In the first installment in this series on how to develop a full-fledged CAS offering, Pete Potsos, CPA, of Bill.com, provided valuable tips on how to get started. Specifically, the article explained what’s involved in turning interest in CAS into action and incorporating automation for a successful CAS practice.
- This is part 2 in a 3 part series on CAS.
- Read Part One: How to Get Started with Client Accounting Services
- Read Part Three: How to Maximize Profits and Revenue for Your Firm by Scaling CAS
In this second of a three-part series, we discuss strategic CAS, its benefits, and how to position your firm to offer higher-value services.
Accounting firms are increasingly looking to expand beyond traditional, compliance-focused accounting services to grow their business and boost profitability. By providing client accounting services, firms can not only improve their bottom line, but they also create stronger ties with clients and further their position as trusted advisors.
Step one in developing a CAS practice was turning interest into automation. You identify entry points and adopt the right technologies to support your practice. Step two – strategic CAS – happens when you recognize you’re ready to increase the value you offer clients, and intentionally create a plan and commit dedicated resources towards building a robust CAS practice. Strategically developing your practice will better position your firm to align with “over 50% of firms in virtually all size categories” who are adopting CAS as “a core service area,” according to the 2018 AICPA PCPS & CPA.com National MAP Survey. To be truly strategic, internally, the CAS practice area needs to be set up as a strategic revenue unit with not just a growth plan but dedicated staff and internal KPIs — aligned to the firm’s larger strategy, but unique in this specific practice area. As noted in Setting the Stage for CAS Success, “Just as with any other part of your business, your business plan should drive CAS decisions. In fact, you should account for two layers of business planning: your top-level business strategy, along with your CAS-specific plan.”
At this stage, you are taking active steps towards becoming an integral part of your clients’ businesses. You should begin to apply learning from one client to another and invite questions about the direction of clients’ businesses. Actions like this position you to re-evaluate your pricing structure to align with your increased value offer. As you seek to enhance your offerings, keep in mind that the transition to higher-value services such as advisory happen when your team is more involved with what can happen for your clients as opposed to what has already happened to them.
The Benefits of Strategic CAS
Strategic CAS enhances your practice and profitability in a number of ways. First and foremost, by offering strategic guidance, you are able to build deeper relationships with your clients. The stronger the relationship, the less likely a client is to take business elsewhere or consider other accountants.
Strategic CAS also positions you to offer your clients more value by filling the role of a trusted advisor. When you show that you’re capable of offering strategic guidance, clients will turn to you when they need advice for business decisions. Better yet, you’ll be able to bring to their attention issues and potential opportunities that weren’t even on their radar but can add significant value to their business.
The more established you become as a trusted advisor for your clients, the easier it becomes to scale your own business from a profit perspective. When your clients reap the value of your firm and your services, they’re more willing to pay. When your rates increase, you’ll be less likely to see pushback from your clients, because they understand what your advice is worth.
Strategic CAS also enables you to create a longer-lasting business model for your firm going forward. The outsourcing of accounting functions continues to grow in popularity, and sooner rather than later it will be a norm, not just a luxury. Firms that are already offering strategic CAS – and doing it well – will be in a better position when it comes to long-term sustainability and will have an upper hand on competition that has yet to start offering CAS.
CAS also has the potential to transform your bottom line by introducing a reliable, recurring revenue. Once you’ve cemented your position as a trusted advisor for your clients, it’s easier to transition your rate structure to value-based pricing or a fixed monthly fee arrangement (shown to be an effective billing method by 70% of the top performers in the 2018 CAS Benchmark Survey). These types of rate structures translate to recurring revenue, which is the best possible cash flow model for your firm.
Also, you will be giving yourself the ability to bring in the same amount of profits with fewer clients, less staff, and less entry-level work.
Evolving to Strategic CAS
Once you’ve identified the potential benefits of strategic CAS and evaluated where you stand in relation to what your goals are for this practice, what is the next step in advancing it? The answer lies in improving your processes and establishing standards for both internal and external stakeholders.
If you’re at the second stage in the CAS process, you’ve already incorporated automation into your practice. You should continue to standardize all your processes, not just your accounting functions. This includes your employee guides, training resources, templates, technology, and more. It also includes standardizing your processes much like an assembly line. Firms should break down everything from onboarding to day-to-day activities and beyond into documented processes. That way, they aren’t recreating the wheel for every client. From an internal perspective, it enhances efficiency and saves time. You can do more with less, and there’s little to no confusion about how things should get done. Clients benefit with quicker onboarding and seeing immediate results.
Next, you need to establish a reliable, integrated tech stack (as mentioned in the first article of this series by Pete Potsos). This will be your standard tool for the delivery of services. Your tech stack should be made up of the systems that are integral to your practice, the ones you should be insisting your clients use.
While the individual components of your tech stack certainly matter, it’s also crucial that they integrate. Integration is the only way to truly get a comprehensive view of your firm’s performance and the full scope of your clients’ business. You might also want to consider building your tech stack for a focused niche, though this might require specialized solutions for types of businesses.
Simply automating isn’t enough. You need to be using your technology to look forward, not just backward. Offering strategic CAS means that you are embedded in your clients’ businesses, communicating and collaborating frequently, and, most importantly, that you have a solid strategy in place from the beginning – one that gives your firm the flexibility it needs to evolve to meet future needs, as outlined in Setting the Stage for CAS Success.
Once you’ve positioned yourself for strategic CAS, the final step is scaling. The next article in this series, authored by Adam Hale, CPA, of Summit CPA Group, will explore the best ways to scale your CAS offerings.
To learn more about CAS, download the Client Accounting Advisory Services eBook from CPA.com – “Accelerate into Advisory.”
Vishal Thakkar is Director of Marketing at CPA.com.