Can CPAs find happiness as business consultants?

Certainly many firms have a consulting mentality. Moreover, it’s not a new question and many accountants are probably tired of industry leaders telling them to stop looking in the rearview mirror and become forward-looking, which means becoming consultants, not just number recorders.

Looking forward requires accountants to understand the numbers, analyze the client’s business, propose a solution and sell the services needed to make a change in the client’s operations. Some elements, particularly the selling part, are a bit awkward for many CPAs.

There are tools arriving designed to make the process easier. Two years ago, Accpac International debuted a product called Comprehensive Financial Organizer that enables users to change numbers in financial statements and see the effects ripple through, showing the answers to the what-if questions. In March, CCH launched ProfitDriver, while in May, CaseWare International debuted its CaseWare Scenarios, which operates similarly.

In fact, CFO and ProfitDriver are both different versions of a product from InMatrix, an Australian company. The fact that Accpac and CCH are selling a product that is basically the same under different names is important to the companies. The fact that they are selling such tools is important to the market. These vendors are betting that a significant number of accounting professionals can make the switch in mindset.

To use these packages sensibly, firms must be able to tell clients, “Here’s what we found out about your company and here’s what we’ll charge to fix problems and improve operations.”

This approach suggests that CPAs as a whole must become more specialized. How can an accountant recommend a solution for business problem facing a construction company if the practitioner does not have expertise in construction?

Some firms interviewed about these products say one of the most important things about them is that they give the CPA a chance to get in front of clients. That means presentations, that means selling, that means partners must be rainmakers who go into the field.

The question is not whether this emerging group of software tools is well-suited for use by CPAs. The real issue is whether enough CPAs have the mindset to use them in a way that changes the relationship between clients and accountants.

And that means more than a few people just need to change their minds.

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