Over the last 50 years, CPAs have been riding a wave of success, high trust and flowing demand that is frankly quite impressive by any measurement. This high level of relevance and success has been the result of excellent service, extreme competence, unparalleled work ethic and the integrity of a profession that has put the public interest first.
You only see significant achievements over decades like this when demand is met with client service that delivers on those expectations. In many ways, for the last 25 years, many have found growth and success by being very responsive rather than proactively advising. Due to the continued upward spiral of regulations and complex tax and business rules, our client services have become primarily compliance and transactional advisory. Over time, we have become the historians of record who keep the score—and keep it right. Trusted advisors, maybe, but as a profession, trusted primarily in our narrowing world of compliance, transactions and historical reports. I find it hard to see critical mass or numerous examples where we are leading the way as strategic growth advisors.
Today, do we find ourselves with a client service model that has become too inwardly focused and dated? No doubt we began with a client service model that was outwardly focused on our clients and their needs. But over time, has this evolved to be more about us, our expertise, our processes and even our “right” to be the auditor or quality control? Tough questions that might help us see some legacy drift from client focus to firm or professional.
For me, this one client experience says it all and really answers these questions for us.
A mid-market company with a lower six-figure audit was out for proposal. Five firms were selected for orals. One hour each with the audit committee and management team. Included in this lucky group would be three national firms, one regional firm and one local firm.
At the conclusion of the process where the committee selected the lowest fee again, an audit committee member shared some incredible insights for us. He relayed that the process was very boring and each firm talked about themselves. The presentations discussed methodology, processes, quality and team members. At the end of the day, he said any firm could have changed the name on any presentation and given it for their own. There simply was zero distinction in the firms unless you looked at size. In the end, although they wanted to select the best firm for their company, the only credible difference we had to go on was price.
How are we becoming a commodity? This is how. Inward-focused and not addressing the real pressing needs of our clients. We have simply stopped being distinctive as client needs have grown beyond compliance and transactional. Isn’t part of our journey forward to become more outwardly focused on clients and their new challenges? Take a look at your last presentation to a client or prospect. What was the focus really on?