By: Sara Warden
2 min read December 2020 — As demand for professional services and advice ramped up amid the uncertainty of 2020, many Philadelphia firms found working from home to be a blessing in disguise. Besides opening the option for potential reduction of real estate overhead, COVID imprinted on people a need to evaluate their lives and lifestyles and ensure they are ready for any future uncertainty – all areas professional services firms are positioned to advise on.
“We entered the year with plans to invest in a variety of areas within the practice,” says Kreischer Miller’s Managing Director Christopher Meshginpoosh. “For instance, we added talent to our business advisory practice, including assigning one of our top partners as the leader. We’ve had tremendous success building that practice, with growing demand for a wide range of services, including exit planning, succession planning, and valuation.”
For some firms, the reduced need for real estate has allowed them to gain an edge by pouring more money into hiring the best new recruits and allocating more time to client needs. “Our talent pool has greatly improved as an increasing number of people are interested in relocating here. A decade ago, the pull was not nearly as strong,” says Chris Bruner, managing partner of EY, adding that the group has been buoyed by a significant reduction of traditional indirect costs, such as plane and train travel. “The way we interact with clients will become more efficient as a result of the use of technology that was not available a decade ago,” he added. Corporate litigation and restructuring are two areas in which law firms are investing heavily due to high uncertainty.
The evolution of technology has greatly assisted firms to move quickly to a remote environment. CBIZ Philadelphia was able to transition its in-house tax and audit practice to a 100% remote environment in the middle of corporate tax deadlines and prior to the extension of the April 15 deadline. “Our teams have adjusted quicker than we could have imagined and so many remote working applications were fast-tracked by our CBIZ national IT department,” says Managing Director Kevin Fiumara. “Currently, our staff and clients are using remote video and secure conferencing for meetings and information sharing. This allows us to continue to service clients, engage our internal teams and operate effectively.”
And some companies, such as Kreischer Miller, were inadvertently training for the remote environment in the run-up to the shelter in place order. “Like most companies, we have invested significantly in IT over the years, and our team, for the most part, is used to working remotely,” says Meshginpoosh. “Luckily, we went through a dry run last summer because a large number of our team members had to work remotely for almost four months while our office was under construction.”
Others have simply adapted to the new environment. EisnerAmper has already rolled out new technology to ease the new PPP loan process for clients, despite the rules still being in constant flux. “Our firm has worked with a technology company on a product that can input data from the customer and calculate the amount of loan forgiveness, which we can then provide to the banks,” explains Partner-in-Charge Paul Dougherty. “The banks are under a tremendous amount of stress because a loan recipient must determine the amount of forgiveness within eight weeks after receiving the loan. The banks have given out many thousands of loans, and they don’t necessarily have the staff to process all of that work in a timely fashion.”
The industry has not only been advising on PPP loans, but it has also been on the receiving end of the program. In Philadelphia, as of Dec. 7, law firms and legal services businesses had received $478 million in loans from the program, supporting the paychecks of over 26,000 employees.
For Kimberly A. Dula, managing director of Friedman LLP, the biggest takeaway from the crisis was that professional services firms in Philadelphia were on the frontlines with clients rather than just being advisers. “When everyone was scared, we reached out to each other and our clients were not just calling us for their auditing and tax needs but rather because they were nervous and looking to us for guidance,” she says. “We need to remember that when we hear about something, we should be thinking about our clients and we need to be the first ones to tell them about new changes and opportunities.”