Happy New Year, everyone! As I thought about 2019, I wanted to get off on the right foot – and I wanted to try something a little different. So today, I interview three wonderful guests at the same time. And you know what? It was a blast!
Our guests are Allen Lloyd, CEO of the Montana Society of CPAs; Boyd Search, CEO of the Georgia Society of CPAs; and Chris Jenkins, CEO of the South Carolina Association of CPAs. All three are CEOs who used to work for the Ohio Society and are now running other state societies, so naturally, our discussion centers around the state of the CPA associations and the issues that members are facing in the accounting profession, both current and in the future.
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, which is why this isn’t a one-on-one conversation. These three highlight that each association needs the ability to recognize the idiosyncrasies or uniqueness of their membership and try to tailor their offerings to meet the membership’s needs.
For example, Chris Jenkins and the South Carolina Association of CPAs recently overhauled their membership model to create something completely new: an all-inclusive membership. And this was a pretty radical move!
“It’s about bringing the association back to what it originally was, and the association was a community,” Chris says. “We spend a lot of time talking about CPE, and we spend a lot of time marketing CPE, but there are a lot of CPE vendors out there. What we were trying to do is deliver the maximum value for the minimum price. So, we wanted to roll CPE in as a member benefit.”
That’s right – SCACPA isn’t trying to upsell their members to purchase additional CPE credits anymore! The conversation around CPE is so often competence versus compliance, and when you take the price point out of the CPE, it becomes more of a competency-based system.
The world is changing rapidly, and as the world changes, associations need to change too.
Allen Lloyd and the Montana Association face a very different problem than our other two guests: they’re a state with just a million people that’s three-and-a-half times the size of Ohio. CPE is difficult for them because it’s difficult to get everyone together – then, even when you accomplish that, none of the cities in Montana are that big, and they’re spread out so far from one another, making it difficult to get teaching talent to come.
So the MSCPA got rid of their eight-hour seminars and switched to cluster events. Instead of getting people together for an afternoon, everyone gets together for two or three days. None of the classes are longer than four hours and members can pick and choose what they want to do.
Georgia, on the other hand, is a much more populated state. There are over 21,000 CPAs licensed in the state, and 85% of their members are actually in Metro Atlanta. This creates both opportunity and challenges because, while they are compressed in this space, traffic is terrible and it’s not going to get any better.
So Boyd and the GSCPA have made significant investments in their live stream technology, and they’re doing it all themselves. “We have our own equipment, our own staff, and we do it for ourselves,” Boyd says. “And in an age when a lot of people are partnering with outside companies, or with other states, or whatever, we have moved in the opposite direction where we are entirely reliant on ourselves.”
So the society owns the process, owns the technology, and hires the people beginning to end – and that has paid huge dividends for them financially. Although they have not experienced tremendous growth in their margins, they have offset losses that you can see in other states and other providers.
Change is scary. Change is necessary.
People in associations have a fear, and not an entirely irrational fear, that if they create too much change, the people who have supported the associations for the last 30+ years won’t like them anymore.
“But we also have to recognize that if we don’t change, if we don’t do something different, the people who are going to support us for the next 30 years are not going to find us relevant. They’re not going to find value in us,” Chris says.
So, each association, and really each firm, has to have a method of controlled change, in which you try to balance the needs of both without making either one 100% happy… and no matter what you do, you’re never going to make everyone happy.
But if people can find the value, they will want to be part of your association or work with your firm.