Previously Published in Accounting Today | November 2021
Each individual’s definition of success is personal, yet individuals and firms have advantages and scalability in today’s market. Before I get into the details, let me explain how confusing the accounting profession has become to our clients and the market.
Businesses and organizations of all sizes are going through a transformation and accounting and advisory firms are not exempt. Business transformation is the term for making fundamental changes in how the organization runs. This includes people, processes and technology. Shifts in operations and mindsets are crucial to a successful transformation.
Firm leaders have referred to Client Accounting & Advisory Services (CAAS) as a key component of firm growth and transformation, yet it is impossible to get a consistent definition of CAAS among accounting professionals – even within the same firm. Marketing professionals, please provide a better name!
Service opportunities have continued to grow along with specialization. This is demonstrated by the business capability model that focuses on:
The vision and game plan of the business
The interests of owners and stakeholders
The technology platform or ecosystem
The customer and employee experience
Services and products
Compliance and legal
Historically, the accounting profession primarily focused on financial, compliance and operations. Today, the profession has expanded to include opportunities across the entire business capability model. Advisory and consulting services are limited by capability, while compliance and transactional services are limited by capacity. We all know that firms face capacity issues due to the lack of talent and should explore increased automation and outsourcing. Transformation will not be possible without an increase in capabilities. Firms should look for talent with different skills to provide the advisory and consulting services that clients seek.
The opportunities are apparent, yet most firms struggle to find the time (capacity) and talent (capabilities) to take advantage of them. They need different mindsets, skillsets and toolsets and mindsets appear to be the most difficult. From our consulting experience, the four primary challenges are:
Change management. Firms and professionals want to be shown why they should change and the value it brings.
Focus on exceptions. Human tendency is to always think of the outliers rather than the majority. Those who focus on making it work do, while those who focus on why it won’t work continue doing what they have always done. Billing by the hour and focusing on compliance versus predictive and prescriptive services are two good examples.
Motivation. Income can be a motivator, but most firms are having record years. The motivation must come from the ability to sustain success and be future-ready. Think about how you can add exponential value to the client.
New business model. Hourly billing does not work in organizations that focus on value through automation and upskilling of talent. Move toward a subscription model where clients choose from a menu of services, including transactional, compliance, advisory and consulting. Defining your target clients can help you filter out clients who are no longer a good fit for the firm.
Back to the increased opportunities of transformation. It sounds easy, but it is difficult to execute without a game plan and coaching. To further simplify, we came up with an acronym that focuses on the mindsets, skillsets and toolsets required to transform your firm and clients. The acronym is: The Vision of Success.
No surprises here. Your challenge is to learn how to tell time – not how to build the watch. You must be in the cloud to meet your requirements as well as your clients’ needs. Think about how your applications integrate: data and workflow. Your technology stack will probably differ from your client services technology stack due to outdated core applications.
Human Resources/Talent Development
Many of the skills you have today are either outdated or soon will be through automation and outsourcing. Do a skills gap analysis for the future and hire based on skills and unique abilities rather than degrees.
Continuous process improvement and the convergence of process improvement and technology are key to sustainable success. This is where you create the rocket fuel. Transformational change often requires an outside review.
Vision and Plan
You need a current vision (personal and as a firm) that’s been updated within the past two years. The strengths and weaknesses of the virtual world have been fully exposed. Zoom is now a transportation system. What do you want to be, do, have, experience and create in the next three years?
Innovation is messy because it disrupts incumbents and forces change. You must develop an innovation process in your firm to manage, expedite, fund and implement innovation. The innovation mindset comes from the top, while innovative ideas often come from those closest to the client.
It’s a great time to be a CPA if you are willing to change and learn. Your current success and your firm’s success may be the biggest restraints on a transformational mindset. Ask yourself, “what happens if we don’t change?”
The pandemic has exposed the need for digital versus paper-based workflow. If you aren’t digital, it is going to be hard to survive in the future. Many workflow applications need to be updated to better manage projects, scheduling and communications among team members and clients. Data and work flow better and more securely in the cloud than in hybrid applications.
Sourcing, outsourcing, on-shoring and off-shoring are all important and will become even more important in the future. Many tasks can be sourced, while jobs will require upskilling. Focus on your unique abilities, leverage technology and source tasks to increase client value.
New Business Model
With business transformation comes the need to transform the business model. Historically, accountants have used the cost-plus model: Karl Marx’s theory of labor. This model will not work for organizations focused on creating exponential value. You must package and price services based upon a subscription model, including transactional, compliance, advisory and consulting services. Ron Baker has been evangelizing for years!
Operations is different than finance, but both are needed in exponential organizations. Operations is about execution and management of resources. They often need different resources than finance. Check out our Operation’s Circle to access a peer community, expertise and guidance.
Automation and real-time information are extremely important, as is managerial accounting. Too often, firms focus on financial reporting when clients value real-time decision-making data. The technology platform and continuous process improvement are extremely important.
Sales & Marketing
Firms must increase their marketing and sales budget to compete for profitable advisory and consulting services. Currently, leading firms are spending approximately 3% on marketing and sales. With increased automation and competition from non-CPA providers, firms must adopt a standard sales process and think globally rather than locally in their sales and marketing efforts.
Upskilling of Talent
I mentioned HR and talent development earlier, but some of the skills currently needed in firms are data analytics, project management, marketing, sales, and talent development. Find the right “who,” and they will know how or figure it out. These positions generally do not require an accounting degree or CPA certificate.
Compliance work has a future. We increase the value of compliance work with improved packaging and pricing. You can reduce costs through better workflow and automation.
Most firms face capacity challenges today because their primary revenue streams are from transactional and compliance services. Increased automation and outsourcing are potential solutions. Advisory and consulting services are limited by capability. Use some of your capacity to focus on higher margin advisory and consulting services. Business transformation requires capability as well as capacity.
The pandemic has exposed the need to improve client and employee experiences and the ability to work from anywhere at any time. Improved client and employee experiences come from a focus on the work and home environments rather than a focus on technical skills. Balance is necessary, and the virtual world supports that balance.
Services and Products
Firms are expanding their services while focusing on target or strategic clients. The most difficult challenge for a firm is to stop providing a service, yet many services have diminished in value due to automation and outsourcing. Once firms define their strategic accounts, they can develop menus of appropriate services for each client and package and pricing accordingly in a subscription model. Price by the client, not by the service line.
Stakeholders – Shared Vision
It’s crucial for stakeholders to be on the same page with a shared vision. You can accomplish this with a simple exercise or workshop and an outside facilitator. Once you have a shared vision, it is easier to develop a game plan and hold people accountable for their areas of responsibility. Accountability is the fastest way to improve results.
Complexity and confusion exist in the market and within the accounting profession. The acronym “The Vision of Success” should provide you a tool to transform yourself and your organization. Think-Plan-Grow!
Could you benefit from a peer network of other advisory service leaders?
The Boomer Business Transformation Circle is a peer group of advisory service leaders from top accounting firms who benefit from sharing knowledge, best practices and lessons learned. Apply now to get plugged into the Circle and start transforming your firm.
L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. He consults and speaks around the globe on several topics including strategic and technology planning; mindset, skillsets and toolsets for the future; change management and developing a training and learning culture. He also acts as a planning facilitator and coach to some of the accounting profession's top firms.