Recently, I was fortunate to participate in an intense brainstorming session on the future of our profession with six other top 100 CPA managing partners. One of the hot topics was the very evident need for our profession to provide more advisory insights and services to our clients. With oncoming automation around data input and analysis, we know our services need to evolve into more advisory type services. We discussed that our "trusted advisor" status is anchored too closely to compliance, transactional and historical type services. Primarily, we have been a very responsive profession where few have consistently served as proactive strategic advisors.
Frustrations were evident and openly shared as we tossed this dilemma around the room. There’s a clear lack of buy-in and progress in moving forward within most firms. With quickly mounting evidence that many services and some compliance work is being automated, you could sense the urgency in the voices of each managing partner. WHY? This became the focus for the next two hours. Why is this a struggle? Why can’t we rapidly implement more proactive advisory services? Why is it so hard for us to be the lead strategic advisor for more of our clients? Why do we not have more buy-in and change from our very own partners?
We narrowed our WHY to five major obstacles or challenges. Do you see any of these in your firm or can you relate to them as an individual?
- The Accountant's Box - we are simply branded as accountants due to our own comfort zones and how we have served clients. We have focused on compliance, historical reporting and being responsive. Frankly, this box has had lots of success over the past 50 years and we are comfortable there. Secondly, clients have put us in that box and view us as compliance, not strategic. Their own experience with our teams hints at accountant rather than trusted strategic advisor. The box is big and strong. It takes very intentional and persistent work to climb out of this box.
- Confidence - we have grown as professionals based on relying on our technical skills and knowledge. We have not practiced having conversations with clients on strategy where we do not have answers or clarity in direction. Frankly, it scares a large percentage of our partners to think about having open conversations with clients on growth and strategic direction.
- Single-threaded relationships - Too many of our client relationships are owned and served by one team member or one primary team member. Complicating many of these single-threaded relationships is the fact that many times our overall relationship is also single-threaded on the client side, too. Whether it’s the collective wisdom we are missing or the collective influence, these single-threaded relationships make it hard to grow.
- C-suite access - Most of our relationships are tied to the CFO or another primary financial officer. Our access to the influencers and C-suite are often limited by the CFO as gatekeeper. We frequently incur reasons why we can’t meet with other C-suite executives. We are afraid of going around these gatekeepers due to fear of losing the business. We can no longer wait for “permission” to access the C-suite. We simply are not getting permission frequently enough nor fast enough. Fortunately, CFOs are realizing the need to be more strategic also and they are also creating opportunities for us.
- Depth of niche knowledge - we are faced with lots of clients where we have great relationships, strong compliance services but no significant knowledge or wisdom on their business or industry. This lack of depth limits our ability to generate and share relevant points of view or impactful insights. Of course, this also makes challenge number two—confidence—a bigger leap also.
Other heavy leans for top five challenges that can be significant for a firm or individual include conflict avoidance, collaboration skills, client-centric skills and strategic thinking skills. Regardless of where you might land in your personal experiences and assessments, the challenges are significant and when combined, they are proving to be a heavy anchor when we could be leaping forward.
Now that we are shining a light on these challenges and excuses, we can move forward by intentionally working on the ones that slow us down the most. We don’t have to solve, skip or eliminate all of them at once, but we must start on them to move advisory services forward.