Accounting firms can use their client accounting advisory services to leverage new business with existing clients as well as to launching pad for work with new clients
Should client accounting advisory services (CAS) be the starting point for new clients, or the last-ditch effort to work with problem clients? Too often, firms see CAS as a dumping ground, or place to rehabilitate clients that show up for audits and tax prep with messy, incomplete books.
However, this is a missed opportunity. Rather than using CAS teams as the janitors of their firms, tax & accounting firm leaders need to start seeing them as a valuable starter and feeder service. CAS teams go deep and are the front line throughout the year with these clients and often have the greatest opportunity to refer clients across the firm for additional services. By using CAS as the beginning of the client lifecycle, rather than an add-on, tax & accounting professionals are able to better serve clients while potentially driving revenue growth.
Because CAS is not based on traditional compliance-based bookkeeping and accounting services, the CAS team has the ability to bring invaluable knowledge and insight about the clients to the rest of the firm. Indeed, those firms that embrace the advisory mindset get a 360-degree view of their clients. Because of this shift, CAS can be tailored to meet clients’ specific needs through packaged offerings and enlist the expertise of colleagues from around the firm for additional services or special projects.
When clients need a business valuation, input on sales & use tax compliance, or other services, the CAS team can invite the appropriate expert to best support and advise them. The client benefits by having access to the knowledge of a whole firm of tax & accounting professionals to effectively run their daily accounting procedures and handle high-stakes scenarios, instead of relying on their small internal team to identify and understand all the nuances of the changing regulatory environment.
Empower the CAS team
One way to maximize these opportunities is to empower the CAS team. Train team members to identify the “hooks” that clients often will toss out in conversations about their needs. Often, clients don’t always know how to ask for the help they need. CAS team members need to probe with questions, to dig a little deeper into the heart of what services the client may be asking about.
Team members should then be trained to understand to whom they should communicate these potential service opportunities. Allow more junior team members to shadow more experienced staff so they hear how to navigate a conversation with a client. Hold lunch-and-learn events with the talent, have them practice their questioning techniques, then discuss how to capture potential opportunities and when to refer these opportunities to another colleague. This can also be practiced through role playing.
Spend time mentoring talent on red flags that may be in the data, so they take the information to a senior colleague, manager, or partner for further analysis. An experienced eye can easily spot anomalies or early warning signs. And given the urgent need for qualified professionals, many tax & accounting firms throughout the industry currently don’t have the time to allow each team member to gain all that experience over time. Instead, the industry has to accelerate that learning.
Evaluate the way your firm measures the CAS team’s success. If the team is only measured on speed and accuracy of production, members will be less inclined to look for opportunities. Consider establishing a scorecard metric for cross-functional referral opportunities, and even possibly provide bonuses for sales closed on referrals they’ve made. Share success stories with the team and the firm at large, so everyone hears the difference CAS teams are making by pausing to listen to clients’ needs.
Better growth and cashflow
CAS pricing should be value-based and billed at the beginning of each month. This recurring revenue evens out cashflow ebbs and flows that occur with traditional compliance services. By having this steady flow of CAS cash, tax & accounting firms can more easily budget for hiring, capacity planning, and other investments in the practice.
In addition, client accounting advisory services report some of the best growth and margins in the profession. The benchmarks for a CAS practice look different than seasonal, compliance-oriented work. Although the profession is still identifying the best metrics that track progress and success in the CAS area, there have been some published benchmarks gathered over the last three years around running a CAS practice.
Clearly, it’s time to shift the mindset around the value of CAS, and leverage CAS teams as the starter service within tax & accounting firms. The insights CAS offers will open up additional opportunities while increasing the stickiness of the client, evening out cashflow and workload compression, and offering higher margins.
In fact, forward-thinking accounting firms can use CAS to pivot from a compliance-focused service into a more strategic, advisory-level role.