How accountants and bookkeepers can stay relevant in a changing world

Life for accountants and bookkeepers is changing: Your clients want to be continuously plugged in to their businesses so they can make better, more proactive decisions. That affects you because, with that new deluge of information, your clients want you to help them make sense of all that data. In short, your clients expect a more consultative level of service from their accountant. Are you prepared to help your clients navigate the ins and outs of running their businesses? Put another way, are you embracing the advisory services that your clients expect from you?

It’s no secret that new technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud-based technology, and blockchain, among others, are disrupting traditional accounting services. The accountant’s and bookkeeper’s core products—including collating and analyzing information—are under assault. Businesses want advice on what to do next, and they’ll seek out accountants and bookkeepers who can offer actionable, proactive services that add value to their businesses.

We’re talking about offering your clients advisory services, which is a term you’ve probably heard and read about quite a bit lately. Yet, despite its ubiquity, it’s rare to find a concise definition of advisory services or a list of the kinds of services it entails. Whether you’re an advisory services neophyte or you’re already well immersed in this new paradigm, what follows is a practical definition of advisory services.

The definition: Advisory services are consulting solutions in which an accounting professional or business consultant develops findings, conclusions, and recommendations that he or she presents to clients for consideration and decision making.

What do advisory services mean to your clients? It means they’ll be getting services that include:

–Interpreting financial performance
–Monitoring performance as it happens
–Fixing financial problems before they even start
–Formulating proactive business plans
–Providing accountability to goal achievement

It’s a good idea for accountants and bookkeepers to think of the services listed above (and others like them) as the new “core” services you offer. Doing so will make your practice more competitive and relevant to your clients; moreover, your clients will get peace of mind that someone is looking out for their business so they can focus their efforts on their customers and doing what it is they do best—running their business.

You might be thinking, however, that just because accountants and bookkeepers are talking a lot about advisory services these days, how do we know that’s what clients actually want? Well, let’s consider why small-to-medium businesses switch accountants and bookkeepers. According to research like that done by The Sleeter Group, the top reason businesses leave their accountants is that their “former CPA didn’t give proactive advice, only reactive service.”

The same Sleeter Group study shows that, when asked a question that calls for an affirmative answer—“What types of services would you like to receive from your CPA?”— small-to-medium businesses clearly desire what we think of as advisory services: the top four services sought are business planning; business strategy; creating dashboards to monitor client business; and business analytics.

Clearly, the services small-to-medium businesses want today don’t fit the traditional mold of core services that accountants and bookkeepers have provided in years past. Although the findings outlined above may be surprising, or even concerning, it’s important to remember that with change comes opportunity. It’s up to you whether you’ll be on the growth side of change as these trends intensify.