How to Handle the Executive Client

Senior corporate executives are among every accountant's most desired clients. They make fast decisions. They typically don't pushback on fees. They usually aren't high maintenance. But working with them is a high-wire act.

How Did They Get There?
CEOs, CFOs, and divisional presidents got to the corner office by putting their career first. They demonstrated the ability to deliver results consistently and get things done. Early on, senior management, made them part of "the team." Promotion after promotion followed.

The traits that brought them success are the same traits they seek in their personal accountants, attorneys and financial advisors. You don't work for the firm, but they consider their personal life an extension of their corporate life. Good news: You are part of "the team." Bad news: They may consider you a de facto employee. They want to see the following traits in their accountants:

  • Availability. When they have questions, they get their answers immediately. Ascending the ladder they were used to evening calls, weekend meetings and sudden unplanned business trips. They expect you to be available 24/7.
  • Results Focused. They are accountable to shareholders, their board and the media. A smile, witty remark and excuse don't go far. When they ask a question they want to hear about results. They are the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" client.
  • One Answer. Senior executives think big picture. When they pose a challenge, about the tax implications of a bonus or expiring stock options, they want one solution. As their CPA you might start by examining three approaches, research them thoroughly and deliver one recommendation. If they ask: "What else have you got?" then you delve into detail.
  • Expertise. They reached the top because they avoided big mistakes. A group of experts supported them along the way. They place a great deal of trust in their recommendations and research. As their CPA you need to be on top of your game. Keep current through continuing education.
  • Communication. Calls from their accountant don't trump calls from one of their top customers. However, they do want to hear from you if you consider something important. Learn the channel of communication they prefer you use. Some like texts or e-mails alerting them an issue needs attention—like a regulatory change that may change their tax obligations—without providing details. Others route everything through their assistant or lead secretary at work. Stick to your channel.

Finally, be willing to do favors—this could rebound on you nicely. Your executive clients may refer business. For example, they may be mentoring several up and coming junior executives. They may have peers or alumni at another firm needing specialized advice. If they give out your name, help out their friend.  Return calls quickly and offer what help you can. You may have gained a new client. And most important, you will have made your client look good.

Senior executives can be great long-term clients. As part of their personal team you follow them assignment after assignment. Know what's expected of you.

Related article:

How to Make a Stranger a Client

About the author:
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book "Captivating the Wealthy Investor" can be found on Amazon.com.

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