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Advisory, assurance, and tax firm CohnReznick was named to ABF Journal’s 2022 Most Innovative Companies in Specialty Finance for the second year in a row. To learn more about CohnReznick’s philosophy on innovation and its internal innovation process, MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with CohnReznick Chief Innovation Officer Tama Huang and Managing Director of CohnReznick Affiliated Companies John Turgeon.

NAN PRICE: Tell us about the evolution of innovation at CohnReznick.

TAMA HUANG: Innovation is sometimes born out of necessity. But it can also come from something incredibly mundane such as data processing. When we started looking at some of our internal methods, we recognized that they were taking up tremendous amounts of time and creating potential risks from the perspective of repetitive work trends.

The success of CohnReznick is driven by our people. So, it is also crucial to their success (and ours) to keep work interesting, keep our rising talent engaged, and introduce emerging technologies that become part of the experience our team has at CohnReznick.

We were looking for ways to accelerate some of our routine processes, increase engagement, and reduce risk by leveraging the capacities of a human-technology partnership. Our innovation team has this saying: If it’s something that only requires your eyes and your hands, there’s probably a bot or some sort of automation for it. With that said, automation is not a mutually exclusive business advancement opportunity.

At CohnReznick, we are firm believers in human-in-the-loop (HITL). If it’s something that requires your two ears and that thing between your two ears called a brain, we need to make sure we’re using HITL for that process. At its most basic level, data needs to be ingested any time our firm needs to process information whether it’s for tax, audit, or compliance. That data comes in many different forms, but it’s mostly paper or electronic PDF. In the past, we’ve had human eyes look at that paper or PDF and then human fingers type what those eyes saw. By connecting our people to proprietary and innovative technology, we can expedite and streamline these processes while reducing risk.

As we were looking for ways to take our most mundane work and figure out how we could automate it through technology, we made lots of mistakes. That’s the other thing about innovation, you probably fail more than you succeed. There’s this notion here that we fail quickly and fail uniquely so we don’t repeat mistakes. We’re constantly in search of new mistakes.

And then, we fail often. So, we keep doing it. We made several runs at this. We looked to build, we looked to buy, we looked to collaborate and, at the end of the day, we built something called a cognitive automation platform. We took that and created a great foundation to improve the work we do here.

NAN: Let’s talk about the concept of innovating within and your role at CohnReznick.

TAMA: We have mechanisms for intake. Though each of us is only one person, we have nearly 4,000 other people at this firm who can raise their hand and let us know if they have a better way of doing things or an idea for something we could be doing. This complete democratization of ideas can be born anywhere, regardless of a person’s level, area of expertise, or tenure at the firm. We listen to everyone’s ideas and evaluate them on several criteria to determine which of those ideas we pursue.

JOHN TURGEON: When we talk about innovation, it’s not something that sits with Tama’s role or her department alone. It must be done across the firm and everyone has to believe they’ve seen those innovative things, that they can act on those innovative things, and that they can contribute.

Tama said it best. We are each just one person. We need the everyone at CohnReznick looking at the problems and the challenges that are out there and making contributions.

TAMA: In terms of the world of innovation, it’s really about the supply chain of ideas and solutions. Someone may have an idea for something that can be done better, and we have talent that knows how to do it. When we bring these two things together and give them room to explore, fail often, fail uniquely, and fail quickly, innovation happens.

NAN: Why do you think CohnReznick was named a “Most Innovative Company?”

TAMA: We truly bring a new way of doing things to old processes. Innovation happens through a series of innovative things. Don’t sit around and wait for innovation to fall from the sky and hit you. Every single day you’re going to trip over innovative things. Pick them up. Question them. Explore them. That is what makes CohnReznick one of the most innovative companies, because we’re focused on finding the innovative things along the way.

JOHN: It’s also about our ability to make an impact with our peers, clients, and communities. We get a chance to work with our newest team members and make an impact on their career growth and vice versa. That’s the value of this innovation role led by Tama and the concept we integrate throughout the organization. That’s what makes it fun.

TAMA: I want to echo that. Innovation is rooted in our core aspiration of being part of something greater. It’s the notion that every single person here—no matter if you’re in the C-suite or in your first week—you get to leave your fingerprint here.

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