What Do Your Business Clients Want?

The recently published What SMBs Want from Their CPA research report summarizes the results of an annual study conducted by The Sleeter Group, an industry leader in technology consulting for accounting professionals and small businesses. Just as with the original research, which was presented at the AICPA/CPA2Biz SaaS Executive Round Table event in 2013, survey participants were asked a series of questions to identify important trends in what small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) want from their CPA or accounting firm. What we found were disparities.

These disparities were especially prevalent in in the area of technology consulting. While accountants as well as SMBs might find the results surprising, or even concerning, the data also paints a picture of significant opportunities for forward-thinking CPAs who invest in technology skills and build client services to leverage these skills.

This article focuses on two key questions that were posed only to those survey participants who were currently using the services of a CPA:  

  1. What factors played a role in your decision to leave your former CPA?
  2. What types of services would you like to receive from your CPA?

What factors played a role in your decision to leave your former CPA?

Seventy percent of respondents have used an outside accounting service since the founding of their company or within the first year of its founding. Given that 77 percent of these companies have been in business over five years, it’s reasonable to think the use of a CPA for strategic planning in the early stages contributed to the SMBs’ success and longevity. Of those SMBs, 47 percent have switched CPAs during the life of their current business. Why such a large percentage?

We asked survey participants to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how large a role various reasons played in their decision to switch CPAs, with 10 being a “large role” and 1 being “no role at all.” Following are the top nine reasons they gave, along with the average rating of importance:

Reason Average Rating
Former CPA didn’t give proactive advice, only reactive service 6.8
Former CPA had poor responsiveness 6.2
I got a referral to a new firm from someone I trust 6
Expertise of former CPA was lacking 5.1
I got a referral to a new firm from someone I trust 6.0
Fees were too high; found a lower-cost firm 4.4
Former CPA wasn’t using state-of-the-art technology 4.2
Former CPA had inadequate staff to meet our needs 4.2
We didn’t have a personal relationship with former CPA, and we wanted one 3.8

 

The top nine reasons respondents gave for switching CPAs reflect the importance of being proactive, and they demonstrate how a lack of attention can cause an SMB to make a change. It’s also apparent it’s increasingly important for CPAs to stay current on the latest business and technological solutions. By staying informed and educating their clients on the benefits of technology, accountants are showing foresight and that they care about the success of their clients’ businesses. This reinforces the view of the relationship as a “partnership,” and clients think of their CPAs as invaluable resources of knowledge and expertise for improving their business.

It’s also evidence that SMBs are seeking out accountants who can provide more than traditional compliance services. In the future, it won’t be surprising to find more and more companies opting for CPAs with technical skills and knowledge.

What Types of Services Would You Like to Receive From Your CPA?
There’s a general misconception about the types of services a CPA is able and willing to provide, so businesses don’t generally think of asking their CPAs for advice about technology. Unless clients ask for these services, most accountants don’t seem to see the need to boost their knowledge and skills when it comes to technology. The problem for such accountants is that CPAs are being used as technology consultants more and more; it’s a movement that’s definitely gaining momentum. Large corporations already turn to accounting firms for technology services, and what happens with large companies usually trickles down to SMBs.

When SMBs were asked what services they want their accountants to provide, the top fourteen answers given were:

Service Requested By
Business planning  25.70%
Business strategy  25.70%
Create a dashboard for me to monitor my business  21.20%
Business analytics  20.40%
Representation at government audits  17.70%
Tax planning  17.70%
Budgeting/forecasting 13.30%
Business process engineering 11.50%
Technology consulting 8.00%
Complete outsourced bookkeeping services 7.10%
Compile, review, and/or audit my business records 5.30%
Bookkeeping (shared duties with my staff) 5.30%
Payroll 3.50%
Tax return preparation 2.70%

 

What Does This Mean for Today’s CPAs?
For accountants who stick to financial statement and tax preparation services, the dramatic improvements in technology will continue to commoditize those services. For example, within the last eight years, the concept of accounting firms providing payroll tax services—including preparing tax returns—has all but gone away. How much longer will it be before other tax and compliance services are automated to similar levels?

Opportunity for Accountants to Differentiate Themselves
If you want to differentiate your practice and position it for growth, here’s a checklist for getting there:

  • If you’re mainly in the compliance-services business, move toward higher value-added services, such as strategic business consulting, strategic technology planning, tax planning, and collaborative accounting services, where both accountant and client can access live data.
  • Educate your staff on new-world technologies and adopt a set of recommended products for your clients.
  • Agility trumps ability. Don’t assume you can use just one tool. Each client may require that you collaborate with him or her using different tools. You don’t want to lose clients because you “don’t know” their systems.
  • Develop skills to connect systems together from multiple vendors.
  • Use and recommend collaborative accounting technologies to broaden and deepen your client engagements.

The complete survey results can be found in What SMBs Want from Their CPA, a white paper available for download free of charge on The Sleeter Group website.

About the survey:
Twenty-nine questions were developed for this year’s study, based on The Sleeter Group’s twenty years of qualitative research. The data was collected through an online survey in January 2014. Over 1,000 participants were screened for qualification, with a final sample of 188 respondents used for analysis.

About The Sleeter Group:
The Sleeter Group (@SleeterGroup) is dedicated to helping accountants and small businesses work together by using the most innovative and tested tools/systems to generate greater efficiencies and higher profits. We represent an independent view, separate from any particular company or product, and we evaluate solutions based solely on how they meet the demands of small business owners.

The Sleeter Group Consultants Network is a community of over 700 accounting experts, who provide consulting services to more than 300,000 SMBs. In addition, The Sleeter Group offers the annual Accounting Solutions Conference, reference books, webinars, seminars, a QuickBooks consultant certification program, practice management tools, QuickBooks teaching systems, QuickBooks assessment exams, a restaurant accounting system, the QuickBooks and Beyond blog, and more. Visit sleeter.com for all the details.

 

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