Remote Work Has Accounting Firms Innovating at Unprecedented Pace

According to the newly released 2021-2022 AAM Marketing Budget Benchmark Study conducted by the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and the Hinge Research Institute (HRI), the pandemic ushered in an era of innovation that has impacted 45 percent of surveyed CPA firms positively.

Many firms offered new services, payroll protection support chief among them, reduced costs as teams worked from home, and adopted more advanced technologies for remote work and marketing and business development efforts.

“The 2021-2022 study, given the past year’s events, uncovers how CPA firms transformed their business during a tumultuous year,” said AAM President Becca Johns. “The findings reveal the central role marketing teams played in helping their firms adjust to new client needs and priorities, launch new service lines, and keep their firms on buyers’ minds in the digital marketplace. Although the industry is known for slow-going change, this year’s results prove that firms can reinvent themselves and be better prepared for whatever comes next with the right marketing investments.”

HRI managing partner Lee Frederiksen added, “The crisis has accelerated innovation in the accounting industry. This innovation would not have been possible had firms taken the frequently used route of tightening their marketing belts, a move that often makes as much sense as deciding to cut your water bill when your house is on fire.”

In response to shutdown orders, firms embraced new technologies and marketing strategies in one year at an unprecedented pace, sending average marketing budgets soaring 100 percent from what they were in 2019. Eighty-five percent of firms tried out new marketing and business development strategies, and 69 percent achieved some success with new initiatives.

The shift to a mostly digital marketplace helped some firms achieve an average median growth rate close to 32 percent, remarkable even in periods of greater stability. These high growth firms (HGFs) grew more than five times as fast as their average growth peers while spending just the same, if not slightly less, on marketing.

How they differed rested on where their marketing dollars went. HGFs placed their bets on unbeaten paths. They delivered less traditional services, such as outsourced client accounting, information security, and software/technology, while many slower growing peers offered general business consulting, audit/assurance, and wealth management services.

Next, HGFs invested more heavily in marketing talent, maintaining a ratio of marketers to full-time employees nearly twice the ratio of other firms. Moreover, they were 37 percent more likely to supplement in-house talent with marketing consultants. Their fortified marketing teams were able to implement and achieve greater impact from digital marketing strategies while other firms stuck to more traditional approaches.

Participants of the study came from 140 CPA firms with more than 23,000 employees and total revenues exceeding $6.7 billion.