In all of my dealings with employers on Affordable Care Act (ACA) matters since 2010, I’ve reached a few reasonably sound conclusions. Here’s one: employers are faking it! They are doing so when it comes to how IRS controlled group rules influence the ACA’s “Applicable Large Employer” (ALE) determination. It is this determination that serves as a foundational component of the ACA’s Employer Shared Responsibility (“pay or play”) mandate. To recap, employers of 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (100 or more for 2015) are expected to offer ACA compliant coverage (play) or pay assessable payments. The amounts of these payments are based on factors that include the number of full-time employees and how many of them qualify for Exchange-based premium subsidies.
Over the past three decades, a growing number of CPAs expanded their service offerings beyond tax compliance to help individuals and families address and plan for all aspects of their financial lives. These aspects might include paying for children’s education, transferring wealth, protecting assets, funding retirement and more.
As CPA financial planners help their clients realize their long-term goals, this expansion of service offerings opens up new revenue streams and deepens client relationships.
Earlier this year, as part of the AICPA’s PFP Section’s CPA Financial Planning Thought Leadership series, I moderated the webcast, “Being an Advisor of Choice.” Panelists shared their perspectives on working with individual and closely held business clients, the benefits of this expanded business model to the practitioner and firm and the outlook for maintaining this model. (See the note at the end of this blog post about how to download a recording of the webcast.)
During the webcast, we discussed a great deal of information. Here is a quick rundown of eight ways you can become your clients’ “advisor of choice.” How many of these are you already doing and how many would you like to accomplish?
1. Add Financial Planning to Your Practice
Tax compliance is becoming a commodity. Integrating financial planning into your practice offers a chance to make a deeper connection with clients, requiring you to give objective advice and keep clients’ best interests at the forefront.
2. Determine Your Value Proposition
When you add financial planning to your practice, you also add value, but you figure out what kind of value you want to add in order to grow your bottom line. The last thing you want to do is become just another firm offering the same services as everyone else.
3. Avoid Becoming a One Trick Pony Advisor
Clients are outgrowing the services of mono-line advisors. If you were simply a specialist in tax or investments, your clients will grow beyond your services.
4. Know Your Strengths
Position yourself as the advisor of choice. You have an excellent professional reputation, offer high quality professional advice and possess transferable skills that are diverse and applicable to various client situations.
5. It’s all About the Relationship
Deepen and enhance the relationships you have with existing clients who already understand your role as their advisor of choice. You may even need to reposition yourself with existing clients, particularly CFOs or controllers who retain you just for audit work or corporate compliance.
6. Listen to Your Clients
Competent advisors do their best work when they sit down with their clients to let them voice their concerns about the current financial world they live in. Listen for issues you can help understand and solve.
7. Build on Your Three Distinguishing Qualities
As a financial professional, you are competent and objective and maintain the highest integrity. Remember these qualities and seize the best opportunities you can.
8. Break the Mold
Advisors who are willing to address the wide range of issues that come into play and work with their clients and other specialists to serve their needs will be in a great position to be a strong, key resource.
AICPA PFP Section’s Thought Leadership Series
Access the free webcast recordings and presentation materials from the AICPA PFP Section’s Thought Leadership series featuring forward thinking from CPA financial planners advising their clients in tax, estate, retirement, risk management and investments. Two panels will host free thought leadership webcasts on November 12th and 13th covering investments and the outlook for the CPA financial planning profession.
Lyle Benson, CPA/PFS, CFP®, President and Founder, L.K. Benson & Company. Based in Baltimore, Lyle’s firm specializes in personal financial planning, tax and investment advisory services for high income individuals and families, as well as corporate executives and entrepreneurial, closely held business owners across the country. Lyle is chair of the AICPA’s PFP Executive Committee.
"Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with." Unknown, from a Washington Post word contest
When is a CPA practice not "practice before the Internal Revenue Service?" And if it is not practice before the IRS, does that mean it’s okay to use contingent fees in a client arrangement?
Why do I write about this topic now? This past July, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion (Ridgely v. Lew) that takes a significant strike at IRS’s ability to regulate contingent fee arrangements.
Gerald Ridgely is a CPA who practices with Ryan LLC, a global tax services company, but not a registered CPA firm. Ridgely sued the IRS, arguing that the Service exceeded its authority under Circular 230 in regulating the preparation and filing of ordinary refund claims, which practitioners file after a taxpayer has filed his original tax return but before the IRS has initiated an audit of the return. Ridgely contended that the inability to charge a contingent fee for a refund claim cost him clients and significant revenue. Under a contingent fee arrangement, the client only pays the fee (or a percentage of the refund) if the claim is successful.
Dr. Smith left you a voicemail at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night. You couldn’t make out the entire message due to a weak cellphone signal and background noise, but you gathered he was talking about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and needing you to sign something called a Business Associate Agreement.
Dr. Smith is an excellent dermatologist, but you know from doing his taxes that regulatory compliance isn’t necessarily his forte.
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you would ever want to make a tax return engagement more efficient, if it really only means you will charge less over time?
Stay with me here while I explain how value pricing and efficiency can go hand-in-hand. Below is a hypothetical chart of fees incurred to prepare a 1040 return, as well as the amounts actually invoiced. I am going to explain how you are leaving money on the table.
Year one is largely spent reviewing the prior year returns to familiarize yourself with the client and to establish your internal workpapers. This will naturally take more time. So when you bill the client and see that you have incurred $1,500 in fees, your gut might tell you that the return is not worth that amount. So, you discount the fees to reflect the amount that you a) think the return was worth and b) think the client is willing to pay.