2022 Innovative Practitioner of the Year award

The Innovative Practitioner award is your opportunity to recognize the profession's pioneers, those who demonstrate thought leadership, strategic decision-making and a commitment to drive the profession towards the future. Some examples are: new services to support clients during the pandemic, unique marketing techniques, or innovative processes developed, to name a few. Give a practitioner some well-deserved recognition for trying something new!

 

 

THIS YEAR'S FINALISTS

Joshua LanceCPA, CGMA

Managing Director
Lance CPA Group

Josh started the Lance CPA Group in 2013. Over the past nine years, he has built Lance CPA Group into a virtual CPA firm that serves clients around the world, while offering a flexible work environment for stay-at-home parents. The firm was recognized by Accounting Today as one of the 10 Best Firms for Technology in 2021, and Josh was named to Accounting Today's 2022 MP Elite List.

Josh has also been active within the profession. He is an AICPA Leadership Academy alum (2017) and has served on the AICPA PCPC Executive Committee (2019-2022), Xero Partner Advisory Council, Gusto Partner Advisory Council and Freshbooks Partner Council. Josh also teaches at Northwestern University of Vermont and is an active member of the AICPA and Illinois State CPA Society.

Hannah SmolinskiCPA

President
Clara CFO Group

Hannah is President of the Clara CFO Group, a fractional CFO services agency focused on pushing innovation. Clara CFO Group began providing CFO services exclusively as a fully virtual firm in 2018. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Hannah recognized that the businesses that most needed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) were confused. To address this need, she created more than 100 videos to help educate small-business owners on the government programs, how to abide by the program rules, and ways to avoid fraudulent use of the money.

Since 2020, Hannah grew the firm's YouTube channel from 25 subscribers to more than 37,000 today. She uses the channel as a marketing engine to drive growth of the virtual CFO practice while also using it to make a larger impact on the small business community.

John PaceCPA, CVA

Partner & Director of Outsourced Accounting and Advisory Services
GRF CPAs & Advisors

John is the Partner & Director of Outsourced Accounting and Advisory Services at GRF CPAs and Advisors. Since being promoted to the client advisory service (CAS) practice department head in 2017, John has led a transformation that has grown the CAS practice from $3 million to $8.5 million in gross revenue and expanded the team from 10 to 40 employees and from 2 to 3 partners.

John is a huge proponent of shifting business models, value-based pricing and leveraging technology. But his commitment is to people first, which contributes to why the CAS practice is not experiencing the recruitment and retention issues many other firms are facing today. He's built a team and culture that is flexible, fully-remote, consultative and allows people to be their authentic selves. Time off is encouraged and celebrated, and staff hours are kept to around 40 per week. John is continuously in hiring-mode, aiming to maintain bandwidth across the team to help ease client onboarding, allow time for training, and ensure adequate resources and coverage for the team. He also believes in investing in nontraditional and non-technical CPE to support staff growth.

Chris HervochonCPA, CVA

Founder
Chris Hervochon, CPA, CVA LLC.

Chris is the founder of Chris Hervochon, CPA, CVA LLC, where he has built an impressive tech stack to make accounting transactions almost fully automated. He's developed custom automation within Google Sheets that feeds into QuickBooks Online for some of the firm's clients. And internally, Chris built quality control bots with Make (Integromat) that scan the data in QuickBooks Online for different scenarios, including missing classes on transactions, multiple accounts being used for a vendor, a vendor missing from a transaction and more.

Chris is also an industry leader in the client advisory services (CAS) arena. He co-hosts the CPA Advisory Show podcasts which speaks on different areas of owning or leading a CAS practice weekly.

Chris is an AICPA Leadership Academy alum (2018) and has been named CPA Practice Advisor's 40 under 40 three times.

Bethany NovisCPA

Managing Partner
RKL Virtual Management Solutions (Subsidiary of RKL LLP)

During her more than 20-year career at RKL, named one of America's Best Accounting Firms, Bethany designed and deployed new service platforms, teaming approaches and a new entity – all aimed at helping organizations and the accounting profession get ready for what's next.

In 2022 she launched RKL Virtual Management Solutions (RKL Virtual) to deliver outsourced back-office services, starting as a provider for the health franchise vertical. RKL Virtual offers organizations a better way to manage their accounting, finance and people needs.

As leader of RKL's consulting capabilities, she elevated day-to-day management of core functions through the addition of data analysis to uncover trends and opportunities. This area now has 20 staff members and is steadily increasing by 1-2 new employees per month.

Bethany also piloted a global staffing initiative to tap into an international network. Her latest talent endeavor included partnering with two Pennsylvania colleges to create a remote long-term work-study program. By creating more accessible work opportunities for students who may not be able to leave campus, the firm is already seeing more diverse applicants.

Steve ChaneyCPA

Founder & CEO
Chaney & Associates

Steve is the founder and CEO of Chaney & Associates, a more than 20 year old firm that specializes in providing financial and tax expertise in the not-for-profit niche. He continually looks for ways to enhance his services and how they are delivered. Using cloud-based solutions for GL, bill payment, spend management, payroll and more (and requiring clients to adopt them as well), he and his firm have accomplished closing the books every week for clients. They do this through automation and shifting more pre-accounting work to the clients, which greatly enhances efficiency for his team of 20 staff and allows the firm to work with more than 1,000 clients – including their largest client, which comprises 300 churches and entities.

Steve is also a national speaker and trainer for accounting organizations including the AICPA. He has been regularly featured in the Journal of Accountancy, making the cover story in the Feb. 2012 and March 2012 editions.

Chase BirkyCPA

CEO, Founder
Dark Horse CPAs

Chase co-founded Dark Horse CPAs more than seven years ago and has been pushing the boundaries of the accounting profession at the fundamental level - the firm structure. He has created a firm with an innovative incentive structure that supports the individual CPA by providing them with the autonomy and sovereignty to determine the best model that works for the CPA and then consolidating these various practices to share as a knowledge base and support system for all the other CPAs in the firm.

Gary WoodCPA

Shareholder
Compere Robinette CPA's (CRC)

At the young age of 31, Gary became a business owner at CRC. Under his leadership, CRC has embraced technology, utilizing new software technologies to streamline processes and enhance client service. The firm's conversion to a monthly subscription model for small service clients several years ago has allowed the firm flexibility to build out tech stacks for clients and improve workflows.

Gary has been actively involved in many areas of the profession. He was a member of the AICPA Leadership Academy (2018), participated in the EDGE conference, and is involved with the launch of the AICPA's small firm networking initiative.

Jodie HealCPA, MAFM

President
Heal Accounting

Jodie is the president of Heal Accounting, a fully-remote, all-female firm that focuses heavily on advisory services to help clients succeed and thrive in their own businesses. Under Jodie's leadership, the firm has truly embraced technology in their client advisory service (CAS) practice. Their tech stack includes more than 20 different products that all interface to fully automate clients' finances.

Jodie is a thought leader in the CAS practice area and a serial entrepreneur. She and the firm regularly evaluate the latest in accounting technology to continue offering clients the best possible service.

Thomas FriendCPA

Principal
CAAS Dept Head
REDW

Tom has been with REDW for more than 30 years and has transitioned from a traditional auditor and accountant to an INNOVATIVE client advisory services (CAS) leader. He created the firm's CAS practice, carving out the consulting services from the audit department. As the practice leader, he continues to push boundaries by challenging the longtime billable hour metric and continually engaging with the team on ways to be innovative and better. Tom has also surrounded himself with nontraditional hires to create a well-rounded team and looks at talent in an innovative way.

Jason StaatsCPA, MBA

Partner
Brenner, LLP

Jason started the Realize accountant community (www.rlz.io) in 2020 and has been advancing the accounting industry when it comes to using technology.

 

 


 

 

2021 Innovative Practitioner Winners

Zunie Nguyen

CEO
Yogi CPA

Zunie's firm helped small business close over $4M in PPP and $1M in EIDL loans during the pandemic. She took on the challenges of providing these new services and staying up to date with the accounting standards, while the traditional CPA office refused to.

Zunie is a young Vietnamese CPA who came to the US when she was 18, attended the University of Texas at Austin, worked at the Big Four and went to establish her own career as a solo-entrepreneur. Her firm is focused on financial independence for high income earners.

The client experience, from onboarding, to service delivery and completion, communication, was 100% paperless and continued to be so after the pandemic. She went from core service (tax) to capital and loan consulting to help small businesses struggling through the pandemic - over $5 Millions loan closed. Every experience has been paperless - through the use of online communication such as Google meet, online client portal, and commit to a response timeline within 3 business days. She utilized Quickbooks, Microsoft visio, Canva, Mailchimp and all available tools to accomplish the goals. Her innovation drive was from her days at the Big Four in accounting technology and consulting projects, she believed technology enabled us to achieve better things as financial service providers.

A key component of her service was educational marketing communication that added value - her firm provided a consistent monthly newsletter through Mailchimp with helpful accounting and tax content and reminders. In addition, the startup continued to deliver weekly content updates and videos through Instagram and Facebook channels. I've heard feedback from her clients that there has been no CPA who does such an extent of outreach to their clients.

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Julie Smith

Practice Manager
Harper & Co

Julie Smith is the driving force behind efficiency, technology and driving revenue at Harper & Co.

In 2017, the firm decided to rethink how they do business with their clients and move away from transactional compliance work, toward advisory services. Julie coupled the new way of working with new tech, building out their tech stack to include robust practice management, document management and research tools.

When the pandemic hit, the 12-person firm was able to do all their normal tax work of 1100 returns and an additional 72 PPP loan engagements without missing a beat. Since 2017 the firm has tripled their growth without adding new staff.

Today, Julie helping their clients at a higher level and is traveling across the country to work with other firms to help them make the move from transactional compliance work to proactive advisory services.

 

 

 

Previous Winners

2019 winner
Jody Grunden
Co-Founder and CEO
Summit CPA Group

Jody Grunden is the Co-Founder and CEO of Summit CPA Group, the leading provider of Virtual CFO Services in North America. His entire career has been devoted to innovating the accounting industry, starting with the company's mission statement: “changing the way people think about accounting.”

As an innovative practitioner, Grunden led Summit CPA Group in pioneering Virtual CFO services, introduced the concept of subscription-based billing, and transitioned his firm in 2013 from a traditional brick-and-mortar firm to a digitally-focused fully distributed model with 50+ employees. Determined to raise the bar in the accounting industry, Grunden is now focusing his efforts on teaching other CPA Firms how to sell and provide successful Virtual CFO services through a digital course, The Virtual CFO Playbook, as well as free online webinars and a mentorship program.

 

Grunden is a member of the AICPA, the Forbes Finance Council, and the Indiana CPA Society, including holding a seat on INCPA’s Innovation Council. He is also the author of Building the Virtual CFO Firm in the Cloud.

 

2019 winner
Javier Goldin
Managing Partner
Goldin Group, LLC

Javier Goldin begun as one of the early adapters of technology as an intrinsic component of the services provided by the firm Goldin Group CPAs. As technology continued to develop, these developments allowed the firm to become increasingly sophisticated in its approach to providing outsourced CFO/Controller services by customizing software component to fit the needs of the clients. Each client's "tech stack" was tailored based on the specific needs of the Organization, their culture, and their budget.

Fast forward 5 years and the firm's model took yet another leap. As the client composition and demand for services grew, the firm noticed that the nature of outsourcing itself was being redefined. Larger clients desired to maintain an internal finance team while deriving the benefits of outsourced CFO services. Namely tech savviness and best practices expertise.

This innovation challenged his firm to implement an internal and external financial team approach. His firm came up with a model that yields the optimal combination of an internal vs external finance team that takes into account factors such as internal competence, volume of activity, level and style of internal leadership, and technology needs, among others. Considering each of these components, the firm was then able to suggest the optimal combination of the jobs and duties required by the external team (his firm) and internal team (the client). This innovation is propelling Javier's firm into an outsourced model that extends beyond technology and CPA skills, and incorporates elements of HR know-how, and by extension, a placement and coaching consultant.

2018 winners
SAMANTHA BOWLING, CPA, CGMA
PARTNER
GARBELMAN WINSLOW
JAGRUTI SOLANKI
SENIOR MANAGER
APRIO, LLP

Samantha is the first small firm to successfully use artificial intelligence in auditing for small businesses, non-profits, and local government. In a firm of only 15 people in southern Maryland, Samantha led the way after doing a google search for small firms and AI in audit. In the past six months she has been testing this innovative application. The significance is that just over a year and a half ago, KPMG and IBM Watson shook up the world with their announcement. She is the first firm to show that this technology is available to all firms of all sizes.

Samantha started implementing AI in her small firm of 15 people to improve the audit process and reduce risk of material misstatements. She began this process in Fall of 2017. She also uses the same AI platform to determine whether to accept new clients and plans to expand this into the outsource CFO role and create additional earning potential for her firm.

Samantha has been working with Mindbridge not only to implement it in her firm but to help develop the tool to make it easily usable for many other firms.

Across industries visionary CEOs are turning to blockchain to reinvent the nature of commercial transactions and increase the value of their businesses. With this shift and the emergence of more cryptocurrencies and crypto-businesses, Jagruti Solanki, senior manager at Aprio, has been instrumental in the development of blockchain accounting best practices and the launch of Aprio's blockchain services group.

Jagruti and her blockchain team at Aprio are pioneers in blockchain accounting having provided tax, audit, audit readiness and consulting services to companies on the blockchain for more than five years. This experience has allowed Jagruti and her team to develop accounting and financial reporting best practices that help companies navigate the domestic and international accounting and tax obstacles associated with tokenization, initial coin offerings and cryptocurrency.

Today, Jagruti speaks at blockchain conferences across the U.S. providing companies with insights, best practices and pitfalls related to blockchain accounting, audit, tax, regulatory, valuation and cyber security risk considerations.

It is because of these innovations in blockchain accounting that Jagruti deserves to be recognized as the DCPA 2018 Innovation Practitioner of the Year.

2017 winner
Kelly Johnson, CPA, CFP
National Leader, Business Services & Outsourcing
BDO

Kelly is passionate about technology and is always looking for ways to implement it to improve accounting and financial management. That was the idea behind the creation of BDODrive, a combination of technology and resources that streamlines core accounting functions and offers mobile, real-time access to information. As the driving force behind BDODrive, Kelly is a true revolutionary, pushing the boundaries of firm operations and client services. The platform relies on technologies like Microsoft, Intuit and BILL to offer customizable dashboards, greater insight into business performance, continuous collaboration and access to world-class BDO advisers. Its many convenient features include online payments, auto bank feeds and reconciliation, secure document management and customized reporting. BDODrive helps companies run more effectively and make better strategic decisions, all while standardizing processes and enhancing efficiencies.

With more than 25 years of experience in accounting, Kelly oversees a team of professionals who provide clients with the customized solutions and infrastructure to achieve operational success. She began her career at PwC LLP as an audit manager, then expanded her accounting skills by working in the corporate accounting division of a global financial services firm and provided advisory services for private wealth clients. Kelly, a CPA in the commonwealth of Virginia, is a member of the AICPA and the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants.

2016 winners
Rachael Higginbotham
Marketing Manager
Postlethwaite & Netterville
Caitlin Lacher
Senior Marketing Coordinator
Postlethwaite & Netterville

CPA firms solve clients' problems, and the best avenues to explain how we do that is through our professionals' experiences and summaries of our services. As Postlethwaite & Netterville grew, our experience and service offerings also grew, and it became more of a challenge to ensure everything was up to date and accurate. Additionally, younger professionals are conditioned to manage their own information online and expect information at their fingertips.

Rachael and Caitlin had an innovative idea for a tool that could manage our professional bios and sales materials, ensuring that materials are accurate, consistent and available 24/7. They led the development of Pounce, which is an easy-to-use, web-based system designed not only for our firm, but also for all professional services firms. With Pounce, everyone in the organization can quickly access marketing collateral to assist in business development efforts, such as professional résumé, industry experience summaries and service capability summaries.

Pounce keeps it all in easy reach with one's own custom-designed data searches and availability anytime, anywhere via a desktop or mobile device. Since this tool launched internally, we reduced administrative time getting similar materials in our professionals' hands, which means our marketing department has more time to focus on strategic initiatives. Additionally, in only a month's time since the software launched externally, demand from other firms has been impressive. We believe that not only has this tool been of significant benefit to our firm, but also that it will help solve similar challenges in many other firms.

2015 winner
Natalie B. Hoffmann, CPA/CITP
Partner, Honkamp Krueger & CO., P.C.

Sparking innovation through a marketing effort, Technology Partner Natalie Hoffmann led her firm to launch its first app. The mobile app streamlines Honkamp Krueger's Client Patronage Program, in which the firm rewards employees for intentionally shopping at clients — staff can easily discover firm clients, review their products and services, map client locations, get driving directions, submit spending amounts and win fun prizes. Marketing is able to run spending reports by industry, client and employee, to enhance business development and client retention efforts.

Results: Receipt submission increased by 43%, employee participation increased by 47%, spending dollars increased by 50%, and manual hours spent by the marketing department decreased by 14 hours per month. The firm's program received national recognition from Accounting Today (Jan. 2015) and INSIDE Public Accounting (Nov. 2014). The firm also won the Association for Accounting Marketing's Maverick Marketing Award. None of this would have been possible without Natalie.