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Beyond tax: Extending your success

Financial planningAs we near the end of October, tax practitioners across the profession collectively breathe a sigh of relief. Another tax season is in the books, and CPAs find themselves ready for a vacation or a change to their tax-centric practices.

We’ve been there, craving balance as another tax deadline passes. In our search for an alternative, we discovered a complement to our tax skills that has reenergized our careers and opened new opportunities for our clients and practice.

If you find yourself in need of more than just a vacation after October 15, here are a few things we’ve learned as we’ve recently transitioned our careers from tax compliance to advising clients on all aspects of their financial lives, including estate planning, retirement planning and beyond.

The benefits to your practice and clients are vast.

If you’ve been in practice for a while, you probably have a roster that includes many long-time clients. Over the years, clients may have approached you for your thoughts on their plans for retirement or the best way to plan their child’s education. If you’ve had these kinds of conversations, you’ve been doing personal financial planning (PFP) without even realizing it. By formalizing your PFP services, clients will benefit from your holistic understanding of their full financial picture, and you’ll improve both your practice and lifestyle by:

  • Diversifying your practice to reduce dependence on tax season
  • Improving work/life balance by spreading out your workload
  • Providing holistic advice in the best interest of the client
  • Finding fulfillment in helping clients set and reach financial goals
  • Improving staff retention, development and utilization

Personal financial planning is a natural extension of tax.

Adding PFP services isn’t as daunting as you may imagine. Our clients’ financial needs are diverse, and the knowledge base and trustworthiness of the CPA profession has put us in a strong position to advise them on questions that go beyond taxes.

In fact, as you prepare and review your clients’ tax returns, you have a unique window into their financial situation, which can provide opportunities to identify and discuss planning opportunities. The AICPA PFP Section has even developed a free checklist to help analyze a tax return for planning ideas. Further, clients undoubtedly look to you as a trusted adviser and already come to you with questions that go beyond taxes.

There are multiple models and it’s possible to start small.

Many CPAs hear the term “financial planning” and immediately tune out, equating PFP with product sales or investment-centric advice, and assume it will turn life into a compliance nightmare. The reality is that financial planning is much broader than investments, and you can tap into your knowledge base to serve your clients without having to overhaul your practice.

A logical place to start is engaging in conversations with clients about the questions that keep them up at night, such as saving for retirement or funding a child’s education. These natural conversations can lead to planning engagements as straightforward as assisting clients with retirement projections or cash flow management.

If you charge your tax clients on an hourly basis, you can continue to use the same billing structure without disrupting your current business model. As you progress and broaden the advice you provide, there are many different compensation models, including retainer arrangements, assets under management or some combination thereof. For an overview of the steps to develop and manage your CPA personal financial planning practice, use a free roadmap from the PFP Section.

Support, collaboration and guidance are available.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without learning from and sharing knowledge with other CPA financial planners. An online search for a local CPA/PFS using this directory and a chat over coffee is often all that is required to make a connection.

We’ve also found valuable technical and practice management tools through membership in the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Section. The PFP Section, at the guidance of leading CPA financial planners, has developed a wealth of resources for CPAs ready to transition from tax preparer to financial planner, as well as an educational pathway and credential to deepen and demonstrate your knowledge in the PFP disciplines.

Personal financial planning is a rewarding career, and we’ve personally tasted and seen the rewards for our futures and the future of our clients.

Ryan Genor, CPA/PFS, and Sarah Lane, CPA, provide integrated tax and financial planning at CLS Financial Advisors, Inc., a registered investment advisory firm in Portland, Oregon. After many years of providing tax services as a partner in its affiliated CPA firm, Ryan joined CLS in 2012 to assist with retirement and income tax planning in addition to client management. Sarah worked in public accounting and higher education before joining CLS in 2016, where she combines her love for financial education with her background in tax.

Financial planning courtesy of Shutterstock.

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