HOW to make the Transformation from 20th Century CPA to 21st Century Advisor

May 30, 2018 | By Paul Latham

You are a 20th Century style CPA and you want to become a 21st Century Advisor to your high net worth, business owner clients. The question is HOW to make that transition?

We all know that the CPA landscape is rapidly changing – driven by technology as well as the increasing recognition that your compliance- based services are seen as “backward-looking”, price-driven commodities.

Essentially, if CPAs are to survive into the 21st Century they need to adapt and become “forward-looking”.

The starting point is to recognize that you need to change your personal CPA mindset.

Firstly, you need to start thinking more like a business owner rather than solely a professional services provider. Working ON your business rather than IN your business. This is all part of beginning to adopt a “business advisor mentality” with your clients.

But even more importantly, secondly, you need to recognize that you need to change the perception of your clients – particularly your successful business owner clients.

To make that transition you are probably going to need coaching support, because making such a change alone is not easy. If you wanted to become a great baseball player you’d want to learn from a coach who “averaged 300+” and stack the odds in your favor – “it’s not rocket science”.

We find that the area most CPAs need early help to get started is in changing the existing perception of their business owner clients. The bottom line is that whilst CPAs are hugely trusted and respected (in terms of what they traditionally do), they have a problem if they want to be seen as business advisors.

It may be harsh, but talking in general terms, most successful business owners, think accountants are typically “reactive and boring”. Your CPA peers have (over many years) created the stereotype that you are battling against. To overcome that stereotype you need to change your behavior. CPAs need to work at reinventing themselves - to become seen as proactive and “forward-looking” if they want to transition from trusted to become the most relevant advisor to clients.

But the great news is that CPAs have a great opportunity to not only survive into the 21st Century but also thrive. CPAs are both trusted and the “gatekeeper” to high net worth business owner clients – and as such are in a fantastic and privileged position – IF they decide to take the opportunity that is staring them in the face.

Maximizing CPA business potential requires not only coaching but also a well thought out process – to instill early confidence and then be able to truly leverage and monetize the opportunity.

The key to leveraging the CPA opportunity is to build lifetime advisory relationships with your most successful clients. It’s what we call “eat now and eat later”. Over many years of coaching we have learned that it’s relatively easy to add value to clients in the short term via a “one-off” advisory service – but to sustain that added-value style relationship over many years requires a process to help you.

We have learned that there are 6 Key Concepts to help CPAs with their confidence and mindset – and get them started in making the transition – those concepts are:

  1. Presentation matters – to help CPAs change the client perception
  2. CPAs don’t need to be a business advisory expert to add value to clients
  3. Business owner clients all look the same – and have very predictable problems that CPAs can easily help them solve
  4. Business owners want help – but they won’t ask for it directly unless the CPA prompts them (coached in the right way – combined with the right process)
  5. CPAs need to focus on only a few “big things” to become Most Relevant Advisor to clients. With the right process business advisory is like “painting by numbers”
  6. CPAs need to create a clear roadmap to build lifetime advisory relationships with clients.

Most CPAs know that they need to and want to make the transition to become a 21st Century Advisor – and really help their best clients. But typically most CPAs have some doubts and concerns like:

Can I really do this? Do I have the skills required?

The answer to both these questions is yes – with coaching and a clear process to provide a “safety net” and build confidence.

Process and structure helps make providing advisory services as logical as completing a tax return - “just like most CPAs like it”! But as importantly, coaching is key to make sure that you have the right mindset and the early confidence to make the transition.

Fear of change?

Nobody likes change – it’s just a question of HOW to achieve it.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting a different result! Having the desire and a catalyst for change is important – assisted by coaching and process to make change as fun and painless as possible.

Time & Cost?

These are the 2 precious commodities when it comes to building a business.

We all have a finite amount of time and transition cannot happen overnight. CPAs benefit from a clear transition plan to help them from being “bogged down” (providing “backward-looking” services) to one where they can focus mainly on adding-value to their best clients.

You need to find the right pricing model that works with your size of CPA business; a pricing model that ideally works on the “matching principle” - where you “pay as you go” and actually make money rather than worrying about up-front costs.

Right type of clients?

Advisory services are easiest and most predictable to be able to deliver to small and medium sized entrepreneurial business owners – those with annual revenues between $1m and $20m - $30m (they all have the same problems).

Business owner clients just need to have the desire to grow and maximize their business potential – and that description probably represents 90% of the business owner clients you work with.

CPAs are in the perfect place to help their business owner clients, and transition to become not only trusted but Most Relevant Advisor.

Worried about the HOW? It only requires a Change of Mindset – combined with Coaching and Process to set you on your way to making the Transition to 21st Century Advisor. 

If you are an accountant or advisor and want to learn more about the Elite Resource Team System™ visit