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How to Boost Your Firm's Growth with CAS

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Firms today will need to evolve and provide more advisory services to remain competitive. Here, Max Pearlstein of ADP explains how the right technology platform can help you expand your service offerings. ADP is just one of the many industry experts you can meet in San Diego, California, on May 9-12, 2022, at AccountingWEB Live Summit, a brand-new conference and networking event. Learn more at https://www.accountingweblivesummit.com 

Apr 22nd 2022
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Even before COVID-19, clients were interested in gaining more from their accountants than just tax support, and during the pandemic, they came to realize what valuable partners their accountants could be. From helping to acquire PPP loans, navigating new compliance laws and renegotiating leases to managing cash flow, accounting firms stepped up in a big way for their clients by increasing their consultative services.

In fact, many firms have come to realize that to remain competitive, they must evolve to better understand the issues of their small business clients and provide more advisory services. Technology has commoditized tax preparation too. The result is more competition for tax services, slimmer profit margins and taking accountants’ time away from more productive services.

Traditional Accounting vs. Consulting Services

Acknowledging these trends has caused some firms to move away from taxes altogether. In 2017, Sean M. Duncan, CPA, sent a letter to his tax preparation clients announcing that his firm, SMD Consulting & Accounting, LLC, would no longer provide tax preparation.

“We were on track to do about 1,200 tax returns that year, averaging around three to six hours per return. That’s a lot of revenue, but it’s revenue that eats up a lot of our bandwidth. Tax season was effectively ruining five months of our year by taking us away from doing what accountants do best for clients – giving them trusted financial advice," Duncan said.

Now, SMD consults with clients on key decision points (e.g., buying vs. leasing and whether to hire new employees) and process improvement consulting.

“Traditional accounting is more about playing the role of a historian. You’re basically immersed in bookkeeping and preparing tax returns – reactive activities that are meant to make sure your clients stay out of trouble. Helping them to thrive and grow their businesses had become almost secondary because of the time burdens of tax preparation. The growth of the tax preparation side of the business was dominating everything else we wanted to do – including the delivery of consultative services that our clients needed," he said.

Technology That Supports Client Advisory Services

Fortunately, accountants have more sophisticated and robust technologies today than ever to provide these kinds of advisory services. These technology platforms can provide real-time data for accountants to use for analysis and consultation. 

Even though his firm no longer does tax preparation, Duncan still helps clients address core business functions like payroll and HR – but he’s not interested in being involved with the nuts and bolts of either process.

“There is almost no value added for accountants to do payroll by themselves today,” he said.

The evolution of human capital management (HCM) solution providers gives him the tools to provide needed services without wasting staff hours on data entry. Here are some examples of how the right technology platform can help your firm better advise your clients.

HR Compliance. The past two years are a prime illustration of how tricky compliance can get, with rapidly evolving changes in federal and state laws. The pandemic also caused a tremendous spike in the demand for HR solutions. ADP analyzed 65,000 calls that came into their HR HelpDesk over 18 months (2020-2021), and four categories dominated: wage and hour issues (24.5 percent), COVID-19 concerns (29 percent), performance management (23 percent) and benefits and paid leave (23.5 percent). A strong HCM and payroll technology solution should provide answers to these kinds of questions with a quick phone call or a couple of keystrokes. It should also provide the most current federal, state and local tax forms with instructions and the latest tax news and legislative updates.

Client Insights. When accountants can view client information in real-time, they can offer advice to preempt problems. For instance, watching payroll trends like employee mobility, time and attendance records and turnover can help head off challenges. With this information in hand, accountants can help clients to staff appropriately. The technology should provide data-driven tips from within the client base that accountants can use to recommend additional integrated solutions – like retirement plans, employee health plans and other benefits – when the time is right.

Compensation Strategy. In this highly competitive labor market, having access to a deep database of current compensation information is essential. With the right technological tools, accountants can provide their clients with compensation and benefits benchmarks across jobs, industries and geography to help them make more informed decisions. For example, accountants could offer an annual – or even quarterly – employee compensation review covering salary, bonus and overtime costs, or an analysis of the client’s compensation strategy to help improve retention and reduce turnover.

Digital, Cloud-Based Solutions. A good technology platform should provide easy, secure access to data via the cloud – to make both your life and your clients’ simpler. It should also automate simple tasks so that accountants can work smarter and faster, leaving the mundane tasks to artificial intelligence and more sophisticated and revenue generating work to experienced professionals. 

Strategic Planning. Ultimately, accountants want to help their clients be more successful. That success begins with a strategic plan. It is realized through access to data that informs decisions in that plan, such as a business valuation tool, for example, that can calculate value quickly based on the most critical data points for long-term business success. Accountants can help grow their advisory services by offering annual business valuations. This, in turn, can drive business loans, estate planning, succession planning, shareholder changes and other parts of a business's strategic plan.

Certification Programs. The best technology platforms offer training and certification so that users become proficient in the tax, reporting and analytics tools and can improve firm efficiency and build advisory services.

Another reason Duncan decided to move into advisory services and away from tax preparation was the well-being of his employees.

“Tax preparation was making nearly half of every year a pretty miserable experience for our people. New technology opened the door for us to improve our quality of life. There was more time for personal lives. More time to go to our children’s ballgames and school concerts. More time to enjoy life," he said.

Meet ADP in San Diego, California, May 9-12, 2022, at AccountingWEB Live Summit, a brand-new in-person conference and networking event for accounting professionals. 

Hear from experts in the industry on the future of accounting, discover new fintech for the digital age, and attend CPE accredited sessions to move your business forward. After two years of lockdown, you can spend time meeting like-minded professionals discussing tips, tricks, and the challenges you face at breakfast briefings, networking lunches, and an unforgettable off-site dinner event. Learn more at https://www.accountingweblivesummit.com

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