Wanna keep your clients? Give ’em something new.


We've heard it time and again, haven't we, CPA firms?

ChangeComplexity. The "new normal." What got you here won't get you there. Yada, yada, yada.

Most of us have pretty much the same reaction, don't we? "Sure, things are changing ... but not right now. We can keep doing the same old stuff and let tomorrow's leaders worry about change and complexity."

Right? We give terrific lip service to the concept of change management, but at the end of the day, how many of us are doing anything differently than we were yesterday?

Be honest. The answer is, "Not many." And that's a problem, says Rick Telberg.

Telberg, the brainchild behind CPA Trendlines, teamed up with Accounting Today's Bill Carlino at the 2011 CCH User Conference for a terrific session that focused on the current and future trends that CPAs are facing.

Telberg's message was powerful: The changes we keep hearing about? They're here, they're happening, and their impact is being felt now.

To wit: Some are suggesting that, thanks to competition, automation and outsourcing, our clients don't need a CPA firm's core services anymore. Traditional bookkeeping, accounting and tax-return services? Our clients can get that stuff anywhere, and usually for a lot less money than we charge.

So what do we offer that they value?

The answer is, "Not much." According to Telberg, 36 percent of our clients are dissatisfied with what they're getting from us and are already shopping for another firm.

"We're facing a long-term client shortage," Telberg said. "Clients today don't need traditional accounting services. They need something else."

Our challenge is to invent it. Telberg has some ideas about how we should do that.

  • Specialization: Thanks to complexity, knowledge requirements, legislation and regulation, specialists will lap generalists going forward.
  • Collaboration: According to Telberg, the successful firm of the future will be networked with other firms and disciplines. It's that notion that "we" are smarter than "me."
  • Evolution: In the future, says Telberg, accounting will be the home to a new breed of consultants and advisors who focus on performance management and decision support. CPAs will have to look beyond their core services and niche areas that meet their clients' unique and ever-changing needs.

In short, says Telberg, "While you're sitting here, there are people out there who are 
eating your lunch."

So how do you compete? Differentiate yourself. Add value. Embrace technology and maintain that high-touch personal relationship that your clients have come to expect.

"The fundamental new skill in accounting these days is change management," said Telberg. "All firms are facing a future of no boundaries, constant change ... and unlimited possibilities."

It's an interesting paradox, isn't it? The times are demanding a renewed focus on new skills and technologies, and our clients are demanding high-touch services that suit their unique needs.

Reconciling those seemingly disparate notions is our great challenge going forward.

How are you doing it?


Bill Sheridan