This episode of the Sage Advice podcast features Gary Boomer. Gary is a leading authority on technology and strategic planning in the accounting profession. As the Visionary and Strategist at Boomer Consulting, Inc., he created The Boomer Technology Circles and the CIO Circle, two peer groups that help some of the accounting profession’s top firms bridge the gap between technology and practice management and prepare technology professionals for a seat at the management table.
Below is an edited transcript of our interview.
What have you learned about the accounting profession since COVID-19? What’s new and what hasn’t surprised you?
Gary Boomer:There have been some surprises. There’s also been some substantiation of thoughts I had prior to this pandemic. The big one is kind of a surprise is how quickly the profession went from physical to virtual.
We were right in the middle of tax season. We have had tax partners tell us they just have to have their people [in the office] to operate. But yet, within 48 hours, we proved that that was personal preference, not reality.
The other big thing is the importance of the cloud. We’ve been talking about the cloud at Boomer Consulting for over 10 years. At first, people looked at us like you guys are way out there. They would try to justify their own existence by saying it’s not safe or that it wouldn’t work for their firm.
Well, now we see how important the cloud is and the big challenge that most firms have virtual is that their processes aren’t set up for virtual. And therefore, they have too many manual processes.
Now people are thinking that the new normal is going to be something different than we had before. We’re going to have some people that work virtually some people that work in a physical environment. It’s really going to be hybrid.
What do you think will return to “business as usual” after this?
Gary Boomer: Our marketing message and compelling value proposition to clients will be driven by consulting and advisory services, rather than transactional and compliance services.
It’s much easier to sell transactional compliance, with a message about advisory and consulting, than it is vice versa. We were brought up in a profession where we were order takers, and we thought we were better at sales and customer experience than we really are.
When you assemble a team around unique abilities in marketing, sales, data analytics, project or engagement management, the whole client experience just explodes and gets much better. Then, clients don’t have to think about how many hours someone [charges], they think about the experience, the value, and how you’ve really built this team to take care of their needs.
What are you seeing in terms of specialization, really focusing on fields like medical practice insurance, dentist, etc?
Gary Boomer: Well, during the middle of the busiest time of the year, the CARES Act was passed, and who do the clients go to? They go to their CPA. They don’t go to their banker. They go to their CPA and that’s their front-line financial advisor.
That should tell us something.
The metrics and surveys have told us for years that the most trusted advisor is a CPA, but that CPA is only providing a limited amount of service. Most firms either have too many clients or not enough clients. And they are not doing enough for their best clients.
They are too focused on saving the world. All because somebody comes in and is willing to pay $300 or $500 for a 1040. They take that client. They say it’s not that difficult of work.
But what if they took those hours and gave it to the top 20% of their clientele? Wouldn’t they provide more value? Wouldn’t they be more under control? They would not have to work overtime and it would be much more attractive to the clients, as well as to the new people coming into the profession.
What do you think about professionals wanting to be both McDonald’s and Ruth’s Chris at the same time?
Gary Boomer: Yes, your example is a great one because the kitchens are different, the real estate, presence is different, and so are the menus. You must know what your menu is and just because clients need something, doesn’t mean that you should be the one to provide it.
But if you can package it into a bundle of goods and services, then it can be profitable. Otherwise, you get taken to all these tasks that clients have commoditized are being automated, and then they don’t want to pay you the fees, or the value that you deserve.
Should firms consider creating a separate brand for customers who want to pay less and require less service?
Gary Boomer: I would ask: Should all firms offer all or some of the traditional services? It costs a lot to keep people trained for yellow book and the traditional audit and accounting services. Now, I think [that business mode] is great that it fits in some firms, but it doesn’t fit in all.
We can’t just have a model that goes across every CPA firm in the country. It’s going to be different.
But the small businesses out there are the ones where the jobs are being created. They’re also the ones that need advisory and consulting services. That just plays into how you build the team, and most firms today have added technical skills. I’m telling you add the technical skills, but put them in project management, sales and marketing. Now, data analytics, don’t put them in bookkeeping and accounting.
Build your team. And that will give you more opportunities not only in the general market, but I think in the niches. I think the niche markets are exciting today because there’s so much data.
Can you talk about predictive and descriptive analytics being a key differentiator?
There is a saying: auditors tell you what happened, analysts tell you why it happened, predictive analyst tell you what will happen, and prescriptive analysts, who are at the top of the value chain, tell you how to make it happen.
My nephew works for the company Wonderful. They have the pistachio nuts that you see in stores.
They have the data analytics to know how many marketing dollars will drive another million dollars’ worth of sales.
Now, he went through a finance major in college, then worked for a small company, and then went to this privately held company. But those are the skills we need in the accounting profession. We need to know where we need to change our message and who we need to go after, because too many firms out there are going shopping. But shopping for groceries is different than shopping for a diamond ring.
So, these firms really must focus. Sometimes you have partners in an accounting firm sharing overhead, they don’t have a shared vision. That’s why today a shared vision, coming together, and pivoting during and after COVID can be valuable to the firms.
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