The resignation of Matt Camden, who has headed Clifton Gunderson’s technology business for the last eight years, spurred a lot of inquires about its true meaning.
What happened to Camden, who has served as chief technology officer since 2000? What does this mean about the involvement of regional firms in technology? The quick answer is the parting looks amicable. Camden says that Clifton Gunderson Technology Solutions will end the year in May with $13 million in revenue, beating budget by $1 million. People don’t generally get run out of town for that. He also headed internal technology and the consulting business. That’s a bad model for large firms.
But the questions underscore the confusion over the role of CPAs in technology, particularly in reselling and consulting. There’s as much evidence of large firms increasing their involvement in the latter as there is of firms leaving. Moss Adams got out by selling its Great Plains business to Omega Business Solutions. But Plante & Moran, which had not previously sold accounting software, became the first reselling firm of any kind to pick up the AccTrak21 product.
The real issue is not whether firms are moving into and out of technology, but what CPA firms have in common. In the early 1990s, Steve Fisher, then managing partner of Urban, Kahn & Werlin, commented that, when managing partners of the Group B firms got together in earlier years, they all did the same things and talked about the same things. By the time he made these comments, Fisher noted that few of the firms were in the same businesses. They had few things in common.
So the questions about Camden’s departure--and what this means about Group B firms and their involvement--harks back to that time when firms pretty much all did the same thing, when all moved into or out of technology for the same reasons at the same time.
The multi-office firms, especially, are less alike than ever. This is why in 1997, when I first met Barry Melancon, one of my first questions was what he and the AICPA could do to keep the profession from fracturing along niche practice, firm size, and geographical lines. Melancon, paid to run an organization predicated on keeping the profession together, predicted such a split would not happen. In reality, the profession had already begun to fracture.
Camden’s departure says nothing about Group B firms because they aren’t in the same business any more. Indeed, many smaller firms aren’t in the same business as other small firms. Humpty Dumpty’s egg cracked a long time ago and can’t be put back together.
And frankly, society and clients are largely better off for it.
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