Successful staff and client transitions through a sale

A successful transition requires a profitable CPA firm and a deal that satisfies the needs of both the seller and the buyer. That’s all you need for a successful ownership transition. Right?

Wrong. In order to keep the firm profitable after the sale of a CPA practice, you must gently shepherd your CPA practice’s staff and clients through the change of ownership.

To understand what works – and what doesn’t — let’s look at two very different scenarios.

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Scenario one:

A suburban firm sells its practice to a large downtown firm 25 miles away. The larger downtown firm tries to fit the acquired practice and clients into its way of doing things. So the buyer sets out to change every policy, every procedure, and the way information is communicated to clients. Plus, clients will now be required to drive 25 miles to downtown when they desire face-to-face interaction with their CPA. Staffing changes and billing rates go up.

Contrast this with scenario two:

Scenario two:

The buyer stays in the existing office or, at most, moves a few miles down the road. Billing rates and policies stay in place. The staff stays on. Clients who have always preferred face-to-face meetings are welcome in the office. In short, things are pretty much the same as before the sale with the exception of the buyer now performing the billable work of the practice (with help of the seller’s employees).

Which scenario do you think will result in higher client and staff retention?

Staff Retention

It’s crucial to grasp the importance of your clients’ personal relationship with staff members. The CPA business requires a solid foundation of trust. The buyer should always retain as much of the staff as possible.

How do you retain staff? Treat them right. Offer them as good a place to work – or better – than they already had. This means maintaining or increasing their salary and benefits and honoring flex-time or other arrangements they had in place before the sale.

Transition Period

New owners may see great potential for bettering the firm. Over time, change is inevitable. But plan on a transition period of two to three years where you minimize change. In addition, most sellers will be willing to help you transition during the first busy season. Instead of going in with guns blazing, spend this time getting the lay of the land. Your brilliant ideas might be things nobody in the office ever thought of before, or they might have already tried them and failed. Take your time learning about the personalities and politics of the office and client base. Remember that you don’t know the impact of potential changes. And some changes are very difficult to undo.

Past Owner Presence

The clients had faith in the seller. That’s why they trusted their business to this particular CPA firm. So promote the perception that the former owner is still around in a behind-the-scenes role (as long as this is the truth). After the initial transition, ask the seller to still be accessible by telephone for emergencies. Or see if the seller will work some minimal number billable hours just to keep an occasional presence in the office. This can boost the clients’ confidence immensely. Also, if a client becomes unhappy with you, they can “vent” to the former owner, and he can help you retain the client, instead of having the client “vent” to your competitor, and you lose the account.

Minimizing substantive change during a transition keeps both clients and employees happier. Before starting the process of selling your firm, call Accounting Brokers Acquisition Group. As the only national business brokerage of its type comprised 100-percent of brokers who are CPAs with significant “Big Four” merger and acquisition experience, Accounting Broker is the choice of people buying and selling the country’s most desirable CPA practices. Contact us today for help in buying or selling a CPA firm.


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