The Changing Role of the Traditional Local Accounting Firm A Personal Perspective
IMGCAP(1)]Over the past 20 years I’ve seen the old, established, and familiar tools of the accounting practice nearly all become replaced. In fact, other than the trusted 10-key printing calculator, and the over-sized coffee pot, most firms are beginning to shift towards contemporary technology.
While most of us prefer to be contacted by email, and dread the thought of a client requesting a printed copy of their tax return, almost all of our desks are full of brightly lit monitors displaying a myriad of data. Although most of our familiar tools have been upgraded, we have continued to provide services based on a legacy business model.
For decades, the local accounting firm was a transactional-based business, only working when our clients brought us something to do. We prepared periodic financial statements, a year-end tax return, and perhaps random ad-hoc projects brought to us by the client throughout the year. We watched gradually as the client began to take billable time away from us as they began to pursue other alternatives.
The user friendliness of such software as QuickBooks and TurboTax made it a viable solution for companies looking to manage their own accounting, tax-preparation, and book-keeping activities. Firms were no longer on the forefront of each client’s financial information, but rather sidelined as clients began to assume the role that we once held.
While most firms would view these revolutionary changes as a threat, my practice views them as an opportunity for business growth. Over the last several years, we have heavily invested in innovative technology and training to become the firm of the future. The fierce competition has encouraged us to become more dedicated to improving work flows, accelerating change, and speeding up existing processes in order to improve client services and increase satisfaction.
We realize that while our clients might utilize the same accounting tools that we have, they do not have the essential training or expertise to be able to use the tools as effectively as we can. Additionally, they may not be able to translate exactly what the numbers mean, and validate whether the information is accurate. Therefore, they still require the assistance of a financial professional, but in a different capacity.
The client’s initial motivation for pursuing accounting software was not to replace our expertise, but rather minimize the cost of busy work. When clients handed over their records, they did not know how many hours we were performing for them, or understand all the crucial activities associated with preparing consolidated financial statements. Helping our client’s understand the exact nature of the services we provide, became key to establishing a strong, long-term professional relationship.
In order for any firm to flourish, it’s important that clients are provided with reliable, accurate, and timely information to effectively manage their businesses. If clients are no longer inclined to pay for traditional activities, because they have replaced such services by an implementation of accounting software, they may not have reliable, accurate, and timely information readily available to them. Armed with this knowledge, we decided to transform the working relationship with our business clients into a collaborative workforce with knowledge sharing.
Rather than strictly focusing on billable hours, we conformed to providing fixed value based arrangements unique to each client’s needs. We designed four unique services that ranged from having a client completely outsource all their financial operations to our firm, to a monthly on-site financial tune-up visit by one of our CPAs.
In establishing a fixed fee arrangement, the client knew the exact services that they were purchasing, what work was being performed for them, and at a price they could predictably budget for. Likewise, our office gained two advantages. First, we gained predictable cash flow. It was no longer a guessing game to predict how many hours we would be able to bill for. Secondly, we were able to treat the relationship like a business. It became our responsibility to maximize the profitability of the relationship by working effectively with each client.
We found that the more effectively we worked, the higher the return on the client, and the longer the relationship would last. This strategy did not occur overnight and took a significant amount of time to implement. Through strategic acquisitions, smart leadership, and effective communication we were able to help our firm grow in an otherwise stagnate economy.
To continue to help our business grow, we look for clients that have a need for an accounting professional, and have a positive cash flow. If they are a good fit for our firm, we perform a needs based assessment to determine the type of services that will best benefit them, and establish a fixed fee to accommodate for our services. Through specialization, deliberation, and lucrative measures, our firm will customize its services specifically to meet each client’s needs.
The ideal client is a business that is an emerging, small, or medium company with variable workloads. At times the client may require the expertise of a bookkeeper, controller or CFO, but not on a full-time basis. Our firm is able to provide those services on a part-time, or as-needed basis at a lower cost than the client would traditionally pay to hire a full-time accounting staff to do. This benefits the client in that they can lower costs, increase profits, and can focus on the core competencies of their business, while maintaining an established relationship with a financial expert who is also looking to help their business grow.
Over the next three articles, I will outline the various levels of outsourced CFO services and describe how to successfully implement it to become one of the most prosperous aspects of your firm.
The next article will discuss the technology, training and infrastructure that our firm has begun to employ. Subsequent articles will primarily focus on the various types of fee-based arrangements and how to determine the right type of working relationship to maintain with a client.
My goals are to give you an in-depth analysis of these arrangements, as well as exemplify how these services can be mutually beneficial to the client and the firm alike.
Stephen M. Yoss, Jr., CPA is the founder and president of MantisPRO, a technology strategy firm located in California. Prior to starting MantisPRO he was a senior associate at Yoss Allen Jonavic, CPAs, a Claremont, California based accounting firm. For more information, please visit http://mantispro.com or email email@example.com