Building client advisory services? The future of CAS is people-first

Building client advisory services? The future of CAS is people-first

Hey. I’m Jaclyn, and I lead ProAdvisor Training and Certification at QuickBooks. It’s an honor to build the education that empowers our community to deliver bookkeeping, accounting, and advisory services to clients.

Having been of service to accountants for more than 7 years, I’ve experienced the evolution of Client Advisory Services (CAS) firsthand, and witnessed how successful firms differentiated themselves from their peers by taking a people-first approach.

The future of CAS is people-first is a five-part series that lays out the benefits of investing in your people, and empowering them to excel through a mix of professional development, mentoring, and community. My hope is that it inspires you to put your team at the heart of your strategy, and through doing so, enables you to deliver the meaningful services clients so desperately need.

What is CAS and why does it matter?

Let’s start with a definition. 

CAS is the advice accountants provide for their clients on a regular basis. It’s not revolutionary—accountants have always been a source of truth and expertise for their clients. But charging for that expertise, insight, and time is, for many firms, new territory. And figuring out how to grow their CAS offerings, while also taking into account today’s tight labor market, is a challenge. 

Yet, there’s no question about it: Firms that deliver CAS are better positioned to meet client demand. According to the CPA Practice Advisor, CAS is “one of the fastest-growing revenue-generating segments for accounting firms.” But it can feel hard to know how to get started. In many ways, the answer boils down to a strategic mix of three basic ingredients: technology, company culture, and employee development.

Businessman reviewing client advisory services on his laptop.

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The first step of building CAS is to put your people first

While it’s true that AI and technology, in general, have come a long way in being able to deliver increased insights to clients, it is people who give those insights meaning, people who are needed to set these tech tools in motion, and people who can build your firm’s CAS strategies and processes for years to come. To build a sustainable CAS practice, I believe that it’s imperative to take a people-first approach.

Employee recruiting and retention is a huge concern for large- and mid-sized accounting firms; in fact, according to a December 2023 survey by Accounting Today, it’s their number 1 concern. In conversations with accountants and firm owners at events in 2023, I repeatedly heard echoes of this sentiment. Some accountants shared that their firms were having to turn away business, simply because they didn’t have the headcount to take it on.

One of my colleagues described the difficulty: “Accounting is a service. You are selling your expertise, skills, and credentials, as well as the hours accountants can give. If you don't have the people, you can't sell those hours of service.”

The crux of the matter, then, is this: To meet client demand, accounting firms should make CAS a top priority. But to do that, they have to start with a people-first approach. Hiring, retention, and continuing education are key ways to build a solid, scaleable, and sustainable CAS strategy.

The good news is that once those goals are accomplished, you’ll probably have less difficulty with recruitment and retention. From what I’ve observed, taking a people-first approach becomes a self-sustaining circle: Great people providing great CAS services attracts great clients. This, in turn, makes great people stay and continue to provide top-level CAS to those great clients.

Building client advisory services? The future of CAS is people-first

Create a culture of continuous learning

Done right, CAS combines top-tier knowledge with highly effective people skills. That means working to ensure your team has the right tools and training in the services you provide and how those services are offered. You may find this easier to encourage when the overall ethos at your firm is grounded in professional development, mentorship, and a culture of continuous learning.

Notably, continuing education isn’t just top-of-mind for entry-level employees. Experienced practitioners also have an incentive to keep learning and growing their skill sets. After all, not only has it been proven to increase employee engagement and job satisfaction (71% of those surveyed by Gallup said that upskilling enhanced their satisfaction with work), but it’s also a conduit for mobility. Fifty-nine percent of surveyed individuals said they wanted to advance in their current career with the help of continuing education. That means better-trained people working within your firm to provide even better service.

The result of this has a variety of financial implications: Better-trained employees typically earn more (the Gallup survey estimated wage increases as a result of upskilling to be about 8.6%). But firms with better trained employees can also charge more, particularly when clients can see for themselves the difference in expertise. Thus, a better trained team means a more profitable firm overall.

3 ways to invest in your people—and achieve those important CAS goals

This article is the first in a series that will explore how you can build a CAS strategy by taking a people-first approach. The following articles will explore these topics:

I’m excited to share these strategies with you, as well as some resources that may be unfamiliar. We’ve also reached out to a few accounting firms that are ahead of the game in building people-first CAS offerings, and they’ve agreed to share their tips and experiences. 

In 2024, accounting firms will either sink or swim

It’s not easy to stay relevant in such a fast-changing landscape, but if there’s one thing I know about strategy in 2024, it’s that CAS will play an enormous role in practice success. In the past, technology has filled in some of the gaps, providing practitioners with information to support advisory-related conversations. But firms can’t build a fully profitable CAS offering on tech and AI alone. 

By taking a people-first approach, you could boost your firm’s profits and build a foundation for long-term stability and growth. And you can do all of this while surrounding yourself with great people.

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