An effective Client Advisory Services team has these 4 roles

An effective Client Advisory Services team has these 4 roles

The “people” part of the people, processes, and technology approach to building a client advisory services offering isn’t just about finding the right clients. Your greatest asset for delivering effective advisory services is a well-trained, cohesive team that includes four distinct roles.

For simplicity’s sake, we will use the generic titles of administrative staff, technician, manager, and advisor. Feel free to come up with your own job titles, assign new titles, or associate existing positions in your firm to each advisory role.

The main objective here is to help you understand the responsibilities of each role in an effective advisory services team. Depending on the size of your firm, you may need to assign more than one role to the same person. As your advisory services grow, you can always add more than one person to each role.

Role 1: The administrative staff—directors of first impressions

Administrative staff is critical to the overall success of any accounting firm. They are often the unsung heroes, chasing down clients for information, managing and blocking schedules during critical seasons, and ensuring your team has what it needs to perform optimally.

They are usually the “Director of First Impressions,” answering phones and greeting clients in a professional manner at the office. This role can also expand into certain bookkeeping processes, coordinating client meetings and even preparing presentations. This support role plays an integral part in the success of your client advisory services offering.

A person and person sitting next to each other.

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Role 2: The technicians—Workflows, data, and reporting

There are several types of technicians:

●     One type of technician will draw on skills not often associated with traditional outsourced accounting. They become proficient at integrating apps for optimal workflows, and creating process workflows to locate bottlenecks and automation opportunities. They may also perform data queries and analysis. Defining key areas of their responsibility is critical to helping the technician deliver accurate and timely information to your team. They will most likely need training in order to acquire the specific skills and knowledge required to perform this important role.

●     Another type of technician focuses on tasks leading up to an advisory service client meeting. This may be a bookkeeper or accountant on your team who ensures the client’s books are correct. They will be responsible for providing key services such as payroll, client onboarding, paying bills, and managing cash flow for a client.

●     There can also be roles for the technician in compiling operational and financial reports for presentations. This includes designing templates and consolidating data across various entities.


Role 3: The manager—technical knowledge + people management

Your manager oversees the work, enabling the whole team to do their work efficiently and effectively. This role calls for a unique blend of technical knowledge and people management skills. A manager needs analytical prowess as they develop, update, and interpret the data for capacity planning.

Operational and communication skills are a must, and they will discuss issues with clients and team members. Depending on the firm, the manager may have clients of their own, but ideally, they are primarily focused on the advisory team as a whole. They keep an eye on streamlining operations and preparing for growth opportunities as they arise.

Role 4: The advisor—primary client relationship steward

The advisor is the person who actually delivers the service to the client. They stand on the shoulders of everyone else behind the scenes, receiving all the clean accounting data, reports, charts, and graphs that have been compiled and analyzed by the entire team. The advisor must have intimate knowledge of every advisory presentation and be able to discuss the information with the client in a way that is effective, relatable, actionable, and valuable.

Communication and relational skills are paramount in this role. Advisors need to know how to persuade the mind of a “Type A” personality who is about to make a questionable or significant decision. They should also be comfortable helping a reluctant owner choose between two options without a clear winner.

The advisor is part salesperson, part consultant, and part tight-rope walker:

●     On the sales side, they demonstrate the value of the advisory services each time they speak to the client and discuss additional services the firm may be able to offer.

●     When they put on their consulting hat, they explain the facts in the simplest way possible, even when the data is not easy to understand.

●     The tight-rope walker navigates tricky topics without providing legal advice or making final decisions for the client. They need to simplify the information enough to make it understandable, but not so much as to insult the client’s intelligence.

Professional improvement journey quote

Evaluating your team

As you read these descriptions, think about which of your current team members fit well into each role. You may already have the right players in the right roles.

If you are looking to add team members, move existing employees into different roles, or even if you’re unsure, there are several tools to assist in evaluating your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Communication styles are front and center in a tool called DiSC, for example, which helps individuals and teams understand their personalities and behavior.

Another option is a new assessment tool called The Six Types of Working Genius, developed by Patrick Lencioni and his team at The Table Group. This tool helps individuals discover their gifts and talents.

When viewed together, you’ll be able to identify strengths and weaknesses in your existing team and find characteristics to look for in new team members.

There are many assessment tools available. However you choose to approach this, just make sure you don’t skip it, even if you’ve known everyone on your team for years. You’ll miss something important about their skills and communication styles if you don’t take the time to assess and share.

Whatever titles and positions you decide to create, investing in your team’s technical and soft skills is critically important to supply your clients with advisory services that make a measurable difference to their bottom line.

New skills are a constant necessity as technology and workforce changes occur. Education and training programs are finding a prominent place in today’s successful accounting firms. 

Even beyond technical training, mentorships and other initiatives that invest in the people who deliver advisory services are becoming the norm across the industry. Stepping into advisory not only offers a path for your firm’s growth, but it’s also a great way to challenge your team members to continue on their own professional improvement journeys.

Culture, hiring, and the talent shortage

The profession is changing; a talent shortage in accounting is no secret. So what can you do to make sure you’re in the right position to attract and retain the talent you need to build your CAS practice?

First, think about your firm’s culture as a whole. What makes your firm the sort of place talented people want to join—and stay? You might also think about your firm’s foundational structure. Does it make sense to consider a C-suite model rather than a partnership model? For professionals at larger firms, influence what you can. Take a look at your CAS practice culture and make sure your practice within a firm is a place candidates would want to work. 

Then start thinking about who might fill the four critical roles for an advisory practice. Can you fill them internally first? Do you need to reskill some of your team members? If you really do need to hire, this is the perfect time to start thinking about hiring younger talent with interns and new grads. The market is competitive, so thinking about how to attract and retain younger talent will give you an advantage.

Can automation buy you some time before you need to increase your headcount? As advisory is about delivering personalized, relationship-based services, technology won’t solve every problem, but it can help free you up to focus on the most important pieces.

What about non-traditional hires? Does every person on your team need the same credentialing and qualifications? Maybe not.

There are many ways to address your changing staffing needs as you build your advisory practice. Make sure to step back so you can be strategic about how to meet your firm’s people-related needs.

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