Client accounting and advisory services are the clear pathway to exponential growth for today’s firms. As more firms expand their CAS practice, it’s evident cloud technology must play a starring role in the operation along with people and processes. Having the right people, processes and technology in place will provide firms with the ability to scale services.
We’ve figured this much out, yet we still face daily battles from internal and external forces: Partners don’t want to change; front-line staff don’t fully understand the processes and technology, and clients are convinced their data will be compromised if it’s in the cloud. In this article, we’ll explore these challenges, how to overcome them and the importance of having the broader team onboard.
Build a ‘firm’ foundation for CAS
Whether you’re starting a CAS practice, maintaining one or looking for growth opportunities, building a foundation with a sound strategy is essential. Firms want to make a big splash at launch by offering a full suite of services, from transaction services up to CFO-level services, but that is a challenging approach. You want to do an assessment internally first and figure out what services make the most sense for your firm. What skill sets do you already have or could develop relatively quickly? What type of client will you target? Are there specific industries where you already have expertise that could be an opportunity to test or grow your services? Consider dipping your toe in first at the transactional level and getting good at those core services and technologies before adding advisory services.
So now that you know what your CAS offering is going to look like and the skills you’ll need on the team, what’s next? Find the right technology stack. Many cloud-based options exist, and it can become overwhelming and hard to manage if you adopt too many at once. Take time to do your research upfront so you are prepared to ask the right questions as you are evaluating different software. Identify key point solutions or apps that integrate well with your general ledger software. Make sure the point solution applications you choose are officially certified with the general ledger software you are using, which will make it easier to integrate, train and launch for your clients. Don’t select too many point solutions, but select the ones that cater well to the type of clients you are already supporting or planning to target. Here are some of the key client solution areas you should consider covering in your tech stack:
- General ledger;
- Payroll and HR solutions;
- Electronic bill pay;
- Expense management; and,
- Sales tax compliance.
Finally, it’s time to develop standard, repeatable operating procedures and onboard staff. The first two to three weeks for any new employee should be spent doing orientation specifically for your firm, completing software certifications and formal training on the technology the staff will use to support future clients. Take the time to set up new employees for success, as well as experienced employees, by scheduling ongoing training and update meetings and making sure everyone has a mentor or trainer available to support them.
Launching starts with rallying internal support
You’ve built your foundation and strategy, so now it’s time to share it. When you launch a new service line or expanded services, it’s easy to focus on taking it to market, but it’s essential to launch and market internally first. Start by developing an interactive CAS overview presentation and give it to every team that will allow you to attend their meetings, hold lunch-and-learn sessions and meet-and-greets, and educate as many people as you can about the new or updated CAS offering. Show them what your tech stack can do and share success stories. Building the brand internally first will help you educate the firm and arm employees with the information they need to understand the service, the value proposition and how best to cross-sell CAS services to their clients.
Some people are averse to change and getting full internal support may be challenging, but once the doubters see the value CAS services can bring to their clients, they’ll get onboard.
Following the internal launch, or in tandem with it, launch externally. Any new service launch should be celebrated and supported with excitement. Build an integrated marketing campaign showing the value CAS can bring, so businesses understand your offering, the benefits and why they should choose you.
Your foundation is built, your tech stack is chosen, your team is trained and you have internal support — now what about clients? Educating and communicating with clients is essential in any practice, but there will likely be daily needs with CAS clients, so be prepared. Cloud technology can be hard to understand and, for those who are new to it, learning curves abound. Understanding the functionality and security is key to getting clients onboard. It’s easier to say no to something when you don’t understand it, so spend adequate time educating your clients on the technology you’ll be using on their account. Prepare handouts, including FAQ documents, and be available for ongoing questions.
In addition to technology, focusing attention on educating clients about your suite of services is essential to building and growing your CAS practice. Help them understand your services, your value and pricing. Pricing is another area that requires education. You want to simplify the pricing process and price for value, not as a commodity.
It is important to take the time to understand the scope of the engagement and learn the client’s pain points and needs. Do the work upfront and ask as many questions as possible to understand the client’s situation. Review their monthly processes, general ledger, monthly reports, technology and staff. Closely review the items and figure out where they are now and how much cleanup will be required. Are they behind one month or nine months? Knowing this will give you a much more accurate picture of the engagement and how you should price it. Plus, it’s much easier to explain your pricing if the client feels like you understand their needs and goals.
Launching a new service line or expanding an existing one is not an easy task, and you should anticipate roadblocks. But, building a solid foundation for your CAS practice, including rallying support and educating clients, will allow you to overcome obstacles, provide a sticky service to clients and add to your bottom line.
Kane Polakoff is the founder and national practice leader of UHY Advisors’ Client Accounting and Advisory Services division. Kim Austin is director of global strategic accounting partnerships at Avalara. Together, they’re partnering on the ITA (Information Technology Alliance) CAS Content Planning Committee.