The incoming CEO of RSM, Brian Becker, shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the accounting profession, and where he’s taking his firm in particular.
Dan Hood: (00:03)
Welcome to On the Air with Accounting Today, I’m editor in chief Dan Hood. You know, Top 10 Firm RSM US is just about to install Brian Becker as its new managing partner and CEO. He’s been co-managing partner and CEO for some time, and we’re happy to have him with us to discuss the biggest issues and opportunities that he sees facing both the accounting profession and accounting firms, as well as plans for his own firm. Brian, thanks for joining us.
Brian Becker: (00:22)
Thanks Dan. Great to be here.
Dan Hood: (00:25)
Excellent. Why don’t we dive right in. Talk about what, you know, what are some of the biggest issues you see facing the accounting profession as a whole?
Brian Becker: (00:30)
To me, it’s attraction. Dan, I think you you’ve heard it a lot from people, a million less accounting students, uh, graduating from our colleges and we have this stereotype of, I would, I would say, you know, the desk filed, uh, filled full of paper person sitting behind the desk. They look tired if, you know, they look older and you know, that stereotype is damaging. And so we have to really work on attraction so that people see our profession is where you get to work with clients. It’s where you work with technology. Uh, you do provide advice and, uh, you develop skills for the future. And, you know, with so many, uh, fewer people coming in to stem and, uh, I’ll call it these type of skill positions like accounting, you know, it’s important that they see us as attractive. And, uh, so I, I know there’s things like, uh, bold ambition by the center of audit quality. And, and obviously our firm at our center is doing things along with other firms, but, uh, you know, the attraction piece, uh, to me is the biggest thing facing our profession.
Dan Hood: (01:39)
Sure. And, you know, pretty day, it’s not just because, right. You have, as you mentioned, there’s a lot fewer people coming into the field, pursuing the CPA, uh, credential, but there’s also tremendous demand, right? Enormous, uh, demand for this, all the different services that accounting firms and accountants can offer, which makes it sort of it’s, it’s, uh, they’re pulling apart in ways that are really terrible, right. Fewer and fewer people coming in, whereas there’s just tremendous opportunity.
Brian Becker: (02:01)
Yeah. It’s, it’s really interesting when I came into the profession, obviously we, weren’t doing interns as freshmen and sophomores in college and, and, uh, it’s, it’s just, uh, we continue to reach further and further down and now we’re into high schools, but it it’s important because as you said, the demand continues to rise and for the skills that we bring as a profession and, and we need to make sure that we provide the right view of it. Uh, it’s not the dodgy old accountant with the stacks of paper on the desk,
Dan Hood: (02:36)
Right. Doing 140 hours a week and never seeing that family and all that sort of terrible stuff. Right. And what’s interesting is a lot of that’s actually going away, you know, firms are better about that work. The work is better. The profession is, you know, with, between technology and outsourcing and all kinds of different things. Uh, a lot of that has actually improved. So some of it’s purely reputational, I guess, but, but either way they still need to deal with it. Well, so that’s as a profession as a whole. And I, I imagine I’m gonna, I wanna wanna narrow down and talk about issues that are facing accounting firms, obviously attraction was, is an issue for them as well.
Brian Becker: (03:04)
Yeah, for sure. You know, I, I think, I truly believe Dan that disruption is going our business model more than we’ve ever we’ve ever seen. The, we like to think that we’ve seen a lot of changes in the public accounting firms, but I don’t think it’s anything like we’re about to see now. And I, I remember, uh, who, but watching, uh, this video and they were about, and they, to this former of a retail company that had, uh, really been driven outta business and they asked this person why, and it was very insightful. They said that we were a retail company that did not know how to implement technology. Whereas Amazon was a technology that quickly learned retail. And that’s something we need to think about because you think of Amazon becoming really one of the most trusted retailers in the world, and you never talk to a human being Dan ever.
Brian Becker: (04:06)
And, um, and I don’t think our business will be like that, but we, we will be disrupted. And, and this, this old, you know, rate times hour versus value billing and, you know, the analytical skills and forward facing versus rear view mirror facing things. You’ve, you’ve, you’ve had people on your podcast that have talked about that, but it’s, it’s gonna be a disruptive change for our profession. And we have to really be relevant and show the confidence, uh, to our clients and to our communities and to the markets that we can still be the trusted advisors they seek and, and that’s gonna require, uh, difference different things.
Dan Hood: (04:46)
Well, let me just dive a little bit deeper into that, right. I, I, is it safe to assume that you, you think that, uh, that most of this disruption is being, or all of this disruption is being driven by technology? I mean, it’s certainly we’ve as you, the example of retails, a fantastic example for one where technology really is driving all or almost all of the change there, you think it’s similar in, in accounting.
Brian Becker: (05:04)
I do it’s different. Uh, but I, I would say, you know, I come from a technology background and so I led companies through disruption. And, you know, when, when I think of, you know, the future for our firm, I want us to be a digital firm that provides audit, taxi consulting and not, and I mean, not an audit tax and consulting firm that uses technology. And the reason I say that Dan is I I’ve spent my whole career watching people put in technology, but they don’t align strategy people, process and technology. And so Dan, you, you know, what you get when you, when, when you implement technology and you don’t change a bad process, you know what you get, Dan, you do the wrong thing faster. That’s what you get faster. . And so, so many times I see clients and companies, you know, that I’ve helped, uh, are not able to align strategy people, processes, and technology. And that’s what I mean by being a digital firm. And let’s face an accounting firm, uh, are not the greatest that change Dan, that they’re not the ones that love, uh, to adjust their business models. And so it’s very important as we go forward that we be a digital firm and that’s not just technology. That means aligning strategy, people, process, and technology.
Dan Hood: (06:24)
Right. Right. Well, there’s some sense that, uh, for a long time, the accounting profession, as you say, has been taking well, pro let’s say a processes, cuz not all the processes are bet. A lot of them were, but um, and just digitizing them, right. That’s been the last or the first 30 years of the digital, the digital technological revolution in accounting. And we’re, we’re approaching a point where, uh, we’re gonna, hopefully maybe the profession stops just digitizing what it was doing before and finds new ways to do things with the technology that’s available to it.
Brian Becker: (06:51)
For sure. And it’s, it’s difficult, right? I mean, it’s not easy to do that. It’s not easy for any profession to do it and uh, but it’s necessary. So you, you, you need to kind of reconstruct, uh, and, and you said it perfectly, you can’t just digitize what you’ve done manually because hopefully the processes and the way you serve clients and where clients wanna meet you and how clients wanna work with you. And, and of course, how talent, uh, maybe more importantly, wants to work with you is different. And so we have to think differently about how, uh, they wanna be engaged with us.
Dan Hood: (07:28)
Gotcha. All right. We’ve been, we’re, we’re, we’re risk of getting a little gloomy here, right? There’s some disruption going on. There’s there’s staffing shortages, um, uh, uh, I mean, and don’t get me wrong. It’s all important stuff. And it’s all things that firms need to be, uh, firms and accountants need to be aware of, but are there, are there, are, are there upsides you’re seeing, are there opportunities when you look forward, do you say, Hey, wow, this is, this is gonna be great. We’re really looking forward to this. Or we really need to take advantage of this cuz it’s a great opportunity.
Brian Becker: (07:52)
A absolutely. I, I think I’ve said to our own firm, you know, we’re at a time of, uh, probably never been a time of greater risk, but also never been a time of greater opportunity. It’s all in front of us as a profession and for us as a firm, if we can show that agility that there’s no, uh, change Dan and the people that need our skills of the, the skills that we provide, uh, I think are so necessary. And if we can combine that human insight with technology platforms in the way our people and our clients wanna be served, it’s, it’s huge opportunity. And, uh, I, I, I look forward to it. I, I come from a different background. Dan, I love change. Uh, change is, uh, always makes us better in the long run. And we will adjust, you know, as a profession. And obviously as a firm, we feel like, uh, we’re in the middle of adjusting, so I I’m excited about it. So let’s not and doom, uh, but it is changed, you know, it is, uh, that fork in the road that you have to look at and take.
Dan Hood: (08:55)
Right, right. And it does require it’s, uh, we can’t just sort of roll with it and figure it out over time. Right. You need to be more proactive. I think a lot, that’s a thing for a lot of the profession need to be more proactive about how you address change and how you, how you manage it
Brian Becker: (09:06)
Without a doubt, you know, you know, you don’t wanna be the last one to figure it out, so to speak. So absolutely.
Dan Hood: (09:14)
Excellent. All right. Well, we talked a lot about, uh, what the profession needs to do, what firms need to do. You mentioned that that, that you want RSM to be a digital firm, not just a tax and audit firm that has some technology. Uh, do you have any specific plans you wanna share with, with, uh, for what you wanna do at the firm?
Brian Becker: (09:28)
Yeah. I mean, I, you know, I’ve been emphasizing really three things. We have to be compelling and, and that’s compelling not just to our clients, but also to our people and, and with clients, obviously we have to be differentiated and easy to do business with. And, uh, and when I say easy to do business with that’s, that means through digital channels, along with our personal channels that we’ve used in the past and our people expect, and we want to deliver, you know, an unrivaled inclusive culture, and we have to allow people to pursue their passion and feel that sense of belonging and the ability to make a difference. And that’s the way I’ve always felt in my career. If I, if I could do what I love to do and feel like I belong no matter what my background and I can make a difference.
Brian Becker: (10:17)
That’s what drives people to feel that they have a purpose. So we have to be compelling. The second thing is digital. I, you know, I explained a little bit about that, but we are on a digital journey at RSM, uh, to make sure that we can meet clients where they are, and also empower our people with technology to really make that difference. And, and we fill that all tracked, uh, talent to us, but more importantly, it allow us to provide the analysts, the advisory, and obviously the audit and tax skills that we want. And, and it’s all about how do we really apply that human insight with our technology platforms to really deliver the right things. And, and that’s no easy task. And then, you know, for us, the final thing, Dan is global. You know, 70% of our revenue now comes from globally active clients and, and we are a dominant middle market firm. And so we’ve seen this incredible change to where, uh, most of our clients are globally active. And so we, we have to, uh, think globally, bring the full power of the firm to our clients and not just who we know. And, uh, and so that, that’s a big journey, but it’s an exciting journey.
Dan Hood: (11:34)
Yeah. That’s, I didn’t know that. I know you guys have always focused very, uh, are folks very tightly on the middle market, but I didn’t realize that, uh, 70% globally active, that’s very, uh, that’s a, a surprising number to me. That’s amazing.
Brian Becker: (11:45)
It is, you know, as I came up through the profession, you know, it, it’s amazing how much that has changed. I mean, our middle market has become much more complex. Um, and, and that global interaction has, has been amazing to watch. It’s just a different world and obviously private equity coming into the space has made a big difference. And, uh, so it is the, the expectations our middle market clients have for expertise, uh, both industry and technical and the ability to span the world is, is, is really important.
Dan Hood: (12:21)
Yeah. All right. Very cool. So I, that’s a great picture of, of where you wanna, where you wanna go in the future. I wanna talk a little bit about, uh, about the past, uh, in a second, but first we’re gonna take a quick break. All right. And we’re back with Brian Becker of RSM, uh, who is, uh, as we’re recording this about to take, uh, take offices managing, uh, managing partner and CEO. Um, but as time you listen to us, he may well have been installed, uh, already. Um, but I wanna talk a little bit about, you’ve talked a little bit about your background in technology. You started as, uh, in audit, if I I’ve got that right. And then switch to, to working, uh, uh, or to starting up really the technology infrastructure service line, you worked in that for a long time. And then most recently before your current role, you were head of the consulting business there, which if I’ve got this, this right, uh, more than doubled under your tenure.
Dan Hood: (13:09)
So you come from a, a, a, a slightly different background than a lot of people in the field, as you said, you like change. Um, you’re obviously very comfortable with technology. Um, and I wonder if you could talk about, you know, some of the biggest changes you’ve seen, uh, over the course of your career. So, like I said, it’s not quite a, quite the standard career of an accounting in, in public practice. Uh, it’s not, it’s not wild and crazy, but it’s, uh, it’s, it’s a little bit, uh, a little bit unusual. So I’m wondering what you’ve seen in terms of big changes over the course of your time.
Brian Becker: (13:35)
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting, you know, I, I, uh, you know, when I started in auditing it, it was much more of a generalist model. I’ll call it Dan. I mean, you went to different industries. I mean, I mean, completely different a bank to a manufacturer, to a distributor. And, and, uh, I would say you did a lot more different things. And, and of course, when tax season came, uh, at least at the firm that I started with, which is ours, you know, the auditors came in at night and did tax returns. And so it, it was a, a real busy season I’ll call it. And, and, uh, it was, you know, J just more generalist model, more localized, you know, people at that time, you remember Dan I’m older medical or anything you went local, you didn’t think of, of beyond your cities. And now, as, as I fast forward, went into technology from audit. And, uh, I just, I just seen this, uh, complete change to where, uh, the need for technical depth of expertise is much, much greater and the same with industry expertise, and that was happening before COVID. But now that COVID has happened, I’ve seen it really expand, cuz people realize they can get access to expertise through virtual means like we’re doing right now. Uh, but I even saw it before then, but now it’s really there. And so, you know, our, our clients are more sophisticated. They have higher expectations.
Dan Hood: (15:05)
That’s wild. And I had not put that together. I, I mean, we, we, people talk about all the different ramifications and, and the influences of the pandemic, but I hadn’t really thought about that in terms of phrasing people’s expectations around, uh, their, their AB their ability to get expertise from everywhere. Right? If you say, well, I can only work with the accountant who’s within my county or, or, you know, near my nearby, then I may not be able to get access to, to serious expertise. But if I could talk to anybody anywhere in the country, right. Then I can, that’s interesting. That’s a, that is a wrinkle on the, the pandemic that I hadn’t heard before.
Brian Becker: (15:34)
Yeah. It’s and you’ve seen it in the medical field. You’ve seen it everywhere where, uh, if, if you have a serious issue, whether it’s your business or your health, you’re not going to be restricted to your geography. You’re, you’re gonna do what’s best for your business or your health. And you’re gonna look across the United States and maybe across the globe, depending on how big the problem is. And, and now you have access to it and, you know, before you then have access to it. And so that’s what I mean of, uh, of a business model changing. You know, we at RSM are really focused at how we bring the full power of the firm to our clients and not just our office.
Dan Hood: (16:13)
Very cool. Very cool. Excellent. All right. Well, so now as you look forward, we talked a little bit about your plans for the firm and so on, but as you look forward, what changes do you think, uh, do you expect to see for the firm for accounting, for the profession as a whole?
Brian Becker: (16:26)
I think it’s important that we’re relevant and we bring confidence and, you know, I think more and more, uh, people want a forward looking view and, and analytics about the future. And, you know, combining, you know, more than just a vision about what’s happened in the past, but how can we help our clients based on the past really project to a greater future. And I think we are in a great position as a profession and as a firm for us to really provide the confidence to our clients, that we can be that go-to first choice advisor. And that’s what we like to think about is, you know, how can we be that trusted first choice advisor that gives them confidence is relevant to them about their future. And, and I think we still have the skills, you know, what other profession do you grow up? Uh, learning about a business in depth like we do, and now we’re, we’re learning technology. And so we still have the greatest opportunity in front of us to take advantage of that. Uh, but it’s gonna require us to be, to be different.
Dan Hood: (17:37)
Right. Well, that’s, I mean, at, at the, I was gonna say this is, that might be a great up note to end it on, right. There is tremend tremendous opportunity, but it does require that change in mindset. I mean, uh, as you say, what other industry do you have that depth of that depth of knowledge about a, a wide range of companies and industries, but it’s, it’s, uh, has been primarily in the past, at least more of a, a historically focused knowledge of those businesses. And how do you see the profession changing its mindset to be more forward focused? How does it, how does it go about that? Or how do you inculcate that say at, at RSM?
Brian Becker: (18:06)
I, you know, I think, you know, getting the tools within the hands of our people, dealing with the clients directly, so they can apply analytical tools and, and help with trends. You know, there, there’s all the things that you do to, uh, ensure proper reporting. I’ll call it of the past, but we also have that data and opportunity to help them project the future. And I think that’s a powerful set of data. You know, people talk about using data, uh, to make data driven decisions. And we have an opportunity to work with our clients, with the best data possible, Dan, to help them, uh, project the future. And, and that’s exciting to me, and it should be exciting, uh, to everyone. So we, we have great opportunity, you know, people talk about blockbuster, but they forget to talk about Netflix. And so there, you know, you could be a blockbuster, but you could be the Netflix or, or the next streaming. And, and we’ll get there, you know, some get there faster than others, but, uh, uh, so the need is there. It’s just the way that I think our clients will wanna see us show up differently. You know, that’s what we have to do, but great opportunity. So I, I don’t wanna leave any doubt that there’s not great opportunity for all of us, but it’s, it’s, you know, it’s not going to be there for us if we try to do the same things we’ve done in the past.
Dan Hood: (19:28)
Right. Right. I love that. I love that. Don’t, don’t worry about being the blockbuster focus on being the next Netflix. That’s, uh, that’s a great idea. Uh, excellent. All right. Well, I, this has been great, Brian, thank you so much for joining us. I wanna give you any final thoughts. You want people to take away, uh, uh, uh, about the firm or about the future or what you’re looking ahead to?
Brian Becker: (19:45)
No, I just, I, I think, um, I’m, I’m having fun. Can’t wait to take the position and, and this has been fun for me, so thanks for having me on and, uh, look forward to seeing what happens in the future.
Dan Hood: (19:57)
Excellent. All right. Well, thanks for joining us, Brian Becker RM good luck. And, uh, we’ll hopefully, uh, we’ll talk to you in six months and see how things are going.
Brian Becker: (20:04)
That’d be great. Thanks, Dan. Appreciate it.
Dan Hood: (20:06)
All right. Thanks again. And thank you all for listening this episode of on the air was produced by Accounting Today, with audio production, by Kellie Malone. Rate or review us on your favorite podcast platform and see the rest of our content on accountingtoday.com. Thanks again to our guest. And thank you for listening.