Accounting firms need to offer their clients more higher-level advisory services, according to technology consultant Gary Boomer.

Speaking in a wide-ranging “Strategy and Vision” session at the 2013 Boomer Technology Circles Summit, held in mid-August in Kansas City, Mo., Boomer described the dynamics between the different levels of services, from “transactional” Level 1 services like audits and tax preparation, through Level 2 services like outsourced CFO services, to Level 3 strategic planning services.

“Level 1 are the transactional and traditional services,” he told the audience of firm leaders and technology professionals. “I’m not saying those are going to go away, but they are going to be commoditized because of technology and client demands, and I think that Level 2 business performance and CFO services are going to be valued more by your clients. And the strategic Level 3 part is available to you -- many of you are capable of doing it but don’t have the time, or don’t know how to price it.”

“Some of the firms in client advisory services are telling us that they are taking the average monthly fees that their clients are paying up four times, to between $4,000 and $5,000 from under $1,000,” he said, nothing that “most of the top firms” are offering these higher-level services.

“One of the greatest opportunities for firms are advisory services, yet many people trained in the traditional audit and tax areas have trouble delivering advisory services,” he said. “Why? There are lot of theories, but I’ll tell you that one is the independence from the audit standpoint, versus the advocacy side. The other is that I ask, ‘Why don’t you offer these services to yor client? You’re totally capable,’ and they say, ‘Well, we just don’t have time.’ And I say, ‘You mean, you’d rather sell people at $150 an hour than at $300?’ and they say, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way.’ They’re being sincere, but I’ve got to push you out of your comfort zone, because that $150-an-hour work is going to continue to be commoditized and eroded.”

 

Other issues

Boomer covered a number of other issues in his session, including:

• The importance of processes. Much of the current generation of workflow software and tools began with tax processes, but that’s changing: “Now it’s getting deeper into the firm. What’s your process in sales? What’s your process in billings and collections? If you look at those like a Lean Six Sigma green belt or black belt, you’re going to say, ‘That’s really inefficient.’”

• The supply of talent. There are plenty of students coming up for entry-level positions, but scarcity elsewhere: “We’ve got a pretty good supply in the pipeline, but what we don’t have is a supply of experience people. So you’d better suck it up and develop your own people, and have an experience where they’re going to want to stay; otherwise, you’re going to be stuck with a pipeline of entry-level people.”

• The need for new skills and the value of training. “I don’t like the term ‘soft skills,’” Boomer said. “Training should be in leadership, management and business development. If you provide them this opportunity, this is the biggest area of return on your training dollar today. It will provide them the capability of providing higher-value services.”

• Learn all the time. “It’s lifelong learning today,” he warned. “It’s not get your degree, pass the CPA Exam, get your technical skills. It’s way beyond that.” The curricula should also shift, he noted, from a focus on technical skills early in your career, to a focus on leadership and people development later on.

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