Trusted Advisor is About the Work, Not the Title
Many accounting professionals believe they are THE trusted advisor the client comes to for advice and guidance on business financial matters. Having fully bought into the messaging about the value of the accounting and tax work, these professionals are feeling pretty relaxed about their client engagements. They believe the client will come to them with questions and provide the opportunity to deliver advice or work. And each year many clients return to get their taxes prepared or financial statements produced, and even new clients may appear. But the work remains largely the same – financial statements and tax returns, and addressing additional needs only when the client brings it up, which isn’t all that frequently.
On the other hand, there are professionals who recognize that a proactive approach to helping clients results in better and richer client engagements and better-performing client businesses. These professionals are truly the business advisors to the client – the trusted partners who understand the variety of conditions which impact business performance and care to make sure they are properly addressed. This advisor not only reports but makes recommendations and provides guidance on certain situations or processes which are essential in the business model. These professionals recognize that the bookkeeping and operational information collection is not simply a means to an end; these professionals understand that these foundational processes and the information they encompass are the important details which reflect the true performance of the business… details which no summary report can fully describe.
Having more direct participation in clients’ financial systems is a highly successful component of practice building, helping the firm to mine opportunities that may be hidden in current or new client engagements. This does not mean that the accounting professional becomes part of client operations or workflows. Rather, it suggests that the accounting professional understand these aspects of client operations and assist in the development of necessary controls and processes involving data collection or validation. It may include the implementation of KPI and benchmarking solutions to help identify problems and map improvements, or it may involve the installation of a solution to improve the importing of orders and other transactions into the system, improving the efficiency in processing the information while at the same time reducing the potential for manual data input errors.
Regardless of the depth of direct involvement in client systems, professionals can more fully benefit from every client engagement by providing some level of training, consulting or supporting service in addition to compliance and reporting work. Services may be aligned toward helping clients set up or support their own in-house bookkeeping and controllership responsibilities, or they may be more suited to providing real-time guidance and review of client business performance data. Either way, the quality of the financial information derived is generally far better and requires less work to adjust and report on.
The key is recognizing that the work involved – whether it is through training, regular process and data reviews, or more direct participation – is not intended to simply streamline reporting on outcomes. The work the trusted advisor performs is intended to help the client save money and improve business and financial performance, and the practice is rewarded with higher value billable services and a much increased opportunity to engage the clientele in other efforts.