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Coming Trends in Services to Individuals

CPAs are forward-thinking and relationship-oriented professionals. Taking the time with individual clients to think about their needs holistically has been a growing trend in the profession over the past decade, leading to the many new areas that now benefit mightily from the expertise and insight a CPA can offer. These are exciting times that bring new possibilities for firms that are willing to embrace them. The firms that do will find success, longevity and a satisfied client base.

CPA as a Value Hub

In this digital era, consumers expect value, convenience and immediacy. The demands on their time and tolerances are now such that any promise to return precious minutes to them has a tremendous appeal.

Banks and brokerages are just two of many organizations now using free tax preparation as a loss leader to attract clients to their more lucrative offerings. And while the allure of free services is strong enough for many consumers, the idea that their entire spectrum of financial needs is being met in a single location can really seal the deal. CPAs take note: your clients are being actively courted by these organizations, and in the near future, consumers will expect this kind of integration in their financial services: services that include personal financial planning.

The good news is that 120,000 AICPA members already offer some level of personal financial planning to their clients, according to a recent study. However, only a small portion of those are identifying themselves as “financial planners,” often because they associate the term with investments and offering products. But failing to use the term means their clients and prospective clients are not likely aware that these services are being offered. This is an important point: research shows that when referring to activities such as estate planning, retirement planning, risk management, investment planning and tax planning, “financial planning” is the term that resonates best with consumers. It’s what they’ll be looking for in a value hub.

If your firm focuses on tax planning and compliance, you already know that the combination of technology advances and tax preparation services offered for free by financial service companies is challenging your value. Firms that choose to adopt a broader range of services, what’s being called integrated financial planning services, will likely experience far higher client retention and attract more new clients in the near future. The time to act is now, while your client base is just now understanding that the complexity of their financial service needs require a single point of contact for guidance and advice.

The Growing Demand

If you’re like most CPAs, your focus is on your clients’ needs. Those needs are changing.

Baby Boomers have begun retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day, and will continue at that rate for the next decade. Furthermore, $24 trillion in wealth will be transferring to subsequent generations over the next 15 years. While taxes will be on their minds, clearly estate, retirement and investment planning will be as well. And their benefactors will need guidance, too. This is an enormous area of client need that the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports 30 percent growth in.

Service to individuals


A Perfect Fit for Your Firm

CPAs dominate the market for the most complex tax returns, and it’s these clients who will most need the financial planning services I’ve discussed here. CPAs already provide many of these services. For many of you, it won’t be a big leap. The way you conduct business is also aligned perfectly with what the market for financial planning services wants: acting in the best interest of the clients’ in what is typically a fee-only structure.

As the market for CPAs continues to shift, an emphasis on tax planning and compliance will broaden to those CPAs who can act as a trusted personal financial adviser for their clients. It’s the direction the profession is taking, and I urge you to prepare for it.

At the coming ENGAGE conference, I will be hosting “The Future of Services to Individuals,” a session discussing these and related issues in greater detail. The session begins at 10:50 a.m. PT June 14, and is part of the ENGAGE Impact Track.

If you want to learn more, I suggest you make use of the extensive suite of resources available from the AICPA PFP Section.

Lyle K. Benson, Jr., CPA/PFS, is the President and Founder of L.K. Benson & Company, a CPA/Financial Planning firm based in Baltimore, Maryland.  As a leader in the financial planning and accounting professions, he has served in many roles of various professional organizations over the past 30 years and is the immediate past chairman of the AICPA PFP Division Executive Committee.  He is also a member of the CCH Financial and Estate Planning Advisory Board and co-founder and head of the Athena Study Group.


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