The Time Has Come To Get On With Advisory Services
By Gary Bolinger
Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Back in 1999, the AICPA launched “The CPA Vision Project: 2011 and Beyond.” It was a landmark effort for an organization with 400,000 members. One of the results of the project was the definition of the core purpose:
CPAs are the trusted professionals who enable people and organizations to shape their future. Combining insight with integrity, CPAs deliver value by:
- Communicating the total picture with clarity and objectivity;
- Translating complex information into critical knowledge;
- Anticipating and creating opportunities; and,
- Designing pathways that transform vision into reality.”
Several core competencies were identified in the Vision Project. The most relevant for the purposes of this article is strategic and critical thinking skills (being able to link data, knowledge, and insight together to provide quality advice for strategic decision-making).
Fast-forward to 2011 and the AICPA concluded it was time for an update on the Vision Project. The result was “CPA Horizons 2025” — released in 2011. Under the category of key insights and directions, Horizons said that CPAs should “promote the CPA as the trust advisor who, in addition to providing core CPA services, develops solutions to complex problems by integrating knowledge, expertise and resources from multiple disciplines.”
It is important to note that this insight said to promote the CPA as the trusted advisor. Unfortunately, it did not say to equip the CPA to serve in that role.
CPA Horizons went on to say: “CPAs must continue to evolve as strategic partners of clients, business and employers, applying multidisciplinary and integrated problem-solving to expand traditional services and enhance nontraditional offerings and the perception of trusted advisor.”
So where is the profession today?
There will always be a need for compliance and transactional services. Compliance and transactional services will evolve as standards and government regulations change.
Of course, there will be the impact of technology. Some technologies (artificial intelligence and robotic process automation) may render the CPA obsolete in providing compliance services. But the move to true advisory services is going pretty slowly. In some firms, it is even agonizing.
Why? CPAs are successful. Firms are profitable. Compliance is — if you will — “comfortable.” There are rules, there are checklists, there are processes to manage risk. It is the foundation of success for most practitioners. But clients want and need more. Richard Walters notes in his 2018 book “Delivering Advisory Services: The Essential Guide” that the three most important things that clients say that they consistently want from their accountant are:
- To understand them, their aims and their business;
- To be more proactive; and,
- To be in with them for the long haul.
In short, you could conclude that clients want their CPA to be engaged with them and their business. Of course, many practitioners will exclaim, “I am already engaged!” But think about this — you must bring the following elements of engagement:
- Big-picture perspective;
- Use of high-quality and carefully crafted questions;
- Images — graphics that communicate simply and clearly;
- Active listening; and,
- Being forward-facing and ready with next steps.
The transition to true value-added advisory services can be a bit daunting. Firms will ask:
- What are the tools?
- How do we define the process?
- How do we better understand clients’ needs and wants (as opposed to reacting to problems that occur)?
Tools are available to assist in this important transition. But when your practice develops the most effective systems and processes for your firm to provide forward-looking advisory services, the enhanced client relationships and financial rewards will be worth the investment.
Source: Accounting Today, December 16, 2020 (https://www.accountingtoday.com/opinion/the-time-has-come-to-get-on-with-advisory-services)