CPAs Wear Multiple Hats and Are Valued More Amid Coronavirus Crisis
Certified public accountants (CPAs) are used to putting in long days helping clients keep up on everything from new tax laws and M&A strategies to divestiture transactions, but even that looks easy compared to the hoops they continue to jump through amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The shuttering of offices and work-at-home measures has made life particularly trying for this group, but it also made CPAs invaluable to their companies and their clients.
COVID-19 changed almost everything work related, but CPAs proved just how resilient they can be — juggling bankruptcy filings, paperwork for furloughed employees, loan applications and more while working remotely. Whether CPAs work in public practice or in a CFO, controller or other finance function, they have been committed to getting answers, solving problems and finding solutions. In short, they have come to wear many hats — and most don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
As one sole practitioner says, over the past few weeks she has been spending more time advising and planning with her clients. “More of my clients finally are beginning to understand the value I add to their business,” she says.
E. Martin Davidoff, CPA, Esq., partner-in-charge of national tax controversy at Prager Metis CPAs, LLC, agrees. “We are becoming financial advisors and lights through the tunnels of darkness more than ever before.”
John Dispenziere, CPA, managing partner of Dispenziere & Company, notes how crucial it was to advise on relief recovery loans. “Our role has been critical in assisting clients with procuring Paycheck Protection Program loans and evaluating and planning so that the loan will be forgivable.”
While some CPAs struggle with the loss of meeting clients face-to-face, others say their clients have adjusted to Zoom or other virtual meeting setups quite nicely. Some have even demanded more virtual meetings and less in-person meetings going forward — an unforeseen turn of events.
According to Richard Beeferman, CPA, managing member of Beeferman Huber, LLC, once the pandemic passes, he expects to have more personal contact with clients. “We will spend much more telephone time with our clients advising them. Where in the past email and text were a favorite, they now love to speak with us more than ever; I expect that will continue,” he says.
And having a personal connection with staff solved a multitude of problems as well. As Ted Carnevale, CPA, CEO of Gramkow, Carnevale, Seifert & Co, LLC, says, “when your engagement teams are disbursed, you have to be able to plan and manage your time effectively. There also has to be a heightened level of communication by and amongst team members.”
But not everyone has been content with the current work-at-home arrangements since billable hours often include travel costs and those are now reduced dramatically. One CPA complains that attracting new business and pitching new clients with a lack of in-person meetings can be next to impossible, which is hurting growth prospects.
One of the most problematic areas for CPAs during this pandemic has been working amid a myriad of distractions at home and having issues with technology. Ineffective WiFi; paying vendors electronically; helping mature clients keep up; and making sure children, dogs, cats and whatever else is in a household doesn’t interrupt work calls has been problematic.
These distractions and the ability to reach clients and staff at all hours of the day and night has further blurred the line between work and life commitments. As one CPA from industry notes, “there is no leaving the office these days when you need to clear your head or get in some family time.” Work never stops when working remotely. He adds, “I spend more time responding to emails and telephone calls and I cannot finish the task at hand without several interruptions.”
Teaching technical information remotely has also been hard. As one CPA explains, “supervising younger staff members is more difficult and that makes delegating complex tasks less of an option. Therefore, I am certainly doing a lot more for the office than I had to under normal conditions.”
Jim Ruitenberg, CPA, partner at Bederson LLP, agrees that working at home has not been ideal. According to Ruitenberg, it’s been “more stressful working at home since issues could not be efficiently addressed as it could be in the office.”