Every business owner requires the services of outside accountants from time to time. On the surface, many CPAs seem similar. They list the same services, have the same accreditations and work in the same industries. But do they all deliver the same value? Is one CPA as good as the next? How can a business owner tell if he or she is truly getting the greatest value from a service provider?
Jerry Krause, audit partner at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, says delivering value to a business owner requires more than just technical expertise. “Serving a business owner is about much more than providing specific services or understanding accounting principles and tax codes,” says Krause. “Delivering value requires taking the time to understand the full picture of the owner’s business, personal and financial situation.” He says strong relationships are the foundation for value-added delivery.
Smart Business spoke with Krause about the best approach to building valuable relationships, where accountants could fall short, and what business owners should expect from a trusted adviser.
What should business owners expect from their accountant?
First and foremost, business owners should expect their accountant to be looking out for them. That means proactively identifying opportunities and avoiding problems. If an accountant is only providing the services a business owner is asking for, they aren’t doing him or her any favors. A trusted adviser is not an order taker. They listen to what their clients are saying and will be creative and proactive in finding solutions.
For the owner of a closely held business, an accountant needs to know more than just the business issues. Business decisions affect personal and family finances, so sound advice can’t be given without knowing the ramifications of what’s being advised. To properly advise business owners, accountants need to understand all of the factors involved.
What does it mean to be a trusted adviser?
A trusted adviser will talk about more than just numbers and compliance. Conversations should be wide-ranging and include company operations, tax planning for the business and the owner, exit strategies, and estate planning.
Further, a good adviser must be willing to disagree with his or her client. Many business owners lack peers within their organization. Sometimes there can be great value in challenging a business owner’s perspective. When a good accountant anticipates that a client is about to make a mistake, he or she would be doing the client a disservice by not interjecting a solution.
What is the key to getting value from a relationship with an accountant?
Open communication is the most important factor for ensuring a successful relationship between a business owner and their accountant. The more open the communication, the better the service an accountant can provide.
The test of a good relationship is if there is an understanding that a business owner can call their accountant anytime. Business owners need to feel comfortable knowing their accountant is available to discuss whatever issues they’re facing. In order for that to happen, clients have to know their accountant is not going to charge them every time a call is made.
How can a business owner assess their relationship with an adviser?
Finding the right adviser is about fit and commitment. While a business owner needs a firm that has the right expertise and resources, it’s just as important to find an adviser who places high value in the relationship. Having an accountant with a high level of expertise doesn’t mean much if he or she doesn’t understand his or her client. It takes more than industry and technical knowledge to create a valuable relationship. It takes commitment and the willingness to invest the time to build understanding and trust.
Jerry Krause is an audit partner at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (650) 358-9000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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