Practice Profile: Surviving a pandemic

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As businesses struggle to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, or in some cases experience a surge of business because of it, they seek a range of services beyond CPA firms’ typical compliance and even advisory assistance. Recognizing this opportunity, Cleveland-headquartered Top 10 firm CBIZ & MHM launched Accelerated Recovery Solutions, a new suite of services to aid these businesses in their recovery and growth efforts.

The services can be tailored to companies at various stages of expansion or survival, explained Randy Thorne, vice president of growth initiatives at CBIZ, who oversees the firm’s financial services business unit and leads the Accelerated Recovery Solutions initiative.

“We’ve packaged together solutions to meet the needs of our clients as they recover and power through an uncertain economy,” he said. “Basically, we started by looking at helping them find ways to generate cash and improve leverage, financially and operationally. Those companies that are already powering through, we are helping them realign and transform for future growth opportunities. No matter where the business is in the cycle of recovery, we meet them at whatever stage they need most.”

For businesses needing new sources of cash financing, for example, CBIZ offers a range of solutions, Thorne outlined: “If it’s generating cash, or they are looking to recover costs — [that might mean] using artificial intelligence to uncover duplicate AP payments, reducing insurance premiums with insurance carriers, taking advantage of tax opportunities to lower their overall tax burden, looking to improve leverage, looking to help them secure traditional government or SBA emergency loans, or alternative sources of financing.”

Though the pandemic has forced businesses to seek new financing options, it has also brought greater flexibility to operating costs in an era of remote work.

“One of the most interesting services we have is helping clients look at their overall real estate footprint,” Thorne shared. “We are helping them rethink their real estate needs going forward, because of COVID-19 and more remote work opportunities. We are helping them renegotiate leases.”

Managing growth

CBIZ also applies this holistic approach to those companies and industries that are experiencing rapid growth during the pandemic. “In the grocery store business right now, business is booming,” Thorne explained. “We are helping companies think through their next stage of growth — maybe they are looking at new acquisitions, other grocery store chains, maybe bringing in new talent to manage organic growth opportunities. They might [need to] bring in talent solutions, insurance solutions, or meet employee benefit challenges.”

CBIZ is able to provide this range of solutions because of the firm’s multiple business units, which include everything from tax and accounting to employee benefits, insurance, payroll and HR. In the early months of the pandemic, every practice was mobilized to help clients take advantage of the CARES Act and secure Paycheck Protection Program loans. The legislation “created an opportunity for us to have different business units collaborate, all for the benefit of clients — really working together to help clients survive,” Thorne said. “Then we thought, ‘Let’s apply the same model here, working across business units to help clients thrive, bringing the best of what CBIZ has to offer, based on the needs clients are articulating.’ Where in the process we’re gaining momentum is with our very customized approach.”

Since CBIZ launched the Accelerated Recovery Solutions suite in early September, Thorne reports even tighter collaboration among not only the 75 people focused on the service line, but throughout the rest of the firm: “We are now hosting cross-functional training sessions inside the firm. We are hosting client account reviews, inviting leaders in all business units to think about different clients and their needs. It forces some great internal working habits that we believe will continue to bring great ideas and recommendations to all clients.”

While the service line primarily served existing clients when it launched, it has helped ignite conversations with prospective clients, according to Thorne, which the firm reaches with a content-driven marketing strategy that includes case studies, whitepapers and webinars.

As these clients and prospects rethink their office space and staffing requirements, many are seeking outsourced solutions, Thorne reports.

“We’re seeing an uptick in outsourced accounting services, outsourced technology and cybersecurity services,” Thorne said. “Instead of companies having to build big teams internally, they are outsourcing more of that work to companies like CBIZ.”

Needing relief

At the other end of the spectrum, with the pandemic’s impact varying so greatly by industry, some businesses are more focused on survival.

“If you are in the amusement park industry, you’re hurting, and looking for all sources of cash financing,” Thorne said. “Same for retail, hospitality — they are needing more focus on cash conservation. If you are a business that is back reopened, running at 50 to 70 percent capacity, maybe you are just looking for alternative financing sources while Congress is debating if there will be further stimulus or not. We are helping clients look for alternative and traditional financing in lieu of more stimulus. [But] if you are a software company, like Zoom, or a grocery store, it’s an excellent opportunity to really expand your growth plan, whether that’s M&A or new approaches of driving revenue.”

As broad as these recovery solutions are, for companies needing more urgent relief, CBIZ offers corporate recovery services. “For those companies in severe crisis, facing the boundaries of the zone of insolvency, we have corporate recovery services,” Thorne said. “We help them quickly restructure, put a turnaround plan in place, and manage in bankruptcy. It’s been an existing service line for some time.”

As countercyclical as this business line is, there haven’t been too many clients taking advantage of it to date, according to Thorne. “Anecdotally, many clients are fighting hard,” he said. “We haven’t seen too many direct bankruptcies.”

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