Jason Blumer is a jeans and flip-flops kind of guy - even when he's meeting a client for the first time. That may come as a surprise to many in this profession - and especially for the clients - but for Blumer, who is the managing shareholder at Greenville, S.C.-based Blumer & Associates, it's a normal way of doing business.
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"If you are a jeans kind of firm, be who you are," Blumer said. "We are laid back and that means we're not going to be for everybody and that has to be OK."
Blumer, who took over the reins from his father six years ago, is on a quest to create the next-generation firm, and is learning everyday what the difference is between managing one and just working in one. As a result, he has started consulting on the topic, talking to his peers and clients about his concept of the "New Firm." He can be found all over the Internet - on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - and is the author of his firm's blog, http://thriveal.com.
Here Blumer talks about some of his challenges, what he sees as the biggest difference between Baby Boomer and Millennial CPAs, and the future of accounting firms.
What's your definition of the New Firm?
There are four parts - new management, which are theories of client, service, staff and growth management, and new marketing, which are theories of how new relationships are built and sustained and how firms set themselves apart. Then new processes are foundations for everything that flows from the client intake process to the preparation of a tax return, and new technologies are foundations for handling new management, new marketing and new processes. ...
Processes are something I've always been interested in as we're helping our clients, a way to actually visually document things that are happening. The thought is, here's an intangible process and you can make it tangible. You can visualize it with graphs, you can put it on paper, you can train it, you can teach it, you can improve it, you can monitor it. The intent is to shake up our industry, which I believe has not quite awoken yet to the need for change.
Your dad started the firm. How has the firm really changed since you've taken over?
It's not the same firm; it's not even close. If other people are going through these multi-generational changes, if they are in a multi-generational firm, the interaction between that parent or the other generation and you is really important. And in that aspect, my dad was the wise one. When I came in to manage the firm, he sat me down and said, "Here's the transition: I'm out of the management. I'm always here for you." He was for five and six years and he said, "You get the good and the bad, I'm here to help you make good decisions. But I'm going to let you make them, they are yours to make, but you get to bear the brunt of making them correctly."
That main interaction between the two generations is so huge. I imagine it doesn't always go quite as well as it did for us. I think that initial understanding of our relationship really helped me, gave me my wings to go do what I thought I needed to do.
What is the biggest difference between Baby Boomer CPAs and the Millennials?
Baby Boomers are more transactional and the Millennials are more relational. My dad's relationship with clients was really a transactional relationship, which is you hire me, I will perform a transaction for a fee and I will do it and you will give me a check and I will give you a tax return. That defines our relationship. Whereas a relational way to do it, I have a lot of interactions, I have to manage a lot of opportunities for interactions. My clients text me, Skype me, direct message me on Twitter and Facebook. Whereas if you're in a transactional mentality, the nature and the quality of the client doesn't matter as much; it's really if they have a checkbook with a check that will clear.
For us, we're always cleaning our client list and we're keeping clients off the list that don't fit in our firm and it's not always driven by whether they can pay or not.
You have told your younger staff to question the industry. Can you explain that?
That has led us to where we are now. When I was at another firm, part of what led me to eventually leave was really a healthy questioning of, "Is this the right way to do things?" You've got to make the change if in fact you see a change is required. A lot of times a little questioning begins the process of arriving at "I think this is not right - maybe there's a better way," and to going down the road seeking what is the better way.
Where do you see the future of accounting firms in five to 10 years?
I think that we are leaning - with the availability of technology - toward what I call a virtual firm. I really believe, I don't know this yet, but I really believe it's going to be possible to be a firm with no borders.