How often do you visit other accounting firms? Many firm associations, when holding a meeting in a city where a firm member is located, often arrange for the attendees to visit that firm’s office in a guided presentation. The Practical Accountant editorial staff also periodically visits accounting firms, and the payoff for us, and also ultimately for our readers, is astounding. The last firm that we visited was Weiser in New York City, and the result was the same.

No matter how much we talk to and electronically communicate with firm members or peruse firms’ Web sites, we don’t really get the true flavor of a firm. When we visit, we get to actually see the many aspects of how a firm operates. This begins with the reception area and how we are greeted, what is displayed both in terms or art work, plaques, awards, and accessories, as well as the reading and firm material available. You then come in contact with staff and their working environment. Attendance at audit prep and tax group meetings gives us a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the firm. But the best time for us is when we meet the managing partner, usually another partner, and the marketer, where we get an insider’s view of the culture and the management philosophy. The off-the-record comments provide us with remarkable insight.

Most importantly, we are learning what works well for a firm, and are able to observe what clients see when they are at the firm’s office, as well as the conditions that the staff work under. For example, years ago, I visited a firm where there was virtually no reception area and file storage boxes were strewn outside all of the cubicles while the partners’ offices were spacious and pristine. And I was recently told of a firm that has that has a full-size arcade pinball machine when you come in.

Obviously, you aren’t likely to get an insider’s tour of a firm that is a direct competitor, but there should be many opportunities to visit other firms that you have a relationship with or where you know a member of the firm. In your travels to state CPA society meetings, attendance at conferences, training by outside consultants, and interaction with vendors, there are potential opportunities for firm visits and to reciprocate with visits to your firm. My advice is, when setting up a visit, specifically ask to see what you are particularly interested in. For example, you might want to view the pipeline process for business development, or a seminar for clients being offered in the firm’s conference room. Pay particular attention to what the firm does differently. For instance, the firm might check with a new client on the key factors in the selection of the firm, rather than only analyzing why the firm didn’t get a particular engagement it bid on.

Interact with those in your practice area at the firm, and ask questions on issues that are pressing on your mind. If you are in the audit area you might inquire about the staffing implications as a result of the move to the risk assessment standards, or how the firm is preparing for the possible convergence with international accounting standards. Obvious questions might revolve around attraction and retention of staff. Only by visiting the firm will you have easy access to the people implementing the firm policies in that regard.

For those who like to share their experiences visiting other firms, please e-mail me at


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