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Are We Getting Better or Just Bigger?

By Joey Havens

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Ever notice the trend when we are faced with stagnation, less relevance, stiffer competition or slow growth—we’re quick to default to a “more is better” approach. An approach based on beliefs that bigger means being relevant and brings certainty for future growth. If we were bigger, more companies would choose us so we would have more growth. If we do more of any of our services, our relevance will grow also. These beliefs or approaches might be a very slippery slope that could land us at the bottom of a swamp infested with other non-distinctive commodities. 

Compliance work is becoming more of a commodity for several reasons but perhaps three primary reasons. 

  1. Stiffer competition and elevated growth expectations are causing firms to reduce fees. Why? Isn’t that the easy answer?
  2. Automation, artificial intelligence and delivery of data analytics are introducing new competitors outside our profession which has increased pressure on fees.
  3. We have based the value of our compliance services on the time required rather than focusing on how we impact and bring value to the business.

Is merging or reducing fees to acquire more market share really better? Maybe. If we look at the current landscape of our profession, these beliefs and approaches seem to be the present front-runners. I’m sure every firm and our leadership all have different views of the market and our future relevance as a profession.    

But the slope gets steeper when we stop and consider the technology companies (Google, IBM, H&R Block & many others) that see our compliance services as very attractive markets. Outside competition also seems focused on our market with more high-value services. 

Have you participated with a group of partners and managers in a discussion on messaging how your firm or service is distinctive? It can be funny, but also scary, when you look at the steep slippery slope in front of us. Let’s admit we struggle with the ability to message our distinct value. So how do we protect the CPA brand and avoid this slippery slope? How do we add value to our compliance services and differentiate our firms?    

Instead of focusing on having more or being bigger, what if we focus first and foremost on being better or being more? Being better, being distinctive is hard, but isn’t this what made our profession and firms relevant in the first place? Today, we might just need to do it differently or with different services. Our challenge might be moving from technical advisors to true business advisors. Clients are searching for more insights. And they are looking beyond our firms for solutions, advisors and frankly, inspiration. How inspiring are our teams when interacting with our clients?  How often do we have the discussion around what’s possible?  Being inspiring is better.  

Challenging clients with future facts is very valuable and relevant. Helping clients anticipate the next opportunities and challenges of their present business model is in high demand. Being anticipatory is better.   

We are great at cooperating with our clients and each other, yet our clients are hungry for collaboration. Advisors, while being respectful of other opinions and views, should also challenge clients to find a true north. Collaborating is better.   

It appears for our profession to be better and have more, we have some hard work ahead of us. And that’s the best news of all, the only thing that stands between us and a future of growth, continued success, relevance and “more” is something that we are known for. In fact, we are great at it. We simply need to apply a little hard work with a new anticipatory mindset. Lets start by asking ourselves these questions before we default to the more is better approach.  

  • Does this really make us better? Or is it more of the same things and ways we are serving now?
  • Does this really make us distinctive? Or just make us better at sounding and being the same?
  • Does this enhance our ability to provide more insights and to inspire our clients? If we are not inspiring our existing clients, access to more similar clients certainly will not help us be inspiring.
  • Does this enhance our ability to be anticipatory? Does it provide us with the skills and mindsets to understand and communicate around future facts?
  • Does this improve our skills for collaboration?

Are we getting better, or just bigger? Better is never easy but it always provides more.