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2 Firms + 1 Merger = One Firm Culture

Although the payoff of a merger can be great, it can also be high risk, not just in a financial sense. To make the merger successful, both firms need to do a great deal of planning around integrating company culture.

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The accounting profession has seen numerous mergers and acquisitions in the past few years. M&A activity in big firms tends to make headlines, but deals are prevalent across all levels — often because smaller firms are suffering from a lack of bench strength and larger firms are looking to acquire niche practices.

Although the payoff of a merger can be great, it can also be high risk, not just in a financial sense. To make the merger successful, both firms need to do a great deal of planning around integrating company culture.

What is firm culture?

Company culture is the beliefs and behaviors that determine how employees and managers interact and handle outside business transactions. Often, this culture is implied rather than expressly defined and develops organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the firm hires. That culture may be reflected in the firm’s dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.

Having a healthy and thriving firm culture isn’t just nice to have. It’s truly a business imperative:

Incorporating firm culture in your M&A planning

When not handled correctly, mergers and acquisitions can strain even the healthiest firm culture. Lack of communication, weak integration plans, and poor cultural fit are some of the main reasons firms eventually “de-merge.”

During the M&A planning phase, it’s easy to focus on the financial and technical aspects, but it’s crucial to consider cultural fit throughout. Here are five areas to consider during every phase of the process.


The pandemic brought to light how important it is for leaders to build trust. People need to know that they are physically safe and that leaders care about their emotional, financial and societal needs.

With many employees and managers working remotely, trust is more important than ever. Managers simply have to be better managers in a virtual work environment, and employees must be self-sufficient and focused.

Merger considerations:

  • Are C Suite members part of the merger team?
  • What are the non-negotiables in your firm’s culture?
  • Whose culture will you ultimately be following?


How does the firm define expectations for employees? People can’t live up to expectations they don’t know have been set for them. Every employee should have written goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART). Review these goals on a formal basis three to four times per year, but more regularly on an informal basis

This is especially crucial for people working remotely. Without regular, transparent communication with remote employees, it’s easy for them to feel disconnected from the team and become disengaged. Guard against that isolation with regular informal video meetings and communication.

Merger considerations:

  • Ensure human resources professionals are part of the M&A team from the beginning
  • Match talent components of each firm to ensure they are compatible, including diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, wellness programs, remote work policies, benefits, etc.
  • Are communication channels and techniques similar in both firms?


Marketing and business development are essential to your firm’s growth, so it’s crucial to consider how each firm approaches these areas and how they’ll work together after the merger.

Digital marketing, including SEO, social media, content marketing and email, is essential for accounting firms today. It’s never been easier serve clients worldwide, and the firms that are best at attracting new clients using digital marketing strategies will win in the marketplace. Clients are looking for companies to solve their problems, and you’ll win clients when you use digital marketing strategies to educate your target clients on how your firm can solve their problems.

Merger considerations:

  • What niches and services are driving your firm?
  • What business development expectations are important to your firm?
  • Is there a marketing professional in one or both of the firms? How will they complement one another?
  • Does either firm have content creation expectations, and can they be continued in the new firm?


How many different processes does your firm have? Before you start trying to count them, let’s just agree that the number is high!

Each firm will have unique processes for sales, onboarding clients, delivering services, billing, managing internal finances, recruiting and hiring, and more. It’s important to agree on which processes will be followed once two firms become one.

Too often, firms allow an acquired firm to hold on to old processes long after the deal is done. This might make employees of the acquired firm comfortable, but it makes it impossible to share resources between offices or departments. Eventually, you must start operating as one firm.

Merger considerations:

  • What are the most important processes to change?
  • Will the process change happen immediately? Or do you have a timeline?
  • Which firm processes will you follow? How will you decide?
  • Who will lead the process change and complete the training?


Last but not least, consider the cultural fit of each firm’s technology. Technology drives everything we do in an accounting firm. Simply listing all of the hardware and software each firm relies on daily could fill an entire article. “Rip and replace” is ideal but also expensive and time-consuming.

Merger considerations:

  • What technology is best for the new culture/firm?
  • Who will be responsible for your technology strategy and ultimate support?
  • Is rip and replace the right move for you?
  • Who is responsible for onboarding and training the full firm?

Thinking through each area might seem overwhelming at first glance, but all of these areas WILL need to be addressed. Start thinking about your cultural fit early in the conversations and addressing the gaps. Really listen to what is important, what both firms want to keep and what both firms are willing to let go of.

With intentional strategy and focus on culture, employees can embrace any merger or acquisition changes, and the firm can thrive moving forward.