According to Susan, the accounting industry will only move forward once professionals become willing to accept change.
MB Group tailors its offerings to the needs of clients. Recently, that’s meant offering strategic planning throughout the year as part of its advisory work.
Susan Bryant has always had business on the brain. In fact, she asked her parents for a briefcase for Christmas when she was 13.
But that doesn’t mean she always had her heart set on accounting.
“I got into accounting all sorts of backwards. That includes the education piece of it,” Susan says.
In college, she majored in marketing, but after encouragement from a career counselor, she took some accounting classes to keep her options open. As the credits piled up, so did Susan’s accounting prowess. She got the required credits to sit for the CPA exam and passed, starting her accounting career in internal audit for a bank.
After her banking experience, Susan went to work for a one-person firm and experienced trial by fire. Though she was a CPA, she lacked many of the practical skills needed to function as an accountant. However, as a fast learner, she quickly got the hang of the job and moved on to another position with a larger firm. That’s where she met those who would become her future partners at MB Group.
Now an owner of MB Group in Plano, Texas, Susan was named one of the Top 50 Women in Accounting in 2021 by Ignition. She joins Karbon CEO and host Stuart McLeod on episode 52 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast to share her thoughts on the accounting industry’s challenges, how COVID affected her client base, and how she brings her clients’ businesses to new heights with her strategic planning service.
Accounting isn’t known as a particularly trailblazing industry. But to bring in fresh blood, Susan thinks that attitude is going to have to shift.
MB Group is no exception to the industry-wide resistance to change. Still, Susan pushes forward.
“We as accountants are very averse to change. We like what we like because it works for us, or because it's fast. But the future is the future. In order to take advantage of this technology, we've got to adapt,” Susan tells Stuart on the podcast.
Another obstacle looming on the horizon for the accounting industry: a labor shortage.
Susan proposes a combination of solutions that revolve around flexibility in terms of working arrangements and outsourcing. But no matter what, she feels leaders will need to take an active role in cultivating new accounting talent—even if that means pulling people from other industries “that have the aptitude for accounting and teaching them what they need to know.”
“It's not just one thing. That's how it was before: We'll go to colleges, we'll recruit, then 10% are going to leave and the rest of them will make partner in 40 years. That doesn’t work today,” she explains.
COVID posed unique challenges to every business in the world. Susan’s clients were no exception. And in the clients MB Group has taken on since the pandemic, she’s noticed a trend.
“I can see the difference between the businesses who had a solid advisor from a financial standpoint during COVID versus the ones who didn't. The state of their business, their cash balances, [and] the strength of their financial standing are totally impacted by whether or not they were working with a good CPA or not.”
Susan also noticed certain businesses were especially well-suited for success during such a challenging time.
“Recruiting and staffing companies did well because as soon as people needed employees again, they needed them now. Construction, of course, because people were at home and they were doing renovations or building a new house. The real estate markets have gone crazy. Also, pool construction companies,” Susan explains.
As for the rush to supply PPP funds to her clients, she faced the same challenge as most accounting firms: fund distribution fell during tax season. To get past this, Susan used creative thinking to divide work among her team of 34 based on their strengths and bandwidths.
Recommended reading: 5 keys questions to ask before considering your accounting firm’s strategic plan
According to Susan, success for MB Group is a constantly evolving beast. Each year, she tailors the firm’s offerings to what clients need now.
“My mantra for the next year is ‘do more, be more.’ Clients need more from us,” Susan tells Stuart on the podcast. “We develop a listing of where we need to grow our capabilities and our skills in order to meet them where they are. Then we make it part of our standard operating procedure.”
For example, advisory services are a major talking point in the accounting industry, although the exact definition varies from firm-to-firm. In analyzing the shifting needs of MB Group’s clients, Susan found that advisory services meant a close focus on strategic planning throughout the year.
Here’s how that looks: At the beginning of the year, MB Group puts together a one-page plan with the top four priorities for the year. The client is encouraged to distribute that plan to their whole team to get buy-in and alignment.
Mid-year tax planning is key, and involves activities like setting aside funds based on estimated taxes owed. Susan also uses this period to educate the client on tax reduction strategies. Doing this ahead of the year-end rush ensures it’ll get the attention it deserves.
Finally, at year-end, Susan and her team put together a review of all the accomplishments the client enjoyed throughout the year. Success metrics vary among clients and can be anything from locations opened to employees hired to new clients gained.
Susan notes that not all of her clients need the strategic planning service. Very large clients who are seasoned at strategic planning likely already have a process in place, while very small clients are focused on just paying the bills. But it’s been incredibly beneficial for the middle of the pack and another way to drive revenue for MB Group.
“It’s been incredible. We're almost leading them in their leadership journey,” she says.
Reviewing year-end outcomes is a big part of Susan and MB Group’s guiding ethos. It’s rewarding to look back on what clients have achieved and overcome, whether it’s making it through COVID or accomplishing a larger goal.
“Purchasing new buildings, hiring new employees, building up their management teams—those are the moments where you're high-fiving your clients.”
Being a business owner is hard enough. And MB Group’s results are a testament to having an accountant on your side to celebrate the good times—and walk you through the bad. Often, it's the difference between thriving and merely surviving.