Generational Viewpoints:

The role of data analytics

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This edition of Generational Viewpoints features two professionals from Rehmann (, a nearly 900-person Top 100 Firm with locations in Michigan, Ohio and Florida. We asked Generation X chief marketing officer Holly Shier, born in 1974, and millennial manager Ryan Wichmann, born in 1990, to share their perspectives on the following question:

“What role should data analytics play in a firm’s client service and marketing approach?”

Wichmann’s millennial viewpoint

A colleague recently asked me, “How do we move, as an industry, from being historians to being advisors?” I believe data analytics will play a major role in this transition. Data analytics is the science of drawing insights, or conclusions, from raw information sources. As CPA firms, our clients entrust us with large amounts of confidential data. What do firms do with all of this data? Do firms just use it to complete the task at hand and move on? While this is standard process, we are now beginning to utilize this data in new ways to better serve our clients.

Traditionally, a firm receives a client’s previous-year data, asks some follow-up questions, and ultimately performs the audit or prepares the tax return. However, firms should also be using this raw, historical data to better understand their clients’ unique businesses and anticipate their needs. When Rehmann revealed the results of our 2018 client survey of approximately 2,000 clients, one item stood out among the rest: The No. 1 reason our clients refer us to their peers is that we do a great job of understanding their businesses. With proper data analytics, firms can more accurately focus on the clients’ business operations and individual needs. For example, when the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed on Dec. 22, 2017, Rehmann ran reports through our tax software to analyze which clients would be most affected by the tax changes. We reached out to those clients directly and developed strategies throughout 2018 rather than waiting until year-end. This first step of analyzing the data ultimately led to more proactive, planned chargeable work and happier clients.

Firms must also remember that the data analytics are only as good as the data received. If there is bad data or too much data, the focus can easily be lost. Firms should be using tools that produce useful data to help clients optimize their business performance and identify cross-selling opportunities. This may include turnkey software that can recognize and analyze trends and use the data to compare their clients’ financial position to their peers. These types of software can show revenue, spending, and compensation comparisons, and you can forecast more accurately with “what-if” scenarios. Forward-thinking firms must embrace data analytics, both internally and externally, to continue to grow. With proper data analytics, firms can work toward achieving a 360-degree view of each client, further enhancing the client experience.

Data analytics enhance productivity and help produce useful insights, and firms should be utilizing the data to better serve their clients and anticipate their needs. Technology advances have resulted in less data entry and created more time to focus on clients’ businesses and future growth so that maybe — just maybe — CPAs will slowly move from historians to advisors.

Shier’s Gen X viewpoint

Data analytics play a colossal role in a firm’s client service and marketing approach and are a key component to consider when making decisions. The challenge lies in the sheer volume of data we have at our fingertips and our ability to glean useful and actionable information from it.

At a minimum, firms should survey their clients and analyze a variety of touchpoints to understand what is on their clients’ minds. The resulting data is vital to creating your market approach, and developing relevant solutions, programs, articles and insight into hot topics specific to client or prospective client needs — all of which positively impact client satisfaction and retention.

We used data analytics to determine Rehmann’s approach to a current marketing campaign. Our goal was to create a campaign that showcased the breadth of services and solutions Rehmann provides.

We relied heavily on data obtained from our client satisfaction survey, several client panels, and a few small, targeted focus groups to craft messaging that resonated with current and future clients. To do this, we added several questions to our client satisfaction survey to uncover primary pain points and critical moments our clients were experiencing. We then pored over the data to understand the stories that were emerging.

It became clear that our clients weren’t interested in a particular service, they were interested in how we could help them solve their issues and take advantage of opportunities. Our clients were growing faster than they could handle, experiencing momentous near-term transitions in leadership, and many were looking forward to retirement but unsure of how to sell or transition their businesses, and how to appropriately manage the subsequent wealth.

Our resulting campaign focused on these critical points in our clients’ journeys. We developed resources around our identified critical points and have begun to package and message our services around them. While data played a major role in the development of our stories and our tactics, it was only a basis for where to focus. We then had to dig into the emotion behind these critical moments to understand what spurred the need for our services.

Data analytics helped us begin to understand our clients’ personal journeys. The rest of the strategy relied on our ability to understand the intangible story the data was telling us.

Data alone can’t tell us when someone is mentally ready to retire, or that selling their business scares them, but data can start to paint the picture.

This column is facilitated and edited by Brianna Johnson, the millennial consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the baby boomer co-founder and partner, of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. To have your firm’s generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, email them at

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