A recent survey of public accounting firms in the BKR International Americas Region noted that, over the past three years, the number of equity partners has declined slightly while non-equity partner growth through additions and promotions has increased by 33 percent.

Most of these new partners are the next generation to lead their firms. This new crop of partners will take what they’ve learned in the coming years and likely change how accounting firms are managed. BKR International identified five ways that tomorrow’s MPs will potentially change the industry:

Profit follows vision.

While there will certainly be an emphasis on growth and profit, tomorrow’s managing partners will emphasize the personal meaning and value of accounting.

“Partners will build team cultures, for sure, but they want each individual to understand why the firm exists and why they matter, ” says Maureen Schwartz, BKR International executive director.

Benefits like paid volunteer time or sabbaticals may become more extensive across firms as managing partners support this balance of firm vision with a meaningful life, Schwartz says.

Communication is fluid and multi-channeled.

Tomorrow’s managing partners won’t distinguish online communication from in-person communication. In fact, their focus on video conferencing and future communication methods in the profession will support in-house communication as well as client communication.

Alex Weidner is a recently named shareholder at BKR International member firm Rudler, PSC. He says that online communication has eased the transition to remote work outside the firm’s headquarters in Northern Kentucky: “Our employee in Baltimore communicates with us through [video conference], and it works great to keep everyone connected.”

Relationships come before formalities.

“Clients want contact. They want service,” says Steve Erickson, a leading consultant for accounting firms who spoke recently to BKR International’s young professionals practice group. He emphasizes that tomorrow’s leaders will focus on internal as well as external service in order to meet the high expectations of clients. It’s a positive that the next generation is already familiar with collaborating in groups and getting feedback before making decisions, he says.

As they lose the strict formalities of business attire, young professionals are also less likely to carry and present paper business cards like a gift in meetings.

“Conversations with clients or employees don’t always have to be formal and ostentatious,” Erickson says. “The level of formality depends on the client, but the tone should always be sincere.”

Peer learning is omnipresent.

Firms in BKR International are also starting to send their younger partners to conferences as well as getting them involved in specialty practice groups to network and learn. This transition, along with internal peer cohort learning groups, will become the norm.

BKR member firm Kevin P. Martin & Associates in Boston recently held several training sessions for internal emerging leaders on social selling techniques — giving these young professionals the tools for building a book of business in the online world. “We can’t expect tomorrow’s leaders to build business the same way we have for decades,” says Kevin Martin, managing director. “They need a mix of online and interpersonal tools to be effective.”
Working with specialists is critical.

Tomorrow’s managing partners will also accept the requirement to work with specialists. “The accounting industry environment demands proactive and multi-disciplined guidance for clients at an unprecedented pace,” Schwartz says. “People are used to getting instant information, and young managing partners will want to match that pace by leveraging consultants.” The melding of accounting foresight with operational and labor force consulting, for example, will necessitate that tomorrow’s partners have a large network of trusted resources — in-house or outsourced — to ensure happy clients and growth.

Succession planning for CPA firms

“One thing is certain,” Schwartz says. “The accounting industry is changing, and we’re excited to see what the next generation of managing partners will bring to the table.”