How to Build Client Relationships in a Distributed World
CPA firms and accounting professionals have been impacted just as much as anyone by the increasingly distributed world we live in.
While there are clear benefits, cloud-enabled accounting solutions have greatly reduced or eliminated the need to interact directly with clients. Gone are the days of visiting client sites in order to help them process paper checks, or receive their paper records.
It’s almost enough to make an accounting professional miss the days of having an avalanche of coffee-stained receipts dumped on their desk for sorting. But in it all lies a great opportunity and there’s reason to be optimistic, at least according to the people who would know best.
A survey conducted by Right Networks found that accounting professionals feel confident about the prospects for increased business growth and stability throughout their industry and the economy as a whole. The Right Networks Cloud Impact survey polled 364 CPA firms, accounting professionals, and small businesses about their confidence in the economy, their business prospects, and the impact of cloud technology on their business operations.
In the customer sampling, 75% of the respondents that identified as CPA firms or accounting professionals using cloud storage and application technology indicated they are “very confident” about the future of accounting and their respective role in the industry. Another 21% said they were “moderately confident” about their future. And if you’re wondering how they felt about their clients – 67% of respondents said what they liked most about their industry was building relationships with their clients.
So, while the client handshake might be going away, most seem to feel that their clients are here to stay. That’s because technology hasn’t eliminated the human connection for CPA firms and accounting professionals, it’s actually made it more possible and it’s bringing more value for the clients.
What’s more, over 63% of CPA firms and accounting professionals that responded to the survey were motivated to upgrade technology to either automate administrative tasks and increase productivity and efficiency or institute more flexible and responsive solutions for clients who increasingly expect an “always available” approach.
CPA firms, accounting professionals, and small businesses have seen the light on the cloud. According to IDC, worldwide spending on public cloud computing will increase from $67B in 2015 to $162B in 2020. Cloud-enabling accounting solutions means that expensive and complex server infrastructure becomes somebody else’s problem.
A CPA firm is just a remote desktop session away from a valuable interaction with their client. Cloud environments aren’t just more secure and nearly maintenance free, they provide for real-time access to client files and collaboration. The coffee-stained receipts are now gone for good.
The growth of cloud-connected solutions is the beginning of the end for traditional, compliance-oriented accounting services like preparing financial statements, filing tax returns, and bookkeeping. Clients have more resources than ever to get these needs met. Accounting software and solutions are advancing rapidly, and more accessible than ever now that there’s no need to own or maintain the hardware to make them run.
By integrating applications into their cloud-based accounting solution, clients have new abilities to do everything from track employee time and expenses to scanning barcodes in order to manage inventory. But CPA firms and accounting professionals shouldn’t shutter their shops just yet.
Instead, they’re rightly moving toward advisory services aimed at meeting client expectations that are rising to view CPA firms and accounting professionals as solutions to bigger business problems and not just resources for tax compliance.
In the Cloud, Everyone Wins
The same things that make the cloud great for one business are the same things that make it great for the competition. There is an ability to take on more clients - but now your clients can seek accounting and financial advice from anyone with an Internet connection.
Providing for your firm’s longevity in an age where personal interactions are decreasing, and there’s less opportunity to differentiate yourself by your firm’s client-focused and people-friendly personality calls for a new playbook. Here’s four near-term initiatives to stay connected to evolving client expectations:
1. Online presence
An informative, well-designed online presence is no longer a differentiator. A firm’s website is usually the starting point for new client research and a dated digital footprint can be more of a hindrance than most organizations realize. Good web design, branding, and marketing initiatives are expensive but worth it.
2. Understand your client workflows
Some might think that by helping to design client systems that enable tax, bookkeeping, and business management workflows, there will be less business from that client going forward. In fact, the opposite is likely true. Tying cloud-applications into an accounting solution enables software to take the place of data entry that humans are still needlessly performing. More automation means more free time for the accounting professional, and more time to explore new service offerings.
3. Get comfortable with analysis
Being cloud-enabled also means being in a position to perform more robust data analysis to help clients grow and streamline their businesses. CPA firms and accounting professionals should go deeper into technology and solutions that help analyze trends and highlight risks for their customers. This is the pathway to new offerings for a firm.
4. Learn new skills
Marketing, tax planning, IRS problem resolution, financial planning, estate planning, business coaching, cash flow forecasting – experiential and transformational services are what likely have CPA firms and accounting professionals feeling so optimistic. The rise of automation has elevated client expectations – that’s true. But modern systems and cloud-enabled software have ushered in a great opportunity for CPA firms and accounting professionals to transition from compliance services to advisory services…even if you can’t shake a computers hand.
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Rachel Krug is the Director of Product Marketing at Right Networks, responsible for leading all aspects of marketing including pricing, packaging, positioning, demand generation, partner management and the creation of sales and channel enablement material.