How Accounting “Pods” Create an Amazing Client Experience

Sometimes firm owners can't help but wonder how other businesses are managing their teams, so we’ve created a new series that covers the challenges and successes of managers and business owners. David Worrell is partner and CFO at Fuse Financial Partners, and in this interview, he shares how he strategically cultivates a culture that makes his team a powerhouse for clients. 

Podcast

Summary

  • Fuse Financial Partners: Beginnings
  • Organization Structure
  • Weekly Meetings
  • Autonomy
  • Client Dissatisfaction Blindside

Resources

Fuse Financial Partners: Beginnings

David Worrell tells us that Fuse Financial Partners began as many other businesses do: with a savvy business idea and a name with matching flair. “We started off calling ourselves fractional CFOs because we thought that was the cool, sexy thing to be a couple of years ago.” But sometimes a novel idea may be too far ahead of their time. David and his partner realized that many clients couldn't produce the financial documents to offer the stellar strategic advice the business could offer. Instead, the business transformed into a completely outsourced finance department for small and medium-sized businesses. 

Fuse Financial Partners does not consist of typical CPAs. The 12 of them don't do any tax or audit. They do have some CPAs on staff, but their niche lies in creating a set of books and management tools that give their small business client the power to tackle day-to-day operations and steer their business towards growth without worrying about taxes and audits. 

David says, “We set up good processes. We have great looking books, but in general, these books are going to look the way the CEO wants them to look. And they're not going to be a hundred percent gap or a hundred percent tax or a hundred percent anything,” he continues, “They're going to be tailored to the CEO so that he can run the business more smoothly and productively.” In order to accomplish their vision, Fuse Financial Partners has a distinct structure with a diverse staff.

Organization Structure

The business contains CFOs, controllers, and accountants, all with different specialties in each of those areas from different industries like agriculture, manufacturing, supply chain, or software. Accountants do the day-to-day transactional accounting. Controllers who were CPAs look at month-end journal entries. CFOs are there for client relationship-building and big projects, banking, and investor relationships. 

Even with the staff coming from different areas of expertise, Dave and his partner worked hard to keep the organization flat and maintain a familial atmosphere. He said, “We try to be one big family and not have bosses and org charts, but we really struggled with how to manage.”

He continued to explain how as the number of staff members become over 8, it becomes difficult for one person at the top of a hierarchical pyramid to manage. So the first solution was to keep the structure flat, and to divide the 12 people into two pods of six people. These two pods are responsible for working with clients from beginning to end instead of passing on portions of the work from one member to another. In order for this to be effective, internal communication becomes incredibly important.

Weekly Meetings

The key to making sure that the teams remain high performing begins with how meetings are conducted. For Fuse Financial Partners, team meetings last about one hour. As a tactic for maintaining a close knit, honest and safe culture, David took some of the tactics from the Entrepreneurs Organization to make the weekly meetings “warm and fuzzy.” 

“Warm and fuzzy” doesn’t necessarily mean introducing overly sentimental moments into the workplace, but rather fostering vulnerability at the beginning of the meeting so as to encourage open conversation. David mentions that this could be achieved simply by asking everyone to talk about something good that has happened since the last meeting. This could help staff share their failures or successes or even discuss challenges they face with clients.

After the “warm and fuzzy” segment of the meeting, David’s staff walk through what’s going on with each client. If that's what's needed to solve a current problem, his team will begin to collaborate then and there, offering advice and recommendations. 

Even though the team works wonderfully together, David also exhibits trust that they will accomplish their tasks within a reasonable amount of time. 

Autonomy

One would expect that, since staff members have exclusive access to client information, there may be issues with “blockers.” When asked how his staff tracks their tasks themselves, David feels comfortable allowing them to handle and manage their work their way. He explained, “I don't know how they keep track of it themselves, honestly. We do use Jetpack, and I think that that's probably where the most of their workflow lives… All of my folks are a little bit older, a little bit more experienced.” He adds that if a member of his team doesn't know something, or needs help with a client, then the culture is open enough so that they can ask David directly. 

Client Dissatisfaction Blindside

Internal communications aid in creating solutions for challenges that the client may not see. But what happens when the clients themselves are the obstacle? What happens whenever there is a tension between the team member and the client? David says that he poises himself between the client and the staff member, taking into account the grievances of both parties, and generates a solution. He gives the following analogy to explain further:

“At every traffic accident, you can look at it from the West side of the street and say one thing. And you can look at it from the East side of the street and say something completely different happened. Every story has got two sides. I try to call the team member personally one-on-one and ask them, so what's going on with this person or this account? Eight times out of 10, you get just as much animosity from the staff member, as from the customer. It's bad chemistry. They got off on the wrong foot.”

After identifying the problem and applying the solution, David can coach the accountant to help them smooth out their relationship with the client. He acknowledges that accountants may not be the strongest of communicators, but as a leader, David makes up for the gap and teaches them when appropriate. Later, because of the open culture of the team, this issue may come up at the weekly meeting as a learning experience for everyone, reminding them that they will also be held accountable for their behavior.

Want to reach out to David personally? Listen to the podcast for his phone number and give him a call!

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