s coming … with the Trump administration, there’s a lot of unknowns at this point,” she said.

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