CPAs and their clients are probably very similar in that they are pressed for time so they look to become more efficient. One way is to do so is to cut down on what they read by throwing it away or deleting it, or just skimming an item or its table of contents to see if anything of interest jumps. I expect this trend to continue to escalate.
This forces firms to do much more targeted marketing trying to reach those individuals who are most receptive. What I expect this will mean is that firms will be taking a very personalized communication approach.
For example, at the end of the year, clients who are maxed their annual 401(k) contributions can be told they can raise that amount on January 1st when limits increase. Similarly, when a client is going to hit age 50, a CPA might sent an e-mail or make a telephone call explaining how catch-up contributions mean thousands more can be put into a 401(k) plan.
As will happen in 2006, the gift tax annual exclusion will increase to $12,000. Those giving specified amounts to donees can be told of the increase. Also donors that marry can be told that with gift-splitting, they can get two annual gift tax exclusions per donee.
How about refinancing a mortgage? By tracking the rates and what a client is paying, a CPA can communicate when it is advantageous for the client to refinance a mortgage.
Do firms communicate this type of information now? Yes, but most likely it is in the form of a generalized communication or when a CPA recognizes the importance of bringing something to the attention of a specific client. The general communication won't get the results of a personalized targeted approach. But the CPA doesn't have the time to review each client files.
The key will be for firms to take advantage of CRM programs that track the personal information of the clients and also incorporates a tickler system so when a development or life event occurs, the system is alerted and personal approach can be adopted. I would expect there might be even a filter system so the CPA managing the client can determine if a contact should be made. The system might also show how many contacts have been previously made with the client, and when action was taken on any of them.
As time becomes a more important commodity for all, and with increased use of technology, many feel like the personal touch is gone. I believe clients will put more value of those practitioners that take a personal, customized approach to client service. To do so, there must be a greater use of technology to track and monitor specific details about clients but shouldn't necessarily be readily apparent to clients. Also care must be taken within the firm because clients can be very protective and don't want their information to be communicated to others in the firm as ammo for a series of sales pitches.
CPAs understand it is much easier to sell additional services to existing clients then to go out and get a new client, and up to now many have been going after the "low-hanging fruit." With much of that picked clean, there will have to be a more structured approach taken and that will begin with better tracking of a client's life events and developments. The technology is currently out there, but I have the feeling most firms don't fully utilize it.
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