A Prayer for the Not-Quite-Dying

Accounting firms may look to prop up sagging revenue by aggressively promoting their crisis-management services.

For accounting firms, a crisis breeds new opportunities — for crisis management. Since October, firms such as WithumSmith & Brown, J.H. Cohn, and Wipfli have launched crisis-management or economic-recovery practices, offering to help struggling companies in areas from cash management and working capital to financing and risk management.

But they won’t take just anyone as a client. “We’re not in the business of workouts or helping the dead and dying,” says Jeff Greeneway, partner and consulting leader for Wipfli’s “Troubled Economy — Surviving and Thriving” task force. “We’re focusing on companies that have some struggles or immediate crises and want to [make lemonade from] lemons.”

The Big Four accounting firms, too, have consulting groups devoted to crisis management and economic recovery. But just as doctors are not immune to disease, the accountancies themselves are prey to recessionary pains, as their woe-stricken clients cut back on services or delay payments. Crisis management, then, can help compensate for the loss of conventional business.

“The accounting industry lags about 12 months behind the recession, so just now it’s hitting the accounting firms,” says Allan Koltin, president and CEO of PDI Global, a marketing and management consultancy. That means CFOs should be getting more phone calls and E-mails offering assistance.

“A big theme for accounting firms is to stay positive and be really proactive,” says Koltin. “They’re going to be out there saying that they’ve lived through these recessions before — and they can help you, too.”

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