Not every accounting firm leader is considering selling as an exit strategy. In fact, large accounting firms on the merger and acquisition hunt have some competition from agile, midsized firms that are well-positioned to remain independent, according to global public accounting association BKR International.
Just three years ago, only 37 percent of respondents from US-based multipartner firms stated that they had a written or formal business succession plan, according to surveys by the Global Accounting Alliance and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). However, the 2016 succession survey by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section showed that 44 percent had a written or formal succession plan. Of those firms, 56 percent said the plan was in place and is updated periodically to address issues.
“More partners than ever before advise that they are addressing the critical need to plan for their firm’s and their own futures,” said Maureen Schwartz, executive director for BKR International.
This renewed dedication to succession planning is due in large part to the number of CPA firm partners who are now in their 50s or older, Schwartz said. For these partners, it is a necessity to have a succession plan or some form of transition plan in place.
“Partners interested in sustaining an independent firm must groom successors from within or attract them to the firm,” she said. “For many, the end goal of succession planning is to assure continuance of firm operations for staff and clients, as well as to finance partner buyouts.”
Even partners who are looking for other firms to acquire their firm need to build value and retain their talent through succession planning to ensure a successful transition, Schwartz said.
When considering the independent, midsized firms that are experiencing the most growth, Schwartz said they seem to have the following three essential qualities in common:
1. A visionary managing partner. The managing partners who regularly attend roundtable discussions and connect with their peers and BKR colleagues are idea people, according to Schwartz.
“They are looking for new ways to be efficient, develop strong future leaders, and step out of the box in order to grow,” she said.