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Key Insights from the 2014 Producer Circle Spring Meeting
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The Producer Circle™ is a community of business and IT savvy thought leaders focused on providing improved client accounting service and achieving firm growth and profitability by leveraging technology and the cloud.

This selective peer network helps firms establish themselves as the trusted business advisor by transforming their practices from an ancillary transactional service provider to a provider of high profit advisory services.

New Thinking – New Format for 2014

With a new vision and improved format, the fourth year of The Producer Circle is off to a great start! Our vision is to make you successful and future ready. The new format supported this vision by combining firm members and business partners (vendors) as participants. This was well received by everyone and the exchange of information and building of new relationships was amazing. A full list of the participating business partners can be found on the last page of this report.

It is becoming more important than ever for firms and vendors to have strong relationships with one another due to the rapidly expanding cloud ecosystem. This ecosystem is the set of partners (often referred to as add-ons) that work directly with the Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors to fill functionality gaps. An example of this is what’s happening with leading cloud accounting solutions such as AccountantsWorld, Intaact, Intuit and Xero. While these SaaS vendors’ focus on their core competencies of accounting and integrated payroll solutions, they are attracting an array of 3rd party cloud service providers that are filling gaps like reporting tools, dashboards, work papers, workflow, project management and CRM. Combined, the ecosystem covers the majority of a firm’s software needs and becomes a powerful tool for both clients and firms alike.

Is Your Firm Playing Above the Line?

For some time now, CPAs have been labeled as a most trusted business advisor to their small- to mid-sized business clients. Have we really been living up to that title? Most of the core services firms are providing fall into the compliance or transactional category, making them a most trusted technical advisor. To truly live up to the title of trusted business advisor, firms need to better understand their client’s business and offer services that focus on business performance and strategy.

Below the Line Services

The core services are what we call Level 1 services – Tax, Assurance and Accounting Services. These services are compliance focused and have firms operating "below the line.” They have historically been the meal ticket for most firms. Most of these offerings are based on hindsight and require perfection. These are also the services that are threatened to become commoditized as advances in technology and the cloud continue to automate the data exchange between systems.

Above the Line Services

In order for our profession to avoid commoditization and obsolescence, firms will have to change their services, packaging, pricing, processes and systems and start operating "above the line.” By this I mean they will have to transform their offerings to include Level 2 and Level 3 services. I’ll briefly outline what I mean by these two categories.

  • Level 2 Services are advisory services focused on business performance. They are based on insight and require progress rather than perfection. Examples include:
    • Business Advisory
    • Wealth Advisory
    • Family Office
  • Level 3 Services are advisory services focused on strategic performance. They also require progress rather than perfection but are based on foresight. Examples include:
    • Strategic Planning
    • Succession Planning
    • Mergers & Acquisitions
Historically, bookkeeping and client accounting services have often been viewed as necessary but low margin services. Today, these services are driving opportunities above the line and can be very profitable when packaged and priced with performance and strategic services (Level 1 and Level 2 services). Margins increase as services are packaged and the client becomes "stickier” with each additional service they utilize. Vendors advised firms look at their current client base as an untapped market channel to offer higher valued services. If your firm doesn’t provide these services, your clients will go to organizations that do and often those are non-CPA consultants and advisors.

Other Discussion Highlights

While we can’t cover everything that was discussed at the meeting in this short recap letter, here are a few more items that garnered significant interest and discussion:
  • Menu of Services/Pricing – Bundling of services and offering clients options has been a recipe for success for many of the firms that have been at this for a while now. By doing so, many firms are recognizing that offering expanded client accounting and advisory services are often resulting in 10 x the fees and significantly improved margins. As such, many are giving up commoditized audits and compilations to play more of an advocacy role to their clients.
  • Selling the Concept – To make the transformation above the line, it takes much more than a declaration or a line on the strategic plan. Firms need to sell this initiative with both clients and internal team members. Lead with business opportunities and capabilities; not technology platforms and features.
  • AICPA SSARs – The AICPA is proposing changes that will allow firms to prepare financial statements without regard to independence as long as appropriate disclosure is presented on each statement. This is still a work in process and something to which you should pay attention.

An Invitation to Participate in The Producer Circle

Our next meeting will be November 17-18, 2014 at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, MO. You can view the meeting agenda here. If your firm is looking to accelerate success in advisory services, please visit or complete our Request Information Form. We’d love to speak with you.

Learn about our participating vendors by visiting



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