Moving beyond the status quo

CPAs can help make a compelling case for change by seeing the big picture.

When Toronto and Boston-based Bionik Laboratories Corp., introduced its first therapy robot aimed at helping stroke patients recover, the company's chief executive officer, Peter Bloch, figured their adoption might be slow.

Instead of relying solely on expensive, trained physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and rehabilitation doctors to help mobility-challenged patients get moving, Bionik's robots take over the task, lowering the cost of care. Doctors and occupational therapists help with the initial set up of the patients on the robots. The patients are seated in front of the robot and strapped in. The robot adjusts automatically to the patient and directs their movement, relying on brain plasticity to remap damaged neural pathways. Bionik's software allows for data analysis, so that a patient's progress can be analyzed and improvements made. But the company faced resistance from those who thought only real people could effectively deliver therapy.

"The medical market is not a quick adopter," Bloch says. "That is a challenge we face."

Like many industries, the medical market is prone to "status quo bias" – the tendency for people to preserve the current way of doing things rather than risk trying something new. But as a trained Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), Bloch has a potent weapon at his fingertips: his easy familiarity with numbers and the stories they tell.

Bloch and his team were able to make a compelling case that their robots actually deliver therapy more effectively and efficiently than human beings using data from clinical trials. One clinical trial by the U.S. government, for example, showed that robotic therapies led to fewer outpatient visits and fewer hospital readmissions, as well as fuelling a 33-per-cent drop in healthcare costs.

"At the end of the day, a lot of business decisions can be broken down into numbers," Bloch says. "Those numbers show a picture and tell a story." Bloch says he regularly uses the analytical skills cultivated during his CPA education to help him quickly understand the nuts and bolts of a particular business decision — for example, whether to go to market — as well as effectively direct business challenges or problems toward a logical solution.

When Bionik — which operates globally — enters a new market, for example, the company starts off by doing a market analysis. "We look at how customers respond to the product," Bloch says. "But it all comes down to the numbers at the end of the day. How much do we think we can sell? At what price point? What's our cost of manufacturing?" His CPA designation, he says, has given him "an excellent foundation for decision-making."

Ted Hastings, a CPA, and CEO of online rewards platform Perk.com, couldn't agree more. His training as a CPA, he believes, has given him "a numerically trained mind," that allows him to "stay truer to data and facts." Hastings has worked in the advertising technology and online advertising industry for the past decade. In such a fast-moving environment, Hastings says, "status quo bias" can be dangerous for a company.

"You can absolutely find yourself pursuing a path that you committed to maybe only months or, maximum, a year ago, that is no longer relevant," Hastings says. "There are lots of outside forces that can contribute to that." Sometimes, you have investors who committed to the original plan or idea, and other times, strategic decision-making falls prey to procrastination. Organizations keep themselves busy with the day-to-day running of the business rather than questioning their overall approach — "just like you would if there was a crisis in your personal life," he says. "It's just easier to do all these other things than to deal with the bigger headache."

And although retaining objectivity about your own business and your own industry can be devilishly difficult, "often data and numbers can help you gain the objectivity that can help overcome some of the emotional attachment to the original idea," Hastings says.

That's why every quarter, if not monthly, the companies Hastings has worked for have conducted a dispassionate analysis of their place in the big picture. "We have had to have those conversations in terms of 'What are we doing that we believe in? How do we fit in the ecosystem? How are we better at doing what we do and where do we fit?'" he says. "You have to ask the big questions." It is what helps businesses make the right decisions that lead them to success.