Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Career Tips for the New M&A Era

Do you know the 14 signs that your accounting firm is headed for a merger? And how to plan your career for the next M&A wave.

March 18, 2010
by Rick Telberg/On Careers

The next 15 years could see as many mergers or acquisitions among accounting firms as we’ve seen in the last 100, according to conventional wisdom.

The reasons, of course, are well-known: simple demographics. The baby boomer generation that built today’s CPA industry is facing retirement. And the accounting business is not alone. Indeed, U.S. industries across the spectrum are facing the same issues of wealth transfer, knowledge shortage and looming changes in ownership control and management culture.

So every CPA and finance executive could be affected by this megatrend in one way or another.

If you’re planning to retire any time soon, the rest of this article is not for you. You either know what you need to do or it’s too late to help you.

But if you belong to the next generation of CPAs, the generation that’s going to take over from today’s retirement-minded partners and managers, then read on. This post is for you.

While the baby boomer generation plots its exit strategies, many among the Millennials, Gen X-ers, and Gen Y-ers are chomping at the bit.

Dominic Cingorelli and Bill Reeb are here to help you catch the signs of an impending merger at your firm.

Both are CPAs and consultants to the profession through The Succession Institute and the new two-volume set on succession planning, Securing the Future, from the AICPA. The set may be as relevant for up-and-coming partners-in-training as it is for anyone structuring a firm strategically for the future.

Look for these eight signs that your firm will be shopping for an upstream merger when the partners-in-control come to believe:

  1. We can get more for our retirement benefit from a merger.
  2. We don’t believe that the remaining partners have the leadership ability.
  3. We don’t believe that the firm will stay together after we leave.
  4. We have some partners who refuse to be held accountable.
  5. We are short on talent, either at the junior-partner level or the next tier down.
  6. Our financial results are not particularly shiny.
  7. We have a specialty niche and talent pool that requires a bigger client base than we can access.
  8. Our business processes and practices are somewhat out of date.

And look for these six signs that your firm will be looking to acquire another firm when you start hearing:

  1. We need more market share gains than we’re getting now.
  2. We’d like to add some new services. We don’t have the people for now.
  3. We need to prop up a marginal office or expand geographically.
  4. We are short on talented people.
  5. We have too many partners around the same age and we don’t think our junior partners have the leadership ability for the firm to continue over the long run.
  6. We have some partners who refuse to be held accountable. (Yes, this item is in both lists.)

Whether your firm is looking upstream or downstream, you can tell from just looking at those lists, what you need to do. Starting with:

  1. Develop your client skills and build a book of business.
  2. Dig in to a specialty and become the acknowledged go-to person for all technical questions on the topic.
  3. Pay attention to your firm’s financials.
  4. Help upgrade operating procedures and technologies.
  5. Ask the partners the tough questions about the future of the firm.
Whether the old guard knows it or not, Next Gen CPAs are waiting in the wings. Your time is here.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN: What’s your story? What advice do you have for colleagues? E-mail me with your comments, ideas, rants, raves or questions.

Copyright © 2010 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.