3 min read March 2022 — In an interview with Invest:, Chris Hegarty, principal of CliftonLarsonAllen, discussed how the industry has adapted to trends in technology. Hegarty also shared what sets his firm apart from others and strategies it has implemented to retain talent and maintain low turnover.
How were you able to capitalize on technological developments in the past year?
As a professional services firm, we’ve always relied heavily on technology. The accounting industry, in particular, was well prepared to start working remotely when the pandemic started and everyone had to work from home. We had already gone paperless and converted to digital storage. We’ve made significant technology investments in platforms that integrate with one another and on tools designed to protect our clients’ data.
Have you seen an increase in the use of technology in the sector?
CLA has made a significant commitment to digital, assembling an ever-expanding talented team to address challenges by using technology. We developed digital tools to help our internal teams develop better and more efficient ways to serve our clients. Then, we turned our attention to identifying client challenges that we could help solve using technology to mine and interpret their data.
For example, our college and university clients collect an extraordinary amount of data about their student populations. If we can help them mine and interpret their data to identify students at a higher risk of leaving school, they can connect with those students and modify the outcome. Increasing student retention rates is very impactful for these institutions.
What sets you apart from other accounting firms?
One way we stand out is our focus on serving privately-held companies, which allows us to get to know the owners and their families. For these clients, their business is very personal to them. It is typically their largest financial asset and they have poured their heart and soul into it. We have the privilege of accompanying them on their journey.
Instead of families passing the business to the next generation, many privately-held businesses are turning to private equity to transfer control of the business to another owner group. CLA works with private equity firms all the time. We know what they are looking for in an investment and we can help clients prepare the company for a liquidity event, if that is the succession plan. We do that every day.
How are you managing the labor shortage and employee retention?
At CLA, we refer to one another as members of the CLA family. When we first started to use that term, it seemed a little uncomfortable because I already have a family. The concept solidified for me when the pandemic began and there was so much uncertainty and anxiety about what might happen. We did what families do. We came together and had family meetings, and we decided we would not do layoffs. We decided we would be stronger if we stuck together and supported one another and our clients, who really needed us. Those decisions really helped us with employee retention.
We have increased our efforts in national recruiting to bring in the resources to support our growth plans. At CLA, we employ an apprenticeship model. Many of our new family members are coming from a college campus and are learning how to work and how to conduct themselves in a work environment, at a time when traditional expectations and work norms are changing. We’ve been very careful to listen to the voices of all of our family members and be transparent in our communications. In addition to having a formal coaching program, we have developed a team of peer advisers to guide new family members when they join the firm.
We’ve had honest conversations with our people around managing multiple commitments at home and at work. We’ve encouraged people, if they think they need to take a break or a leave of absence, to talk through it instead of quitting out of frustration. Having candid conversations in the workplace to figure out a plan isn’t something that happened 20 years ago but is definitely something we are willing to do now to help retain our top talent.
We are extremely proud of our CLA family culture. Last year, we paid 400 referral bonuses to employees who recommended applicants that became new employees. We also had nearly 300 former employees come back and rejoin the firm; we call them our boomerangs. We love our boomerangs.
We do everything we can to understand the needs and aspirations of our CLA family members; we’ve developed an environment which encourages people to tell us what will keep them at the firm, even if it means transferring to a different team or office. Turnover is expensive and doesn’t help us serve our clients in the best way possible.
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