PrimeGlobal CEO Stephen Heathcote recently sat down with Inside Public Accounting to discuss PrimeGlobal's ambitious goals for 2020 as well as looking at the current climate for accounting associations. With such a large global footprint, PrimeGlobal member firms are using technology and valuable resources to connect, share and adopt a truly global mindset. Steve Heathcote details the ways in which PrimeGlobal are embracing new ways to bring member firms together. This article was originally pubished by IPA here>

The challenges of running a global accounting association are many: balancing the needs of large and small firms alike, specialists and generalists, Asian and Canadian, innovative and traditional.

PrimeGlobal CEO Steve Heathcote says that despite obvious differences, the similarities are striking. In a survey of PrimeGlobal’s member firms, which drew 450 responses, two-thirds named digital transformation a top challenge. Recruiting and retaining the next generation of firm leaders was another dominant theme.

Regional differences can show up in where firms put their emphasis: North American firms look to PrimeGlobal for training and development, firms in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America are more interested in elevating the PrimeGlobal brand, and European firms want more international business opportunities, he says. In an increasingly inter-connected world, creating strong ties for members to share knowledge is the real value of PrimeGlobal. 

“In many ways, this is the age of the association,” Heathcote said in a recent interview with IPA. He started as CEO in June and has ambitious plans for the organization.

Heathcote says he’d like to get away from the idea that accounting associations merely facilitate business referrals. That’s only part of the story. He sees the association as a spider web, with many strong connections that together make up the global whole. That means understanding the needs of individual firms and developing action plans that tie in with the global effort to help all firms. “You can’t just stay in one section of the spider web.”

To that end, he says that if he could accomplish just one thing by the end of his first year it would be encouraging a ‘think globally, act locally’ mindset, not only among member firms but the PrimeGlobal management team as well. For many years, he says, the association has been seen as a regionally-based organization.

He’d like to change the idea of what global really means and how regions can learn from each other. For example, North American firms are the most highly engaged of every region and lead the way in technological innovations, but many have no international business. European firms are more advanced in attracting a diverse group of young professionals who like an entrepreneurial approach, along with “ultra-cool” perks, like massages, exercise rooms, an in-house chef and even a bar.

Steve Heathcote Prime Global Ceo
“You can’t just stay in one section of the spider web. It’s all about helping with transformation.” Steve Heathcote, PrimeGlobal CEO

Finding new ways to bring member firms together makes it easier to swap ideas. A peer-to-peer initiative taps firms with specialized expertise to mentor firms that want to improve. These popular coaching sessions have included a cybersecurity presentation by Pittsburgh-based Schneider Downs and a case study on audit testing and artificial intelligence (AI) by Manning Elliot, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Profiling successful firms that have been brave enough to go in different directions can give others the confidence to try something new, Heathcote says.

PrimeGlobal is also hosting Q&A sessions and demonstrations by vendors, including MindBridge Ai, which offers an AI-powered auditing platform, inFlow, makers of inventory management software, Intuit, developer of QuickBooks and TurboTax, and Thomson Reuters, offering research and tax and accounting software.

Heathcote says the association itself must become more tech-savvy in order to blend the traditional face- to-face conferences with online connections. At PrimeGlobal’s last world conference in Rome, the association experimented with Braindate, which digitally connected participants interested in discussing particular topics, either one-on-one or in groups.

Keeping up with technological changes is a huge challenge for firms, but the pain points extend beyond uncertainty around automation’s impact on the profession and ways to adapt. Other worries include lower margins, the talent shortage, the need for more women in leadership positions, the demand for a shorter path to partnership, leadership skills for the future, and the possibility of offering completely different services – without CPAs.

Next year the association will conduct long-range planning, which should help firms start to reimagine their future. Meanwhile, PrimeGlobal is measuring engagement, membership numbers, revenue growth of member firms and member satisfaction, which is now 86% globally. “That’s quite daunting in a way,” Heathcote says, “but if we don’t do more that score will drop. We have to be vigilant.”