By Ira S. Rosenbloom, CPA
I recently spent time with the Suburban Philadelphia Association of Firm Administrators, and it reinforced my appreciation for how vital these individuals are to their CPA firms. As the leadership of CPA firms turns gray, the administrative details of running a firm become less tolerable. Likewise, as future leaders rise through the ranks, their interest in these often routine but important tasks tends to wane. The firm administrator must cover the management tasks that the partners are not going to or willing to do.
CPA firms flourish when they have strong procedures, excellent follow-through, and strong communication. The right firm administrator will be the steward of day-to-day operations. Here are some major roles and tasks that firms should entrust to their firm administrator.
- Owners’ Eyes and Ears
Administrators should be the Tom Hagen to Vito Corleone: the “consigliere” to the partners. The firm administrator needs to be looped into what’s important and what the owners need to know. This is the only way they can facilitate solutions while allowing the partners to stay focused on business outside the office. The partners need the firm administrator to know who has done what and hear what is being said. If the firm administrator can handle staff needs, the partners can concentrate on clients’ needs.
- Traffic Supervisor
Firm administrators need to be entrusted to prioritize workflow and triage conflicts. In this role the administrator is the “cop on the scene” to ensure business moves continually across the workflow spectrum. The firm administrator should be on top of best practices in terms of technology to make monitoring/prioritizing work efficient and transparent.
- Goodwill Champion and Cheerleader
Even if the water level drops, firm administrators need to see the glass as half full. They need to have the confidence that allows them to get things done. They need to not only adopt a good attitude and a “been there before” demeanor, but also spread that to both staff and the partners. And they need to set morale, in part by letting associates know that the firm is aware of and appreciate their efforts.
- Firm Historian and Legacy Liaison
The best firm administrators know a lot about the clients and are custodians of the firm culture. They are steeped in institutional knowledge. That means knowing how and why certain procedures arose and morphed into current practices. Their insight might range from knowing the peeves of clients and the owners, to understanding what have been the most successful solutions to challenges over the years. If they’ve been around awhile, life will be vastly easier for the partners.
It should be clear that a firm administrator needs to wear many hats. Some are more aligned with the metrics of the business; others are more involved in the HR aspects. Successful CPA firms are at their best when their personnel are put to their highest and best use. A solid firm administrator should have talents that, when optimized, give the leaders of today and tomorrow what they need to do their best. Indeed, no viable firm succession and transition will take place without a strong firm administrator.
The Suburban Philadelphia Association of Firm Administrators is a great resource to help you develop your expectations and job descriptions. If you’re interested, I’ll be happy to connect you.
The PICPA created the umbrella term “firm liaisons” for firm contacts who serve in administrative positions. Firm liaisons can be a firm administrator, office manager, human resources director, CPE coordinator, marketing staff member, or other such positions. The PICPA offers numerous resources for firm liaisons:
- A dedicated page on the PICPA website where firm liaisons can find quick links to membership applications, CPE requirements, and various resources, as well as easy access to the monthly Firm Liaison Newsletter.
- All firm liaisons on PICPA’s mailing list receive the monthly newsletter mentioned above, which includes information targeted specifically to those in administrative roles. Check out our most recent edition.
- The PICPA offers firm invoicing to all firms, which allows easy processing of membership renewals on an annual basis. This eliminates the hassle of processing individual invoices and ensures that all members are renewed in a timely fashion. If your firm is interested in receiving a firm invoice, please contact Sara Albert.
- Firm liaison programs – Each year the PICPA hosts webinars and in-person programs specifically geared to firm liaisons.
- Firm liaison task force – Over the summer, the PICPA created three regional task force groups to help bridge the gap between the PICPA and accounting firms. These groups provide a platform for firm liaisons to discuss their successes and challenges and give the PICPA an opportunity to provide resources as needed.
- Coming soon, the PICPA will be launching a firm liaison discussion board. This interactive community will allow firm contacts to reach out to others in similar roles to get answers to their questions.
Do you have a firm liaison at your firm? Have them complete PICPA’s firm liaison contact form and we will add them to our mailing list.
Ira S. Rosenbloom, CPA, is chief operating executive at Optimum Strategies LLC in Spring House. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.