What's the future of CPAs in the financial planning area?The answer has been the same for the past 100 years.

Although it has only been since the 1980s that the PFP Section and the Personal Financial Specialist designation were created by the AICPA, CPAs have always been a trusted advisor. They help clients plan for retirement, for their children's educational funding, for their business endeavors, and even for their vacation homes.

There are many instances where the accountant becomes the financial planner and it may not be apparent to the client or the advisor as it happens. They help answer questions like: Should I lease or buy the car for the business? Should I be in double tax-free municipals or corporate bonds? Can I afford to retire in 10 years?

The CPA, with knowledge of the client well beyond just their tax situation, is very well-suited to opine on these financial decisions.

THE TEAM APPROACH

The CPA is the trusted advisor and, as such, they have a responsibility to remain objective and to not have conflicts of interest. That is why it's a good idea to be part of an overall engagement team (and often the "quarterback" of that team), but not the entire team.

The CPA has many opportunities throughout the year - whether it be year-end tax planning, reviewing estate and trust documents, or tax compliance during the busy season - to recognize issues and opportunities that can be brought to the client's attention and shared with the other members of the client's overall engagement team.

Working with ultra-high-net-worth individuals in the Private Clients Group at my firm, the financial planning engagement team consists of CPAs, attorneys, financial advisors and insurance professionals who work together to provide the client with a complete and comprehensive plan to manage their wealth accumulation, preservation and transfer. This type of team ensures that, when it comes to financial planning, the client receives outstanding service and quality advice based on each person's expertise.

Each member of the engagement team brings professional competence from their own field and we all collaborate so that the clients' financial planning needs are addressed from every angle.

WHAT IT ISN'T

Does financial planning mean managing your clients' assets?

It certainly does not.

Many CPA firms have expanded their practices in recent years to include investment management services, but to do it right requires huge investments of time and capital to bring a competent practice with the skills and infrastructure online. Even then there are still questions of expertise: Does an ultra-high-net-worth client want to trust their millions (or billions) of dollars to a CPA firm that has little or no history in the financial management arena?

"Trust" is the key word. As the trusted advisor, the CPA is expected to be the objective consigliere, constantly practicing professional skepticism.

How can that be done effectively when managing a client's assets is often a full-time job itself?

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE HOLD?

There is indeed a future, as there was in the past, for the CPA in the financial-planning arena. As the trusted advisor who can review a client's overall portfolio and compare it to the performance of other clients' portfolios, the CPA can then advise clients about whether they need to be looking for a change in financial advisors.

David M. Desmarais, CPA, MST, MBA, is a partner in charge of the Private Client Services Group at Carlin, Charron & Rosen LLP (www.ccrgroup.com). Reach him at ddesmarais@ccrgroup.com or (508) 926-2200.

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