How to shift to advisory services

Everything has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Not just in terms of legislation and tax laws, but also in terms of what clients need from their accountants today — and that’s business advice. The problem is many accountants don’t consider themselves advisors. They struggle to understand the definition, let alone provide the service.

It’s hard to tell a CPA how to offer advisory services because it’s so specific to firms and peoples’ practices. There really isn’t a boilerplate, standard way of going about it once you start getting into the nuances of how advisory is delivered.

In the past, those at the forefront of this radical movement have been trying to convince the masses that advisory and value pricing was the way to go. Finally, things are changing and accountants want to learn how to offer advisory services, which is huge.

Advisory defined

With so much debate about what advisory is, the profession needs a more uniform definition to build upon.

“When I think about advisory, it is a business model that is proactively forward-looking, service-oriented on an ongoing basis that is centered around helping clients achieve their goals and dreams,” said Jasen Stine, tax and accounting education leader at Intuit.

This is a pretty solid definition, folks!

Now that you know what it means, you can start to figure out how advisory fits into tax, bookkeeping, audit — all of it. Once you can package it, you can sell it, and it becomes easier for people to understand.

Getting started is an evolution

“What I’m seeing is a shift from, ‘Well, I’ll think about it,’ kind of a reaction to, ‘You know what? We’re getting serious about this,’” said Stine.

A shift to advisory starts with a top-down view of the firm.

“Go back and take a look at your vision, your strategy, your plan, and your goals,” he said.

Stine also suggests you really think about the impact you and your firm want to have on your community and the people around you. If you build it together, the kind of culture that will support advisory in a sustainable, meaningful way is possible. No more silos!

But the transition to advisory is a tough one. The demand is there in terms of accountants who want to learn this stuff. But the time to do it can be so difficult to balance.

“What I always say is that the more you evolve, the more capacity you get,” said Stine. “When you get more capacity, you can spend more time continuing to change. But it all starts with the first step.”

Helping younger professionals move to advisory 

Most partners are already great advisors and they are not the ones who need advisory training. Instead, we need to look at younger professionals so they’re comfortable having advisory conversations with clients on their own. There is a benefit to the newness of being in the accounting profession.

“What I would suggest to [younger professionals] is to go learn about the value pricing models as you start to build your client base,” said Stine. “Because the compliance work is going to be there anyway, but [the clients] aren’t going to value that.”

That’s why staff need to be able to move the conversation to advisory services. For example, make sure they know how to say something like: “Yes, we can do your taxes, but here are three other ways you can work with us and get value out of a monthly subscription.”

And that’s where real expertise comes in — helping clients grow and succeed. But what about the doubt that many young professionals have in their own skills and abilities?

“You’re smarter than you’re probably giving yourself credit for,” Stine said. “You’d be surprised at just simply being an outside person who’s focused on the financial health of the business, what you can offer as an insight.”

Technology creates capacity for advisory and innovation

Technology’s role is only just beginning to come to the surface in accounting firms. Stine predicts that the remote work revolution will continue, with better, more intentional experiences, and that automation will take even more of the manual, compliance-driven work off your plate. The question then becomes what will you do with all that time?

You could choose to go home early, after all — you don’t have to work crazy hours to get the same result. Or you can use the time freed up by automation for innovation that will transform your firm. Spend more time brainstorming how to solve clients’ problems or just talking to their business owners to find out what’s going on day-to-day.

As an added bonus, “top talent wants to work at innovative firms,” said Stine.

This is about more than technology; it’s about creating a culture of innovation.

Accountants will be able to lean into their passions and skill sets the more that they become advisors. When you let technology in, understand and embrace new or different processes, and be open to evolving yourself and your firm, great things can happen. Of course, accountants don’t have to travel that road alone; they’ll likely need some help to get to where they’re going.

As the conversations around advisory keep getting louder, firms will need to figure out how they want to fit into this movement. Once the big picture is clearer, accountants can then look at how their firm’s processes and culture can better support a transition to advisory. COVID-19 has really propelled the accounting industry forward by many years, and what’s in store for the future of accounting is just so cool.