When I talk to top ranked firms throughout America, they say the single biggest challenge isn’t technology – it’s finding and retaining talent. A recent AICPA survey backs up this uncomfortable truth about public accounting.
Even with all the automation out there, we need talent to grow revenue. However, for new founders, it can be the biggest hurdle to getting a new firm up and running.
Last year at Xerocon San Diego, Kristen Keats, CEO and co-founder of Breakaway Bookkeeping & Advising, shared valuable insights with me around what she’s doing to meet talent needs at her firm. She is on a mission to make public accounting a friendlier, more meaningful experience for accountants.
She shares where she thinks top talent is heading and what joy in accounting looks like to her. Here’s the low-down on what she shared.
Turnkey public accounting
It’s never been easier to start a firm and grow it to seven digit revenues. I know at least one Xero Ambassador who has done it in less than a sitting President’s term. So what is the secret behind these firms’ success?
Breakaway purposely scopes out tax and compilation work, even though the founders are CPAs with decades of experience in both.
“Our advisors are able to access that joyful part of client service, because their lives are so much less stressful. Not only do they have more time, they have more energy because they are not burdened by administration,” Kristen shares.
It also allows for specialization –the CPA receiving the work from Breakaway doesn’t have to redo everything just to do the tax return. This is how Breakaway enables the joy to spread in accounting.
I told Kristen that before I joined Xero, I was considering starting my own CPA practice. However, the tasks looked gargantuan – legal, information security, sales and of course the work itself. Everything would be on me.
Breakaway provides the framework for new advisors, with an existing book of business or not, to join and immediately get a cloud based tech stack and talent pool of experienced offshore labor. This means they can focus on client advisory and growth from the beginning. And it’s not just startup CPAs who can benefit from Breakaway’s model. Large firms that want to accelerate their move to advisory can also enjoy the benefits.
This all became clear when I met Breakaway co-founder Martin Moll who spent time as a Managing Partner of a top 50 firm in the Pacific Northwest. Martin was very clear that he was looking for a different culture, a different kind of firm, and he was confident Breakaway’s model would entice other senior managers and partners at top ranked firms to jump ship. He shares, “We are excited to offer a unique model that leverages technology, community and a distributed workforce to provide a joyful experience for advisors and clients alike”.
Innovating old service lines
Accountants have been serving high-net-worth families for centuries, but today, only a few firms in select major metros advertise this as a service line. In fact, due to the private nature of the service, many do not advertise these services at all. A key focus of Breakaway is providing business management and family office services through Breakaway Private. These services are traditionally high touch and high margin. However they are difficult to scale with existing solutions because they aren’t cloud based or are tied to specific asset custodians. Kristen explains, “With the Xero platform for business management, we’re not tied to one bank.Plus each aspect from document management to reporting can be swapped out if they fall behind”.
Breakaway’s goal is to have newly recruited advisors spend their time analyzing the results instead of transactions. This enables them to continue having meaningful conversations with clients.
Where to next?
Continual learning is the mantra at Breakaway. Kristen and her team are trying out the latest apps. They are also staying close to leading accounting tech partners to see trends. They are also discovering who has a local presence and national capabilities like Xero. “I like that new advisors to Breakaway are always supported by Xero. We have a local team and help on the national level and know that Xero will always show up. This really helps us out tremendously,” Kristen shared.
Breakaway’s partners in international markets also see trends before they happen stateside. For example, the move to advisory and AI for compliance work. The accounting tech industry has been talking up cloud adoption and the move to advisory for years. But how do you do it when advisors are so focused on the compliance basics? The answer may be in freeing advisors from the task with specialists in the very automation that makes compliance tasks easy. This is the Breakaway model, and it’s poised for success.