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What Does the CPA Firm of the Future Look Like?

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Man-JugglingIn the manufacturing and consumer world, product innovation is a given – the Apple iPad was introduced in 2010 – today we’re on the 4th Generation version, not to mention the iPad Mini and the iPad Air. Manufacturing and consumer business models have changed significantly and Henry Ford’s famous quote “any color so long as it’s black” doesn’t fly any more. Customers want options – and lots of them.

In the professional world, however, we tend to forget that innovation in the services  we provide should also be considered critical if we wish to remain competitive and relevant, and just as every retail consumer wants options, so do our clients – and especially our best clients.

So what does that mean for a CPA professional?

If CPAs want to survive, thrive and remain relevant they must address the increasingly complex needs faced by their best clients and act as a catalyst, problem solver, and trusted adviser rather than a referral source to other professional problem solvers, like the pension go-to guy! The CPA firm of the future should no longer aspire to be just the first step in the problem solving process, but rather, become the complete process; essentially the “go-to guy” for any problem your best clients need solving. How can CPAs do this? By building a vibrant back office of problem solvers.

Why are you different?

Tax and audit work is increasingly becoming a commodity offering, with price being the distinguishing factor – and in a commodity situation, the lowest price usually wins. So the CPA firm of the 21st century needs to distinguish itself by offering greater value and this is done in two ways; first, by building deeper relationships with their their best clients. Second, by building a vibrant back office of renown problem solvers. The innovative CPA firm needs to offer not only a full array of essential best client services but equally important, the firm needs to adopt a different type of client acceptance policy. Having standards on who becomes your client is one of the most important differentiating points of the firm of the future.

Building deeper relationships is key.

Simply put, the new CPA firm moves from being a referral source to becoming a trusted advisor who can deal with every facet of best client services.  Relationships between the client and the firm become a long term trusted partnership. In other words, the CPA must move up the value ladder: no longer providing a commodity product, but becoming a trusted adviser and partner. The diagrams below illustrate the subtle differences in approach.

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This approach was echoed by Lyle Benson, CPA and Board Member of the AICPA Financial Planning Committee in an interview with Dan Wolfe of Accounting Today. In the interview he states:

  1.  Tax returns are now a commodity. CPAs need to offer much more value to their best clients if you do not want to lose them.
  2. CPAs need to redefine their relationships with their best clients.

 Imagine for a moment

Imagine being the center of the planning team without having to find referral sources because your back office team members are some of the best planners in the country. On the 19th hole when your best clients are mingling, they are now talking about you as a valuable resource, not some referral source specialist.

The question becomes, do you want to remain a CPA firm of today with the risk of declining into commodity irrelevancy or do you wish to break with your traditional role become a vibrant CPA firm of tomorrow?

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About the Author:  Barry Goldwater is Principal at Goldwater Financial Group. He works with CPAs to help them offer easy-to-implement, tax planning and wealth management solutions to their best clients. He can be reached at barry@frg-creative.com or at  617-527-9736.


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