CCH president and CEO Mike Sabbatis discussed the company’s recent survey of accounting firm clients during a keynote address Tuesday at the CCH User Conference, and noted the effects of recent headcount reductions at many of the nation’s top firms.

“There are a lot of challenges facing CPA firms,” he noted. “We saw a clear trend among CPA firms that they were dropping headcount. A lot of the top firms are dropping people.”

[IMGCAP(1)]One reason may be changing demographics. Sabbatis noted that he knew of one firm that had a great relationship with a family-owned business across two generations, until the third generation took over and they switched accounting firms. "A great relationship, and suddenly it's gone," he said. The economic downturn has forced many firms to cut staff and rely more on key staff members and technology.

Sabbatis noted that growing firms have reported staff utilization of 73 percent, and they are able to generate an extra 150 charge hours per professional (see Accounting Firm Clients Ready for a Change). They place a greater emphasis on new processes and information sharing.

Delphi Group founder Tom Koulopoulos spoke after Sabbatis’s presentation. The analyst and author talked about the changes brought by technology.

“We forget what the experience was like before the behavior changed, like writing a paper on a manual typewriter,” he said.

Globally there are 5 billion mobile devices, he noted, with many people owning more than one cell phone. “There are 7 billion people on the planet. When the cell phone was first invented, people thought there would be just 10 million mobile phones by now. Innovation is about behavior, not technology.”