No one likes having something rammed down their throat. Whether it’s that annoying local commercial you suffer through 100 times during your morning news, or the accounting profession droning on about advisory services, the repetition can seem intrusive.
For some accounting professionals, CAS discussions might seem played out. The drum has been beaten for years now, and they feel like it’d be nice if we all moved on to something else. Perhaps their firm tried client accounting advisory, but wasn’t able to make a go of it. Or maybe they’re trying now, but aren’t satisfied with the results.
It’s important to dig deeper. The reason CAS has been the first thing out of the mouths of profession leaders for so long is that it really is the present and future of accounting, as well as the fastest growing revenue source for firms focusing on it. If it doesn’t seem like it is working (or has worked) for you, there are some major things to keep in mind.
CAS ain’t tax or audit
In the typical tax and/or audit practice, the conversation with the client revolves around the outputs of the information the firm obtained from the client. These outputs provide a large amount of information, but relatively little innate insight.
Increasingly, the activities that a firm undertakes to produce that output are automated. The time-savings, efficiency increase, and accuracy benefits of that automation beg greater analysis, but more to the point, they enable it.
It’s no longer enough to simply present the information, it’s expected that a firm helps a client understand what to do with it. Different from the typical compliance-driven activities of tax and audit, client accounting and advisory services are ongoing throughout the year. That necessitates deeper relationships that result in more client contact, continuous data analysis, and a positive change in your revenue structure — reflected in the value billing that really sets CAS apart from tax and audit.
None of this is meant to disparage the very important tax and audit work firms do — it’s simply meant to point out that CAS needs a different kind of thought process and attention to make it work well.
If CAS has anything in common with more traditional firm services, it’s that it needs its own leader — someone responsible for the development of your CAS practice, who can strategize and plan out your approach to bring exceptional value to your clients. That leader shouldn’t be someone just shuffled over from tax or audit. CAS needs focus — you can’t be casual about it. You should staff it with the same attention to detail you would use in any other part of your firm: with professionals who are educated, trained, and conversant in the practice. These won’t be typical firm hires. They are mostly non-CPAs who specialize in process improvement, technical expertise, digitization, controls… in other words, people the CAS leader should have a direct hand in choosing and hiring.
Failure is okay. Giving up is not.
Persistence is one of the keys to CAS success. Building out a client roster might seem like a piece of cake. After all, you’ve been told clients want these services and well — you have clients, right?
In reality, there is a segment of your clients who will immediately recognize the offering and jump to get on board. There is a segment that will need some help understanding the value. And there’s a segment that will either be resistant, or inappropriate for advisory at this time.
So building your client roster will take time, effort, and probably some research as well. You might find pursuing a niche works best for you, over a more generalized approach. Whatever approach your CAS leader takes, there will likely need to be adjustments until you get it just right. And price point matters — don’t take just any client sent your way. In the meantime, the practice could struggle a bit. And that’s okay — some failure and testing needs to be part of your plan. It will pay off in the end.
If you find you’re having difficulty serving clients or staffing for CAS, there are capacity-building solutions for you. The first is to automate, which is something we at Botkeeper know a bit about. If you can take some of the repetitive and time-consuming work your bookkeepers do off their plates, for example, this gives them the time they need to analyze the information they’re getting both from the automation and the client. That analysis is the foundation of advisory services.
Another option is to review your client roster to see where it might be time to part ways. Some clients might be mainstays of the firm, but drive very little revenue or take up more firm time or resources than they can return in fees. Most firms have at least a handful of clients who fall into this camp, and letting them go can free up enough resources to drive more of the CAS services that provide ongoing, predictable revenue for your firm.
A final suggestion would be to review your processes, people, and technology to see how you might be able to increase efficiency. Building capacity is almost a whole job in itself, but there’s a lot you can do to make it happen.
Take your time. You’re building a fortress, not a house of cards.
Don’t expect overnight success with your CAS practice. It would be great if you could hang out a shingle today and have a line of appropriate clients out the door tomorrow, but that’s not going to happen. Like anything worthwhile, you’ll need to put in effort. The good news is that once you have your CAS practice going, it will deliver value for your clients and you unlike anything you’ve seen before. And if you don’t offer CAS services, the day is quickly coming when you will lose business to those who do.
Start at the top and make sure your firm’s CAS efforts have support from firm leadership. If needed, help educate them in the reality of offering advisory to ensure their patience and participation while your practice finds its rhythm. Staff your CAS practice deliberately, and make sure your goals match your resources.
Yes, we’re all a little tired of hearing about CAS, but there’s a good reason it keeps echoing off the office walls: it’s important, it’s lucrative, and it’s undeniably the future of the accounting firm.