Mov­ing up the value con­tin­uum

The fu­ture of ac­count­ing firms re­sides with more ad­vi­sory ser­vices

Accounting Today - - Front Page - By Sean Mccabe

When­ever an ac­coun­tant of­fers ad­vice or knowl­edge that ben­e­fits their client, or goes the ex­tra mile in help­ing them achieve their own in­di­vid­ual suc­cess, they’re cre­at­ing value.

And in these times of in­creas­ing au­to­ma­tion in firms and the busi­ness land­scape as a whole, value may be the most im­por­tant client ser­vice mov­ing for­ward.

Ac­count­ing To­day sat down with a few ex­perts on the topic to dis­cuss why it may be time for firms to start con­sider-

ing more value-added ser­vices in their prac­tices, and how pro­fes­sion­als can ap­proach this new way of think­ing.

Defin­ing value

It’s vi­tal for firms and pro­fes­sion­als to de­fine what ex­actly “value” means be­fore they can cre­ate it. Ac­cord­ing to our ex­perts, value hap­pens when the firm makes their clients’ busi­ness their busi­ness, equipped with the thought and care that goes be­yond the stan­dard bill­able hours.

“Value is an ex­pe­ri­ence for the client that is dif­fer­ent than what they have ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore with other ac­count­ing firms,” said Amy Vet­ter, CEO of the B3 Method In­sti­tute and for­mer head of the ac­count­ing part­ner chan­nel at Xero.

“The lit­tle ex­tra … at­ten­tion to [client] needs with­out be­ing nickel and dimed,” 12:38:22 she said. PM “This is so they feel com­fort­able call­ing you when they are in their great­est need and not fear­ful to be­cause they will get charged.”

“Value is de­fined not by us, but by our clients,” echoed Geni White­house, a con­sul­tant at ac­count­ing ad­vi­sory firm Men­tor Plus. “In or­der to be valu­able to them, the ser­vices we ac­coun­tants de­liver must be rel­e­vant, mean­ing­ful and ac­tion­able by or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers and their teams. Value-added ser­vices are built upon a new type of re­la­tion­ship with clients — one in which we ask new ques­tions and help them iden­tify root prob­lems that lead to real so­lu­tions.”

“The mis­sion of the ‘value-first’ firm is to im­pact the busi­nesses and lives of its clients,” said Rick Solomon, CEO at the Cen­ter for En­light­ened Busi­ness. “Such a firm uti­lizes its ac­count­ing and an­a­lyt­i­cal skills and think­ing, along with its ex­pe­ri­ence, to help busi­ness own­ers more intelligently and more ef­fec­tively man­age their busi­ness. By bring­ing their fi­nan­cial ex­per­tise to the ta­ble, they will help busi­ness own­ers bet­ter un­der­stand the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions of de­ci­sions to im­prove prof­its, and build the value of their busi­ness.”

“Like beauty, value is in the eye of the be­holder,” Solomon added. “From the [firm] owner’s per­spec­tive, value is help­ing [clients] pro­duce a bet­ter busi­ness re­sult, in­creas­ing the value of their busi­ness, and free­ing up their time so they can en­joy a bet­ter qual­ity of life.”

Why value mat­ters

An­other ques­tion for firms not cur­rently fo­cused on value is to ask them­selves why it’s im­por­tant.

Af­ter all, firms are busy and time is money. But as our ex­perts note, a con­tin­u­ous, value-fo­cused mind­set, in­te­grated into the pre-ex­ist­ing firm ser­vices, makes cre­at­ing value an eas­ier process than one might think.

“These [value ser­vices] would be ser­vices year-round, rather than only meet­ing with your client at tax time,” said

‘Value is de­fined not by us, but by our clients. In or­der to be valu­able to them, the ser­vices we ac­coun­tants de­liver must be rel­e­vant, mean­ing­ful and ac­tion­able by or­ga­ni­za­tional lead­ers and their teams.’

Vet­ter. “When you are meet­ing with your client year-round, you find out about is­sues they are en­coun­ter­ing in their busi­ness real-time that are often up­sell op­por­tu­ni­ties for other ser­vices they need in the firm.”

“Rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­ogy is fur­ther com­modi­tiz­ing the tra­di­tional ser­vices that we pro­vide … but be­yond that, ex­pec­ta­tions of cus­tomers across the board, not just for ac­count­ing ser­vices, have shifted con­sid­er­ably,” said Solomon. “To­day’s con­sumers of all prod­ucts and ser­vices want value and re­sults for their money. Firms that con­tinue to re­main fo­cused solely on more tra­di­tional ser­vices will con­tinue to com­pete on price, trade hours for dol­lars, and not have much of a fu­ture.”

Of course, there are al­ways the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fits to pro­vid­ing value as well.

“Firms that un­der­stand the na­ture of value, and are de­ter­mined to learn how to de­liver it, can also learn how to get paid for that value,” Solomon added. “The ul­ti­mate aim of value-added ser­vices is to pos­i­tively im­pact busi­ness re­sults and, in the process, en­hance the lives of its own­ers. As many ac­coun­tants who are now do­ing this re­port, not only is it more lu­cra­tive, it’s also in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing. This is where the mar­ket is headed, and the only choice is whether or not you want to be a part of it.”

“Our clients need us to ap­ply our in­cred­i­ble skills on their be­half,” said White­house. “Busi­nesses are strug­gling to man­age the day-to-day de­mands of their busi­ness, which go way be­yond the fi­nan­cial as­pects. Own­ers and busi­ness lead­ers must find and serve cus­tomers, cre­ate and man­age sys­tems and pro­cesses, hire and re­tain em­ploy­ees, and do all of this in pur­suit of their own per­sonal and busi­ness goals. We ac­coun­tants are ex­perts at in­quiry, anal­y­sis, sys­tem­atiz­ing our own pro­cesses — it’s time we lever­age these skills in new ways. We are, af­ter all, a pro­fes­sion of ser­vants. We thrive when we can help our clients.”

Get­ting started

If your firm is look­ing to add more value to your ser­vices, the first step is to take stock of your clients and their needs. Next, ed­u­ca­tion and self-eval­u­a­tion are key if you and your peers are to be seen as trusted ad­vi­sors by your clients.

“Start small and test so you can get the con­ver­sa­tion down,” ad­vised Vet­ter. “Go out with an on­line sur­vey to your clients or sched­ule lunches or phone calls with select clients to ask three sim­ple ques­tions: What do they wish you would keep do­ing, what do they wish you would do dif­fer­ently, and what should be of­fered as ad­di­tional ser­vices to help them in their busi­ness? Armed with that data, the part­ner team can de­ter­mine which new ser­vices to de­velop and launch.”

To get clients in­volved, Vet­ter also ad­vises utiliz­ing firm re­sources to show them how and why you’re help­ing them grow.

“Load high-level data in your on­line ac­count­ing soft­ware,” she said. “In­vite them to meet with you per­son­ally to go over their re­turn. Show them their data in the dash­board and go over key KPIS and trends. Then, see if they would want to meet more reg­u­larly through­out the year to go over the re­sults of their busi­ness so the in­for­ma­tion can be real-time.”

“I strongly en­cour­age [firms] to get coach­ing in this area be­cause you are

Value

en­ter­ing new ter­ri­tory,” added Solomon. “With the right coach­ing sup­port and guid­ance, you can be­come that val­ued ad­vi­sor and start win­ning prof­itable en­gage­ments in a lot less time, and with much greater ease. Your chances for suc­cess in­crease ex­po­nen­tially with a sea­soned coach who knows the way. As a CPA, you are in the per­fect po­si­tion to trans­form your prac­tice and sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease your earn­ings, work fewer hours, and have the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing you’re mak­ing a big­ger dif­fer­ence in the lives of your clients.”

“Find a method­ol­ogy that works for you,” ad­vised White­house. “Try to avoid what we at Men­tor Plus call ‘ran­dom acts of con­sult­ing,’ in which you are fig­ur­ing out ev­ery­thing from scratch when a client asks for help with a spe­cific prob­lem.”

“Make a con­sul­tant’s per­spec­tive a part of the way you do busi­ness,” she con­tin­ued. “Don’t ex­pect every­one on your team to wake up one morn­ing ready to turn mag­i­cally into a proac­tive con­sul­tant; they need tools but they should also have a de­sire to work dif­fer­ently. Seek out the mav­er­icks, the client com­mu­ni­ca­tors, the en­tre­pre­neur­ial mem­bers of your team that want to make a real im­pact with clients.”

A firm built on value

In or­der to en­sure its suc­cess in a rapidly chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment, the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion will need to start think­ing about adding ser­vices and mind­sets that make them stand out to clients. As au­to­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy place some doubts on what the pro­fes­sion will soon look like, these wor­ries can be less­ened sig­nif­i­cantly by fo­cus­ing on value, a com­mod­ity that can only be pro­vided by a trusted pro­fes­sional.

“We’ve all heard the ‘sky is fall­ing’ mes­sage be­fore … but the time has fi­nally come,” ad­vised White­house. “We are at a cross­road in the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion. Our clients want more. They

‘A “value-first” firm fo­cuses on the en­tire cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence... It’s think­ing through all the touch­points a client will have with your firm and mak­ing sure that ex­pe­ri­ence de­lights them.’

are no longer try­ing to cap­ture trans­ac­tions and worry as much about rec­on­cil­ing and cod­ing them — we have AI so­lu­tions for that.”

“Now they need help in un­der­stand­ing and im­prov­ing the un­der­ly­ing pro­cesses that drive the num­bers,” White­house con­tin­ued. “They want in­sights and col­lab­o­ra­tion — not a printed his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment they rarely un­der­stand. Firms that aren’t proac­tive about pro­vid­ing a new level of ser­vice will ul­ti­mately be forced to do so by their clients and by their teams.”

“A ‘value-first’ firm fo­cuses on the en­tire cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Vet­ter. “It’s a fo­cus from each job in the firm, from billing and ad­min­is­tra­tive staff, sup­port

team, to part­ner. It’s think­ing through all the touch­points a client will have with your firm and mak­ing sure that ex­pe­ri­ence de­lights them. You know you are pro­vid­ing that true value to a client when they con­sider you a cher­ished ad­vi­sor and can’t imag­ine run­ning their busi­ness with­out you or your firm.”

“A [value-fo­cused] firm is con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing its use of fi­nan­cial an­a­lyt­i­cal tools and re­sources to deepen their un­der­stand­ing of how the busi­ness is per­form­ing and where im­prove­ments can be made,” said Solomon.

“This al­lows them to direct clients’ at­ten­tion to those ar­eas and helps shape ef­fec­tive ac­tions to make those im­prove­ments,” he said. “The pro­fes­sion­als in such a firm will learn how to go be­yond sim­ply pre­par­ing fi­nan­cial re­ports, to un­der­stand­ing what those num­bers mean, and how they can utilize the in­for­ma­tion within them to help busi­ness own­ers im­prove their re­sults, solve prob­lems, and make more in­formed de­ci­sions.”

“While there is a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for those who … step into the val­ued ad­vi­sor role, it takes some real work,” Solomon added. “It re­quires de­vel­op­ing some new skills, [and] iden­ti­fy­ing the right tech­nol­ogy that can do a lot of the an­a­lyt­i­cal work for you. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, it re­quires a shift in mind­set. This means see­ing your­self, your role, your value from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. We must first make that shift, if we ex­pect our clients to see us as that val­ued ad­vi­sor.” AT

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