from an article in the Hartford Courant
from an article in the Hartford Courant
When Joseph Kask, the newly appointed CEO of BlumShapiro, the largest Connecticut-based accounting firm in Greater Hartford, assumed his role on Jan. 1, he knew he had big shoes to fill. He inherited a firm that, under the leadership of his predecessor, Carl Johnson, had not only expanded the services BlumShapiro offers – including a heightened focus on advisory services – but also increased its annual revenue from $14 million to $75 million over the past 14 years.
But continued revenue growth is just one of several challenges on Kask’s plate as he navigates an accounting industry that has seen a significant increase in firm consolidations, and confronts an evolving business demand – among both clients and employees – that increasingly expects technological innovation and ease of doing business.
Neither new reality reflects the accounting industry that Kask joined 30 years ago, when he began his career at Hartford-based Scully & Wolf LLP, a firm with a focus on the government and nonprofit sectors that was acquired by BlumShapiro in 2006.
“When I first started, we did tax returns by hand,” Kask recalled. “Today, it’s all computer-based.” Technology is just one of many changes impacting accounting; the industry has seen even bigger challenges on the regulatory front over the past three decades. “The biggest change [to the industry] has been volume and depth of accounting standards,” Kask said. He points to factors like the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, legislation passed to protect shareholders and the general public from fraudulent accounting practices and improve the accuracy of corporate disclosures.
That has, in turned, increased pressure on firms like BlumShapiro to evolve from its core accounting and auditing functions to providing more end-to-end consulting. Kask noted, as client needs have continued to grow, BlumShapiro’s consulting practice has more than doubled over the past several years. “We continue to invest in areas where we see client challenges and [business] opportunities for us,” Kask explained. “Areas such as organizational strategy, cyber security, and cloud computing are all areas of growth for us.”
And while Kask sees the importance of understanding the new – and broader – challenges his firm’s clients face, BlumShapiro also faces the increasing demand to expand technological innovation. According to a 2014 report from Wolters Kluwer, CCH, a global provider of accounting and tax services, firms that were “very prepared” with technology integration were 10 days faster than those “less prepared” to take a firm for initial client engagement through invoicing to cash in the bank.
In a digital economy, speed in accounting is becoming increasingly important. “Technology has enabled us to automate the way we do business from executing on an engagement to the way we provide our deliverables and communicate with our clients,” Kask said, noting that his firm is developing a new mobile app this year and using video technology for updates and education. He also points to the importance of his firm’s social media presence as a necessary tool to drive prospective business.
“Nearly 80 percent of our potential new clients are looking at us on social channels,” he explained. “We are also using social media to attract new employees and explain why BlumShapiro is a great place to work.”
And it’s not just client expectations that are changing, Kask contends. His firm’s 450-person workforce is too. As demand for technical experts escalates, attracting and retaining a qualified workforce has become a key issue for accounting firms. At the same time, as younger workers – especially Millennials – place greater demands on work-life balance than previous generations, providing flexibility has become a greater challenge for the accounting industry but one that, Kask argues, BlumShapiro will continue to address.
“We’re on the forefront of providing our employees with the flexibility to balance the demands of their personal lives with the obligations and career opportunities of their work lives,” he explained. “With our technology and software, our employees have increased their productivity and efficiency while creating more flexibility in their work hours and where they perform work.”
And Kask sees that as a competitive advantage in the marketplace. While he concedes the accounting industry is increasingly competitive, he prefers to focus on his firm’s client needs rather than the competition. “We have a very local service model and take a one-size-fits-one approach with our clients,” he said. He also points to his firm’s commitment to the communities it serves, noting BlumShapiro partners and employees collectively volunteer New England-wide on more than 200 nonprofit boards.
He expects that trend to continue and says his biggest concern in his new role is being a good steward of the firm that’s been entrusted to his leadership. “It’s not about being as big as we can get,” said Kask, who acknowledged he would continue to look at opportunities to grow through acquisition as well as organically. “It’s about continuing to grow and be a great firm.”