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4 Ways to Move Toward Practice Transformation

Shutterstock_538091704“Practice gratitude.”

“Be authentic.”

“Consider your story as you craft your goals.”

Not your typical soundbites from a gathering of CPAs.

When I leave an AICPA conference, I always bring home the best technical thinking in the profession and new and deepened relationships with peers across the country. This content and camaraderie is what brings me back year after year to these events.

As I gathered my thoughts after the recent AICPA Personal Financial Planning Summit, I noticed a shift in the tone of the key takeaways that I was anxious to implement in my firm. This innovative and intimate event sparked new thinking about how I – and other CPAs and planners who serve individual clients with their tax, estate, retirement, risk management and investment needs – can shape our practices for the future. Here are four challenges and some questions to consider from this year’s summit:

Understand “trust” from the client perspective.

“Trust” is a word thrown around frequently in our profession yet rarely dissected from the client perspective. David Richman helped us discover the dimensions of trust and how they impact client relationships, emphasizing that deepening the advice you provide to clients as they age enhances your relationship and level of trust.

Clients expect us to tell the truth and to develop our own thinking on key issues of the day. Are you sharing your honest perspective and thinking on the issues that most impact your clients? Or are you merely a conduit of information?

Look backwards to accomplish forward-thinking.

In a session on transformative financial planning, Dr. Robert Brooks challenged us to help clients look backwards to assess what past events have had a significant impact on their lives.

Encouraging reflection in this way accomplishes a number of things. This exercise:

  • Opens up conversations about happiness, meaning and purpose,
  • Creates a window into how clients respond to stress and pressure, and
  • Reveals how advisors can nurture a resilient mindset with clients.

As their trusted advisor, you want to be one of the first people they call when they face major life changes – the death of a spouse, birth of a grandchild, sale of a business.

Consider, “when your clients connect the dots backwards in their own lives, would [you] be listed as a significant part of the conversation?” 

Focus on skillsets and behaviors in your leadership pipeline.

Helping team members progress from entry-level to leadership was a focus of Cheryl Holland’s.  In her framework for accomplishing this, she emphasized that developing behaviors is just as important as skill sets.

Is it best practice to develop progressive and comprehensive skills and competencies for your employees based on your firm’s strategy? Absolutely. But are you also focusing on cultivating behaviors for success with your team members? For example, to encourage her team to slow down and truly listen to clients, Cheryl teaches them the “Nine Second Rule.” By pausing and counting to nine before speaking when a client answers a question, clients are given the time and space to process and be vulnerable.

Are you teaching your employees how to listen? How to apologize properly? Do they practice gratitude?

Integrate your story into your succession plan.

Eric Hehman’s panel discussion on succession planning prompted me to reflect on my own story as I actively plan for the future of my firm.

Successful and smooth succession of your firm requires more than an understanding of the “how to” of transitioning to new leadership. In truth, we all have stories intertwined with our business. Vulnerability and openness about our personal story – including our operational, financial and emotional obstacles – are critical for both parties involved.

Are you willing to engage in an ongoing and open conversation with your successor about your goals and history as you develop and execute a successful future for your firm?

Join the dialogue.

If you, like me, are ready to reflect on some of the opportunities and challenges facing our firms, I invite you to be a part of the dialogue at the 2018 AICPA Advanced PFP Summit for an opportunity to hear from and interact with the most experienced minds in the profession. And be sure to use the resources from the AICPA’s PFP Section as you provide estate, tax, retirement, risk management and investment advice.

Lyle Benson, CPA/PFS, President and Founder of 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 the co-chair of the Summit Planning Committee and immediate past chair of the AICPA’s PFP Executive Committee.

Man painting image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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