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Mind the Gap: A Wake-Up Call for Professional Services Firms

By Joey Havens

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We see it every day—automation, implemented well, reduces the amount of compliance work we perform.

We experience it every day—fierce competition from outside our profession pursuing our clients. 

We feel it every day—the market for professional services is demanding and opening the door for “higher value services.”

Many practitioners have served their clients well as technical advisors in the past, leading the way for the accounting profession to become the second most trusted profession only behind physicians. But, are we functioning as true business advisors? Given what we see, experience and feel every day, what does it take to meet the new market demands for advisory services? How do we know when a client sees us as their business advisor? This blog series is about elevating the role of advisors and how to best support and lead our clients’ businesses.

Unfortunately, these facts and experiences haven’t yet been enough to motivate us to action. We need a wake-up call. Let me tell you about mine:

An audit committee member recently shared his experience in helping select an audit firm and his impression on our profession based on that process.  His company, a large middle market company, put out an audit RFP with a history of being a mid-six figure audit. There were five finalists brought to orals. Of that, three were national firms, one was a regional firm and one was a local firm. After a day of orals with all five firms, this audit committee member commented that all the firms could have swapped slide decks. He said everyone talked about themselves and their methodology. Everyone focused on quality, processes, service and price. No one talked about us or our future, risks or profitability. There was no real distinction among the firms. So, all the audit committee had to go on for their decision was price.

What I took from his insights is that we have all become way too inwardly focused as a profession. I believe we started with an outward focus, and our intent is outward focus, but our actions and actual focus tend to be inward. In real life, we focus on what we need from the client, talking about how “high quality” we are, or on our processes with very little time spent on how we can help the client.

Unprecedented disruption and speed of change are transforming, not simply changing, the way we do business. Most of us know in our heads the future of our profession is advisory services, yet most of us find our firms, partners and team members are crippled by what I call “the gap.” The gap is what we do compared to what we know we should do. 

Why aren’t our firms moving faster? Why aren’t our partners and managers leaping over to provide more high-value advisory services? Why are our partners and managers not having collaborative conversations with our clients that lead to advisory work?

Frankly running a spreadsheet and filling out a tax return does not equip us with the skills to guide and advise businesses during a period of complete transformation. Legacy success and legacy experiences weigh heavily on our ability to recognize the coming obsolescence of what we do. As a profession, we are in our comfort zone and it is anything but safe today. What will be your wake up call?

Next week, I’ll talk about the building blocks to move our organizations toward advisory services. Until then, let’s think about what’s in our gap and how do we leap over to a future of growth and abundance