I recently had the good fortune to conduct an interview with one of the brightest lights in public accounting and am pleased to share his insights in this Q&A.
Jim Metzler currently leads the Metzler Advisory Group LLC (metzleradvisorygroup.com) where he transforms his vast experience and insight into main street counsel for new and existing firms. Jim retired as vice president of small firm assets for the AICPA, having served for 11 years as a member of senior management.
For nearly 20 years Jim has been named one of Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting. From his unique vantage point he has been witness to, and an essential part of, the formative changes in our profession over the past four decades. Few in the profession have had the opportunity to sit so close to the regulators, thought leaders, governmental bodies, the global political environment – from a client and internal standpoint – to see what is driving the truly great, entrepreneurial firms. This world view has given Jim unique insight into the threats and opportunities facing CPAs.
GC: Jim, could you share a quick synopsis of an incredible career?
JM: I started out in 1970 with a firm with five people. I’ve always been lit up by technology, even in the pioneering days. In fact, mine was the first generation to use technology. I spent 32 years, 24 as partner, with Gaines Metzler Kriner and Company in Buffalo and co-founded GEMKO Information Group, a technology consulting arm of the firm. I co- founded ConvergenceCoaching LLC with Jennifer Wilson and decided to leave the firm to coach CPA firms and others in the profession on a full time basis. Then in 2003 the AICPA found me.
GC: We know the profession is changing at a record pace. What are some of the most important shifts you’re seeing?
JM: The idea of being a client for life is no longer a given—client loyalty must be earned. Traditionally, public accounting has been an annuity business. Annuity revenue has accounted for most of our revenue so we haven’t had to look for that cutting edge. But more and more our buyers are pondering choices that go beyond geographic borders, which means we can no longer count on that annuity revenue stream. Thanks to technology clients can now find a CPA anywhere in the world. This younger, smarter generation is not doing things the same way.
From my perspective things are going to have to change. We’re going to have to become much more sophisticated, innovative and collaborative in the way we run our firms. We can no longer afford to be just technicians. It’s a matter of investing in our own skill development and lifelong learning, as we acknowledge that a firm cannot be all things to all people.
GC: What other significant trends are impacting the future of our profession?
JM: Private equity markets are growing by leaps and bounds and will require a new regulatory framework. The ability of firms to comply with risk and ensure quality is going to be critical to continuing self-regulation as government seeks more regulatory control over our profession. As well we need to be prepared for the increasingly international scope of private equity markets.
I continue to focus on the unique needs of private vs. public companies. For 11 years I’ve been advocating along with my former AICPA colleagues for unique accounting principles for private companies. Generally, CPAs have not been quick to adopt this or use it as a competitive advantage—a way to say one size does not fit all.
The graying of the profession and the ability of older practitioners to let go is another important issue. I’ve been through this myself and I know it can be very difficult. But the longer the old guard hangs on, the more disadvantaged firms will be. Another change we’re seeing is the growing complexity of the marketplace. Today’s clients have to be concerned about an intricate set of circumstances including, finance, compliance, HR law, and international regulation and legislation. Ideally, the CPA can be the guiding light—the trusted business advisor—to help clients manage these complexities.
GC: How would you describe your role at Metzler Advisory Group?
JM: The engine is my passion for the profession and my belief in the role of CPAs to truly make a difference in the lives of their clients. I’ve learned that if you’re not yet ready to hang up the tights there are many different ways to serve.
I feel an obligation to pay the knowledge forward—to give back the blessings. I do that by working with firms that are interested in growing with intrinsic strength through strategic investment. I’m currently working with emerging leaders, emerging partners and sole practitioners to help guide them on their journey. And I’m consulting with entrepreneurial women CPAs starting their own firms. They have a particular ability to get close to their clients. And I think women can be quicker to cut bait if they find themselves in a firm that isn’t the right fit.
GC: Jim thanks so much, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Best of luck to you.
JM: Thank you Gale!