Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

2014 MAP Survey: Firms Tech It Up a Notch; Usage Rates Rise for Cloud-Based Software, Video Conferencing, and Digital Payments

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

2014 MAP Survey: Firms Tech It Up a Notch; Usage Rates Rise for Cloud-Based Software, Video Conferencing, and Digital Payments

Article excerpt

About the Survey

The MAP survey tracks firms in seven revenue categories, from the smallest firms, which have revenue of less than $200,000, to the largest firms, which boast revenue of $10 million or higher. The survey was open from May until August. The 2014 results represent median values, a change from the averages reported in previous MAP surveys. While exceptionally high or low data entries, or "outliers," can disproportionately affect averages, they have little to no effect on medians, which represent the midpoint in the string of data entries (in other words, half the data points are lower or smaller than the median, and half are higher or bigger). The 2014 MAP Survey reports on information from firms' 2013 fiscal year.

U.S. accounting firms are increasingly leveraging technology to run and build their businesses.

That's one of the nuggets of knowledge unearthed by the 2014 Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey from the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) and the Texas Society of CPAs (TSCPA). Almost 1,750 firms took part in the biennial survey, which is the largest benchmarking study of its kind.

The JofA covered the main theme of the MAP results in its December issue ("2014 MAP Survey: Firms Experience Growth, Stockpile Cash," page 30). This article and the accompanying charts share other key survey findings. Full results are available at aicpa.org/mapsurvey.

MAKING MORE USE OF TECHNOLOGY

The MAP survey results show an increasing commitment by U.S. accounting firms to using technology to enhance client communications and payment options while providing greater employee access to firm networks (see Exhibit 1).

The percentage of firms with an active website continued to rise slowly but steadily, with 77% of all firms reporting that they actively maintain an internet home, up from 71% in 2012 and 66% in 2010. The rates vary greatly depending on the individual firm size segments. The most dramatic growth came among firms with less than $200,000 in annual revenues. More than 60% of those firms reported maintaining an active website, up from about 45% in 2012. Websites are important marketing and business hubs for accounting firms. Many searches for an accountant start with a Google or another web search. Without a website, a firm could be overlooked. The importance of a website is reflected in the fact that more than 80% of firms with more than $500,000 in revenue have one (see Exhibit 2).

The rise of cloud computing was reflected in a number of ways. The percentage of firms using cloud-based software jumped nearly 20 percentage points to 48%. Firms with less than $200,000 in revenue posted impressive cloud usage rates, with 54% using cloud-based software and nearly 60% relying on the cloud for remote backup, the highest rate of any revenue category. The smallest firms also use cloud-based servers and video-conferencing systems such as Skype at a higher rate than all but the largest firms (those with revenue of $5 million or more). The percentage of firms using cloud-based servers ranged from 16% in the $500,000 to $750,000 revenue category to 29% among the largest firms.

High cloud usage in the smallest revenue tier may reflect the predominance of single-owner practices at that level. Those practices likely value the convenience of cloud-based services that don't require internal IT resources or expertise to maintain. This trend also can be seen in the fact that just 39% of the smallest firms provide remote access to their servers, by far the lowest percentage among the seven revenue tiers.

SOURCES OF REVENUE FOR FIRMS

The increasing reliance of the smallest firms on the cloud also can be seen in the breakdown of firm fees by type of service offered. Of firms that offered outsourced accounting and CFO services, the related income accounted for 27% of net fees earned by firms with less than $200,000 in revenue (see Exhibit 3). …

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