Anticipatory Firms Focus on Advisory

2020 brought an abundance of advisory opportunities and forward-thinking firms are anticipating a permanent mindset shift from compliance to advisory. Clients increasingly look for services beyond accounting, audit, tax and compliance, seeking advisors able to guide their financial future and evaluate many different types of transactions. This trend has challenged many accounting firm leaders to build capabilities in core professional skills and innovate. Some firms are ahead of the curve.

Randy Nail

Tulsa, Okla.-based IPA 100 firm HoganTaylor LLP (FY19 net revenue of $51.6 million), with four offices in Oklahoma and Arkansas, developed a program called Business Advisors ACT: Attributes (knowing the attributes of the best advisors), Conversations (professionals learning to have the right conversations with clients) and Teams (teams of people to serve clients holistically). Supplementing ACT at HoganTaylor was participation in PrimeGlobal’s “Developing an Advisory Mindset” fall program. “This advisory mindset demand is here to stay and developing the skills in our firm is essential to staying relevant to our clients,” states HoganTaylor CEO Randy Nail. “Our conversations are changing to include numerous departments in the firm after listening to clients and discovering we have the talent internally to assist them on many new and different levels.”

Similar programs operate in other firms. At Selina, Kan.-based IPA 100 firm K·Coe Isom LLP (FY20 net revenue of $69.1 million), with 21 offices across the U.S., new training courses have been developed. Learning opportunities: “Business Advisory Mentorship” and “Value Strategist Apprenticeship” teach desired advisory skills. “Through BAM (Business Advisory Mentorship), the firm is creating an intentional opportunity for professionals to expand exposure to leaders, clients and new experiences. The Value Strategist Apprenticeship offers an accelerated development opportunity, mentorship, and formal training. This positively impacts firm growth through powerful client relationships.” says CEO Jeff Wald.

Some firms are creating an environment and space to look at a client’s business differently, creating advisory labs and scheduling innovation time. Diverse thinking is critical, and anticipatory firms are developing ways to explore issues from new perspectives, creating deeper insight and offering better advice.

At Omaha, Neb.-based IPA 100 firm Lutz (FY20 net revenue of $53.4 million), with two offices in Nebraska, the SWAT team meets every month, with 8-10 people from different divisions working on a client together, reviewing the business from all sides. The professionals collaborate at these meetings, encouraging innovative thinking. Best ideas are summarized and collectively presented to the client. “These team Consultancy Labs use actual case studies, applying an advisory mindset” explains Lutz consulting shareholder Ron Nebbia, who leads the program. The firm organizes consulting consortiums, where young professionals conduct mock meetings, having partners coach the team on probing questions and how to think like a consultant. “Consulting consortiums help young professionals better understand the client’s business and supply chain.”

Similarly, C&D of Solvang, Cal., organizes ‘lunch and learn’ meetings with staff to provide additional coaching and learning in this area. MP Tammy Vogsland explains “It’s important for young professionals to have the opportunity to train directly with partners and managers to develop client relationship skills.  Our staff are enthusiastic about wanting to learn the ‘what and why’ of our clients’ interests beyond compliance needs.   We also have our interested staff participate in PrimeGlobal training and development programs, give them more responsibility managing clients and involve them in client meetings earlier in their careers to further their skills at becoming competent advisors.”

Louisville, Ky.-based IPA 100 firm MCM CPAs and Advisors (FY19 net revenue of $61 million), with five office across the Midwest, engages in similar team collaboration. Diverse firm professionals meet with the client in a comfortable environment, to listen, probe, challenge and innovate. These groups are comprised based on the client’s industry, challenges, and goals. They collaborate with the client while strategy and actionable solutions are developed.

Steve Kerrick

MCM partner and advisory services team leader Steve Kerrick says: “A trusted advisor isn’t someone you buy a widget from, it’s someone the client can open up to about the best, the worst, and most vulnerable aspects of running a business.”

Core service lines are now automated and delivered through the cloud. With this automation, intentional, fostered, interpersonal skills need to be developed at the start of the client relationship, creating trusted, irreplaceable client value and support. Firms with an advisory mindset can innovate, share emotional intelligence, communicate effectively, and deliver relevant business insights, imagining the business from the client’s perspective.

Consulting capabilities need to be integrated into the firm culture. It requires visionary leadership, being bold, and quickly adopting this blended approach. Developing the confidence to embrace the value of becoming true trusted advisors will award the firm a whole new reach of possibilities and growth.