"Inside innovation", A+ magazine (September 2014)

Accounting firms constantly advise their clients to embrace new technology, but what ground breaking developments are going on behind their own doors?

In a cross-interview for A+ Magazine, Stephen Weatherseed, Managing Partner of Mazars Hong Kong office, and Hubertus Eichler, Head of Corporate Governance, Risk and Compliance services at Mazars Munich office, talk with George Russell about innovation in CPA firms.

Extract of the article

Innovation specialists say the first step for any CPA firm is to figure out where they fall short.  “CPAs have to change their perspectives in order to be in a position to identify the innovation, which really helps them with their day-to-day challenges,” says Hubertus Eichler, Head of Corporate Governance, Risk and Compliance Services at Mazars in Munich.

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“From my point of view, accounting firms generally are open towards technical innovations that help them improve audit efficiency,” says Eichler. “This is especially true for tools that support them in structuring and documenting the audit process.”

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There are exceptions. In Hong Kong, innovation tends to be more technology focused. Mazars recently implemented a cloud-based regional enterprise risk planning platform embracing its operations in China (including Hong Kong) and Singapore. The platform  will be deployed in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region in the next 12 months and progressively implemented in other regions. 

Stephen Weatherseed, Managing Director of Mazars and a Hong Kong Institute of CPAs member, says ERP brings economies of scale. “It aligns our business processes across three practices,” he says. “In terms of financial reporting, [ERP] frees up our team from tedious tasks such as processing so they can focus more on value-added tasks, such as analysis and forecasting.” Eichler, a member of the Institut der Wirtschaftsprüfer in Deutschland, led the development of Kulturkompass. This methodology to gauge the firm’s progress in corporate culture – an index of environmental, sustainability, governance, human rights and other measurable characteristics – was introduced across the Mazars firm.

In many cases, innovation for CPAs is not so much about creating a killer app as identifying a process that can be streamlined. “A culture of continuous improvement is innovation,” Weatherseed says, “but it doesn’t have to be software. With auditing, it’s a case of ‘what did we do last year?’ That’s a basis for challenging that process. That is innovation.”

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Some firms say they realize the importance of scalability. For example, Mazars sees innovation as a key strategic issue supervised by the network’s global executive board, according to Weatherseed. “The board emphasizes this importance through requiring each of the Mazars global business units to incorporate innovation in their plans,” he says. “All partners in Mazars have innovation included as part of our annual appraisal.”

Eichler, his German colleague, sees real innovation at CPA firms occurring only if their management moves beyond structured analysis into change management and thought leadership. “I have not seen a lot of real non-ITbased innovation in accounting firms in the past 20 years,” he says.  

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Credits:

  • Article by George W. Russell, A+ Magazine, September 2014 issue

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