The Need For Efficiency

How A Top 100 Firm Found Increased Realization & Revenue

By Chris Liebtag, PMP, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt | March 2017

In most cases, growth is a good thing. Especially when it's business growth. With growth comes the prospect of increased revenue, more work and the potential for improved visibility of your brand within the marketplace. Who wouldn't want that?

But what's often overlooked is what else accompanies growth – heavier workloads, increased deadlines and more accountability to a larger client base. While these realities aren't necessarily bad, it's critical that firms in growth mode have solid processes in place to efficiently manage these areas. If not, firm growth actually runs the risk of becoming burdensome.

The Problem:

Not too long ago, Brown Smith Wallace, a top 100 CPA firm headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., found itself in this very situation. Rapid growth, while welcomed, shed light on the firm's need for better, more consistent processes within its tax segment.

"Our firm has three separate offices and we knew we needed a standardized process that streamlined our tax team's workflow," said Robin Bell, partner, tax practice, Brown Smith Wallace. "We were determined to find ways to make our tax practice more profitable by using the resources and assets we had to deliver a quality product to our clients."

The Solution:

The leadership team at Brown Smith Wallace turned to Chris Liebtag, LSSBB, with LeanCPA for assistance in identifying and implementing a new methodology.

Over the course of a few days, Liebtag met with Brown Smith Wallace team members to first learn and understand the firm's current processes and procedures. From there, he applied Lean Six Sigma principles and worked with team members to identify inefficiencies, which aided in developing and implementing techniques that focused on process effectiveness and understanding client value.

"The Lean Six Sigma principles that we were able to apply greatly enhanced how we do our jobs and communicate with one another," said Bell. "Chris brought a third-party perspective and was able to provide independent observations and suggestions that helped us improve our firm. It was a great experience and we are pleased with the results we've seen to date."

The Result:

Since implementation of Lean Six Sigma principles, the firm's tax team has experienced less stress, increased capacity, the ability to offer more value-added services, decrease in the amount of time spent on compliance work and, ultimately, deliver more value to clients.

"We now have the ability to more efficiently move the work from start to finish. And based on feedback from the staff, our new streamlined processes are working well," Bell said. "We discovered early on that it was critical we have the right people in place on our team to support and promote our new processes and approach. If you don't have everyone's buy-in and commitment to the improvements and changes you're wanting to make, it won't work."

From a revenue perspective, Brown Smith Wallace has seen a 7 percent increase in its realization and more than a $200,000 increase in revenue. The team is also communicating more and has reported less stress, greater work capacity and the ability to deliver a higher-value product to the client.

"Other departments have taken notice of the results we've reported in the tax department since implementing Lean Six Sigma. It's garnered a lot of interest," said Bell. "Embracing Lean Six Sigma practices has been very beneficial for us. It has made our tax team more introspective while encouraging us to think of ways to keep improving the process without hurting the service being delivered to the client."


Brown Smith Wallace: At A Glance:

Brown Smith Wallace is one of the Midwest region's most prominent locally owned public accounting firms with a staff of over 270. The firm serves its long-term base of family-owned, private companies with the traditional audit, accounting and tax services as well as a wide variety of business consulting services.

  • # of employees: 270
  • Locations: St. Louis, St. Charles, Mo., and Glen Carbon, Ill.
  • Services: Tax, audit, accounting, business consulting, retirement plans, insurance consulting, transaction advisory and litigation, and entrepreneurial services
  • Industries: broker dealers and investment advisors, captive insurance, financial institutions, health care, insurance, not for profit, public sector, real estate, retail, startups
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