After weathering one of the roughest economies on record, the 2010 Top 100 Firms are making a gradual transition from implementing austerity measures such as fee reductions, hiring freezes and, in some dire cases, staff cuts, to repositioning themselves to capitalize on a slower-than-expected, but gradual, recovery.

This year's T100 class are gearing for a return to building their books of business via myriad strategies, from creating new practice units, enhancing communication and spotlighting service quality to bolster client retention, to placing a renewed focus on marketing and selling initiatives.

At Pittsford, N.Y.-based Bonadio Group, the firm will place a major emphasis in 2010 on its BIG program, an acronym for Bonadio Incentives for Growth. According to managing partner Thomas Bonadio, the BIG curriculum is comprised of sales and branding training, staff education on the firm's products and services, and an incentive program for business development.

At Amper, Politziner & Mattia, managing partner Howard Cohen said that the Edison, N.J.-based firm has earmarked investment funds for client niches that carry the prospect of high growth amidst a still-struggling financial climate, such as bankruptcy/insolvency, litigation support and international services. Like many other Top 100 firms that responded to the crisis by creating practice units designed to assist clients in navigating the tough economy, Amper created an Economic Response Team to deliver crisis-centric services.

California-based Armanino McKenna unveiled a four-year strategic growth roadmap and augmented that with a benchmarking program titled CFO Agenda that is anchored by a survey of 160 chief finance officers, with their responses allowing AM clients to perform apples-to-apples comparisons with their competitors.

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With clients often struggling with a firm's invoices as their revenue began evaporating, Florida firm Berkowitz Dick Pollack & Brant implemented a new policy that required receivables 90 days past due to be placed on an approved payment plan, guaranteed by a director of the firm or reserved in full.

The firm also established a number of crisis-related task forces to help distressed clients, including ones that encompass bankruptcy and asset recovery, and for its real estate and construction clientele, it founded a Real Estate Financial Advisory Services Group to assist investors and developers on issues ranging from tax structuring and deferral, to construction delays, contract analysis studies and valuation of distressed assets.

Krista McMasters, who last June officially assumed the CEO mantle at Clifton Gunderson, said that her firm has implemented "Focus on Perfection" - a three-pronged initiative that spotlights exceptional client service, operational excellence and preserving talent. The client service portion puts an emphasis on staff training, while the operations and talent tracks spotlight prudent cost-savings measures and honed efficiencies, and developing and recruiting top-level staff, respectively.

Top 10 Firm Grant Thornton - which also underwent a leadership transition with the January installation of Stephen Chipman as head of the U.S. unit - created a proprietary Economic Crisis Resource Center as a URL on its Web site, as well as authoring The Credit Crunch: A Practical Guide, which provides detailed explanations of the recent financial events and how they can affect businesses. Chipman also explained that over the past year the firm has increased its investment in a number of practice groups like restructuring services and health care, and unveiled a new methodology in global audit titled Voyager, and another for tax called Tax Symphony.

SILVER LINING

With its client focus exclusively on the federal government, Kearney & Co. was one of the few Top 100 Firms that actually benefited from the economic downturn. The Alexandra, Va.-based firm posted revenue gains of 37 percent in 2009, and as Washington continues to spend in hopes of stimulating an economic recovery, that has prompted managing partner Ed Kearney to hire additional personnel to prepare for an increased workload.

Miami-based Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra has expanded its recruiting and internship efforts as a positioning strategy for the recovery, as well as bolstering its litigation support and international tax practice areas. It also brought aboard a number of experienced associates who specialize in insolvencies and bankruptcy and business valuation. According to MBAF managing partner Tony Argiz, the firm's IT consulting practice, Solutions@MBAF, works to provide financially distressed clients price-friendly services and solutions.

Boosting client communications via meetings and phone calls, as well as an increased push in marketing and advertising initiatives, have been among the best practices deployed by New York City-based O'Connor Davies Munns & Dobbins as the economy attempts to climb back. In an effort to increase its client retention percentage, the firm is offering multiple-year contracts to select prospective clients during the proposal process.

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