Incoming HFMA Chair Marc Scher encourages healthcare finance professionals to be more innovative and strategic

Today’s healthcare finance professionals must tackle some of the biggest challenges of their careers. HFMA's incoming Chair Marc Scher says he believes they can do it by embracing the motto of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division: Sempre Avanti, or “Always Forward."

May 31, 2024 6:07 pm

Marc Scher, HFMA’s incoming National Chair, was touring the Colorado Snowsports Museum when he came across an exhibit dedicated to the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. The 10th was a strategic innovation for the Army, designed to address emerging wartime risks, and it created a significant competitive advantage for the United States during World War II.

Marc Scher, HFMA’s National Chair for FY24-25, says that with his Chair theme of Sempre Avanti, he is encouraging HFMA members to embrace innovation.

Even before the United States entered WWII, Charles Minot Dole, president of the National Ski Patrol, conceived the 10th Mountain Division. Dole recognized that traditional military recruitment and training would not suffice for this division because of the specialized skills needed for combat in cold-weather, high-elevation terrain. His vision was to draw together an elite group of champion skiers, mountain climbers and mountaineers and train them for battle.

Dole convinced the U.S. War Department of the need for a mountaineering unit, knowing the Army’s standing force would not perform well in a winter attack on the mountains of the United States’ northern border. However, it was not until the Army saw Greek mountain troops successfully hold off a much larger Italian force in the Albanian mountains that it authorized the new division.

The 10th was quite different from other military groups. Individuals were not drafted; instead, they had to apply for admission and submit three letters of recommendation. The Army equipped the team with vehicles designed to navigate through snow and difficult terrain as well as with winter weather gear, including white camouflage uniforms and specially designed skis.

Ultimately, the 10th’s unique structure and rigorous training program gave soldiers an edge in battle.

Standing in the 10th Mountain Division exhibit several years ago, it struck Scher that the innovative spirit displayed by Dole and the unit is much like what is needed in healthcare finance today. Like the U.S. Army in the 1940s, healthcare financial professionals are part of a long-standing institution that faces evolving risks — and, just like Dole and the 10th Mountain Division, they need to be innovative and strategic, using their strengths to overcome new challenges.

At a time when the healthcare industry is rapidly evolving, with disruptors entering the market, reimbursement pressures, changing consumer demands, aging facilities and rising expenses, “We are facing the greatest challenge of our career on a number of fronts,” Scher said.

These pressures come amid increased government regulation and scrutiny.

“These are our mountains,” Scher said.

For Scher, FHFMA, CHFP, CPA, it’s a call to action. With Sempre Avanti as his theme, he is encouraging HFMA members and healthcare organizations to embrace innovation, just like the 10th Mountain Division.

“We have more tools than we have ever had in our toolbox to address these challenges,” Scher said. “To be successful, we need to open our eyes and our minds to new ways of doing things. We need to innovate to remain relevant and sustain our success. We need to focus on always moving forward. That is the quickest way to move in the direction of a solution.”

A new path for leadership

Like Dole, who had a vision for a unique approach to winning the battle against the Axis powers, Scher envisions Sempre Avanti as a way to mobilize healthcare finance to confront new and existing challenges with strategic action.

As partner in charge of the U.S. and global audit healthcare practice for KPMG, where he worked for 40 years, Scher saw the positive impact of an “always forward” mindset in some healthcare organizations.

“The organizations I worked with that were most successful had a tendency to be more innovative,” he said. “They were looking for new ways to do things, whether it was to achieve a higher-quality outcome, a more efficient delivery process or a better way to engage with clients. Those organizations were helping to advance the healthcare industry in the United States.”

The experience these organizations gained in applying a progressive lens to existing and emerging challenges gave them an edge when confronted with a “black swan” event: COVID-19.

“During COVID-19, we saw two extremes with healthcare organizations,” Scher said. “There were organizations that had a very robust enterprise risk management program with strong processes in place. When COVID hit, these processes were successfully implemented. The organizations analyzed what was going well with their response and what wasn’t, and they made adjustments, determined to come out of the pandemic stronger. At the other extreme, you had organizations that were taken by surprise. They didn’t have the right infrastructure in place to respond to this risk. As a result, they fought to keep their heads above water during the pandemic, and some of these organizations are still struggling today.”

And while Scher asserts there’s “no better time to be in healthcare” — with discoveries around AI, ways to personalize care for complex diseases and new opportunities to expand access to care at scale being introduced at a rapid pace — the challenges of maintaining access to care remain daunting. Scher describes the shifting of “three tectonic plates” in healthcare:

  • An aging population
  • Healthcare spending that constitutes nearly 18% of gross domestic product
  • A shortage of nurses, physicians and other healthcare professionals

There are no easy answers to the issues healthcare organizations face. This reality makes it imperative for finance professionals to be broadly connected to all aspects of healthcare operations. In the past, such efforts might have focused on ensuring leaders across the organization had the information they needed to make the right decisions. Now, it means three things:

  • Collaborating with IT to access data, analyze it and give it context for clinicians, leaders and staff
  • Investing in the right technologies to support care delivery and operational performance
  • Verifying the right security protocols and tools are in place to protect both organizations and patients from harm

For these reasons, “HFMA must continue to develop strategy and operations to meet member needs, create solutions through innovative products and services, and embrace the digital evolution to meet and exceed member and customer expectations,” Scher said.

“Just like Dole, in today’s evolving healthcare market, we are called upon to be strategic and innovative to minimize threats and reconfigure our infrastructure for tomorrow’s success,” he said. “Yesterday’s strategies and solutions will no longer solve tomorrow’s threats. We must be willing to reconfigure existing frameworks and processes to ensure our future success.”

Leading the path forward

During his year as HFMA Chair, Scher will draw from his deep expertise in healthcare and intimate knowledge of members’ needs to integrate an “always forward” mindset with his work.

Scher, who grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago, began his career with KPMG after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in accounting and information systems, working with multiple large health systems in the Chicago market, including faith-based organizations.

“[Faith-based organizations] were generous with their time and interested in working to help humanity, which I liked,” Scher said.

From there, his work with KPMG took him to the St. Louis market, where he worked with a wide range of clients, from health systems to incubators and startups in the biotech space to managed care organizations.

By the time he was appointed as a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission reviewing partner and, later, the partner in charge of the U.S. and global audit healthcare practice for KPMG, Scher was working with some of the largest healthcare companies in the United States. When he relocated to Orange County, Calif., he became fascinated with clients’ efforts to craft new approaches to care delivery. Today, he’s known as a highly respected healthcare professional who played a central role in the growth of KPMG’s global healthcare practice.

His involvement in HFMA started at the suggestion of KPMG leaders.

“Active involvement in HFMA was encouraged by some of the partners when I was a young professional, telling me to get out there and do presentations for HFMA chapters, even though at that time, it felt daunting,” he said.

He specialized in delivering technical and industry updates, ultimately leading HFMA’s Principles and Practices Board, which provides practical guidance on emerging issues in healthcare finance, including those dealing with accounting and financial reporting practices.

Outside of HFMA, Scher put his expertise into play as a contributor to American Institute of Certified Public Accountants publications and by giving industry presentations.

It was longtime HFMA member Ed Giniat, CPA — formerly a member of the Association’s National Board and, at the time, a leader of KPMG’s healthcare practice — who encouraged Scher to become active in HFMA at the national level. It was during his second rotation on the National Board that Scher became an officer, ultimately leading the search committee for HFMA’s new CEO, Ann Jordan, the Association’s first female chief executive.

Dennis Dahlen, 2023-24 HFMA Chair, served with Scher during both of his National Board rotations.

“We came up through the ranks together,” he said.

Dahlen believes Scher’s skill in guiding healthcare organizations through transformative change, combined with more than four decades of healthcare finance experience, will be an asset to HFMA and its members.

“There’s no one better to serve as HFMA Chair during a time of new leadership for the Association,” he said.

Sizhe Liu, a partner in KPMG’s audit practice who leads KPMG’s San Francisco Bay Area healthcare and digital health industries, worked closely with Scher from 2009 until the latter’s retirement last fall.

“I think one of the most amazing things about Marc is that he approaches every decision through the lens of, ‘What’s best for the client? What’s the best thing for the firm, as a steward of the firm? What’s best for people?’ Every single decision he made, he always said these words,” Liu said. “It was really impressive to see him weigh decisions around the whole healthcare ecosystem, which he cared about deeply, and apply his values to really complex situations.”

She remembers Scher as someone who works hard but also takes time to remember what is important, including celebrations with his wife, Sarah Scher, CEO of Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc.

“When I’m having a challenging day, I remember his example. Then I think to myself, ‘There’s a lot more to who we are than what we do, no matter how important we think it is at the moment,’” Liu said.

Scher is also someone who recognizes the best in people, said Ashraf Shehata, principal and U.S. sector leader for healthcare at KPMG, who considers Scher both a colleague and a longtime friend.

“What’s interesting is that Marc has had such a storied career, and he’s got decades of experience and industry street smarts, but what also distinguishes him as a leader is his desire to get to know his clients and the people on his team individually,” Shehata said.

 “At a time when social media focuses on the problems in the world and with people, Marc does the exact opposite,” Shehata said. “After a presentation or meeting, Marc will be the first one to pick up the phone and say, ‘You know, this was really important. This made a huge impact. Here are the three things I took away from what you said.’”

“The way in which he gives praise and feedback helps elevate everyone around,” Shehata said. “Even more than the technical skills he possesses, it’s those people skills that are so important today, and they’re what make him a great leader.”

Ready to make a difference

In the same way that Dole distinguished himself by taking a strategic and innovative approach to addressing wartime risks, Scher believes HFMA and its members can best serve the healthcare industry by applying an “always-forward” approach to healthcare strategy and decision-making in a rapidly changing environment.

“Just like the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, we need to enhance and deploy our skills, tools and mindsets to develop new strategies to keep moving forward and take the next mountain,” he said.

It’s his hope that the Sempre Avanti theme will inspire members to be decisive, think creatively and take risks in working toward a common goal: advancing cost-effective, high-quality care while ensuring financial sustainability for the long term.

Editor’s note: Find out more during Marc Scher’s keynote address at the general session scheduled for 8 a.m., June 25, at the 2024 HFMA Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

Marc Scher career highlights


Scher worked for KPMG for 40 years before retiring in October 2023. His positions included:

  • Partner in charge of KPMG LLP’s global and U.S. healthcare audit practice
  • ESG lead for healthcare
  • Global co-lead for the assurance and integrity proposition
  • SEC reviewing partner


Bachelor of Business Administration, Accounting and Information Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Licenses and certifications

  • CPA
  • Fellow of HFMA
  • Certified Healthcare Financial Professional

HFMA service

  • Board of Directors
  • Past Chair, HFMA Principles and Practices Board
  • Chair, HFMA CEO Search Committee
  • Member, HFMA Southern California Chapter

Fast facts about HFMA Chair Marc Scher

Marc Scher and his wife, Sarah, CEO of Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc., have been married four years.

1. On the homefront. Marc and his wife, Sarah, a medical malpractice company CEO, enjoy traveling to new destinations, such as Paris, Hong Kong and Singapore. “It took me 57 years to find my bride, and ever since we got married four years ago, I couldn’t be happier with life,” he said. “We really enjoy going on adventures together.” And because each has decades of experience working in healthcare, “We know each other’s lingo.”

2. In the blink of an eye. Scher met his wife when they were both lead presenters at a healthcare conference, but he almost didn’t make it to the stage. He was asked to substitute for another presenter at the last minute and, between delayed flights and late Ubers, he ended up running onto the stage to make the presentation with only seconds to spare. “I sat down and said hello to the speaker to my right, and it was Sarah,” he said. “It’s just another reason why healthcare will always hold a special spot in my memory.”

3. In the midst of the Tour de France. Ask Scher about the time he and his wife booked a hotel in Paris for what seemed like an exorbitant rate, only to find out that the Tour de France was ending that weekend — and that their hotel was located near the finish line. It made for an eventful trip to the airport later that day. 

4. On the side. When Scher isn’t focused on healthcare (even in retirement), you may find him golfing or riding motorcycles through the California mountains and coastal roads.

5. On the move. Scher is dedicated to walking seven to 10 miles per day. “On a busy day, when I was working from home, I could literally get those miles in on the upper level of my house without ever going downstairs,” he said.


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