Retention Methods are the Name of the Game at this San Francisco Firm
Armanino McKenna has a simple, yet rock-solid firm philosophy: recruit good people and treat them well. End of statement. End of discussion.
That’s all there is to it, according to Partner Andy Armanino, who at the age of 29, was the youngest member ever to become a partner. His spirit, hard work and continuous homage to the firm mantra has helped put Armanino McKenna on the map to become the 11th largest accounting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.
One of the reasons for growth is the firm’s benefits program, and lately, the firm has gotten a bit of press coverage for its mortgage lending program, a benefit for newly hired managers and current employees promoted to managers. The firm will pay up to $50,000 on a down payment for a primary residence, and expect the loan to be paid back—with very favorable terms—through annual bonuses and other methods.
When asked what happens to the payment of the loan should someone leave the firm, Armanino is candid to say that they are encouraged this won’t happen.
"The program is designed to keep and attract people to our firm," he says. "If someone wants to leave, the loan will be due and payable; they’re going to have to refinance at higher rates or get a good signing bonus with the next employer."
Before anyone begins to think this has the makings of the next John Grisham thriller, Armanino is quick to say that the real crux of the benefits program is to keep people from leaving his firm for greener pastures, and the trend right now is to go work in the dotcom world — so immensely popular in Northern California and so attractive to firm professionals for various reasons.
"The competition for our people isn’t other accounting firms – it’s the high-tech world," he says. "This is based on our geographic location, but hopefully, we have put into place a positive and rewarding working environment, and a benefits program that will retain employees for the long haul."
The firm, too, has had to change with the times. He explains that going to work for a dotcom is based on aspects more than just financial gain.
"We have many clients in high-tech, so when our staff goes into one of these offices, they say it’s so neat because of the atmosphere, but the bottom line is that people are getting taken care of, and it truly is a different feel than a stuffy accounting firm," says Armanino. "We’re certainly not stuffy, but we’ve adopted a stance that enables us to maintain better retention of staff than the industry average by implementing various approaches."
One of the ways this happens is what he calls the "pre-emptive" method. A typical firm has monthly partner meetings in which voting members meet and make decisions. Staff hears about these decision after the fact, which doesn’t bode well in boosting morale. "At our meetings, managers are included and there is a real feeling of inclusion and empowerment. In the past five years, for example, we’ve only lost five people in audit, which equates to only 15-20 percent of our staff over a five-year period."
Based on data collected from the U.S. Department of Labor, Armanino's tenure rate seems to be less than the national average, where most professionals in the professional services arena stay about four years with their employer. Armanino says the firm wants to continue remaining ahead of the curve, and remaining on the cutting edge of what accounting firms offer to clients and to its staff.
"If our staff is energized, they are going to sell more work, and people are going to be happier. It’s just a fact of life."
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