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CPA Partners: Get the Facts First. The 8 Things You Must Do If Considering a Move to a New Firm

August 2015 -

If you're a partner in a CPA firm, you are now part of the "1%" in the accounting industry and have achieved the pinnacle of success. Like most CPA partners, you have probably made only 2-3 job changes in your career (maybe none), and have likely been where you are now 10+ years. You're fairly conservative and somewhat risk averse. 

Now, fast forward to summer 2015, and there are many crosscurrents in the profession that can be unsettling to the faster track partner. The big firms are getting bigger, which is not a bad thing, but it makes the path to the higher partner levels a good deal more challenging. Conversely, some firms are struggling with issues such as succession, recruiting/staffing, technology, and marketing, to name a few.

It can be difficult and unsettling for faster track partner to change accounting firms, but it doesn't have to be.  

Here are 8 tips that can make this process more productive and less stressful.

1. Talk to your current firm. This is #1 and #1A to me. If you're good, your firm is going to want to keep you. Your role will not be in jeopardy if you raise the question of what your future there holds. Talk to your firm's leadership and get your concerns out on the table. Maybe your issues are resolvable. The bottom line is, don't invest all your time and energy in a job search only to find out that your current firm will do a lot to keep you. I would even go so far as to suggest you say that you aren't 100% sure your future is there without these changes. It is all too common these days for firms to offer a lot more money and/or promises to make things better if you go in to resign. Because of that event, what happens afterward is really not a true indication of their intent. 95+% of the time, things really don't change.

2. Discuss it with your spouse. It is most important that you both agree with the idea of you making a change. If your spouse doesn't buy into the idea fully, then you really shouldn't be doing it. What I hear frequently when I meet partners considering a change is "my spouse is behind me in whatever I decide regarding my career. "  My point is that a major decision like this warrants a serious discussion. 

3. Read your partnership agreement. You need to know what your contractual rights and obligations are. Interestingly, I find that partners often don't have a copy of their contract, can't find their copy, or have to get a copy from their firm, which, as you can imagine, is pretty awkward. At any rate, get your hands on your partnership agreement and read the restrictive covenants very carefully. Some are stricter than others, but that's a topic for a different conversation. And.... see #5 below. 

4. Get a sense of market conditions. Talk to industry colleagues that you can trust to be discreet and get their input. Read relevant articles from trade publications such as Accounting Today, Inside Public Accounting, and The CPA Journal. Talk to recruiters and other experts in the field who know the CPA world very well and who work primarily with partners.  

5. Talk to an attorney. Ideally this should be an attorney who specializes in partnership agreements. Meet them in-person, show them your partnership agreement, and have them clearly explain what you can and cannot do. If you don't know such attorneys, I would be happy to recommend a few.

6. Update your resume. You may have a firm bio with a photo and some brief background information and that's enough to start. At some point though, you will need a traditional, chronological resume with your job history, education, license information, professional and community organizations, etc. This is something I help partners with quite often and will gladly provide assistance.  

7. Assemble a client list or create a marketing plan. Nothing fancy, just a simple excel spreadsheet that includes client A,B,C etc, industry or individual, length of time they've been a client, services, recurring fee revenue, and the probability from 0% to 100% of their coming with you. If you don't have a potential book of business, I recommend creating a marketing plan. (It's a rare partner opportunity where business development isn't a prime topic) The marketing plan will be a short document outlining how you will attract new business by tapping into your relationships with bankers, attorneys, wealth advisors, insurance agents, etc., whom you've met over the years as well as how you will be involved with industry, trade associations, and other specialized groups for business development purposes. 

8. Engage a professional recruiter.This is a strong suggestion for the reasons that follow. Professional representation has value in terms of discretion, confidentiality, and awareness of below-the-radar screen opportunities such as boutique firms or confidential situations. And, you definitely want to work with a recruiter who knows the public accounting market, has relationships with the managing partners, and works regularly with partners.  

My goal is to help partners minimize their risk and maximize opportunity. I'm happy to talk to you about the process, the market, how to prepare for a search, and any other topics included here or otherwise. The consultation is free, no obligation, and totally confidential. I've been advising CPA firms and CPA partners for 35+ years. It's what I do.

I hope you find this helpful.

If you would like to discuss this or any other issues related to your practice or career, please don't hesitate to contact me. My direct line is (212) 490-9700. Or email me at rfligel@rf-resources.com

Absolute confidentiality always assured.

- Robert Fligel, CPA

Robert Fligel

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