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Are you ready for Trusted Advisor 2.0? I know you are thinking, but wait; I haven't quite mastered Trusted Advisor 1.0. And, by the way, what is the difference, you ask? Before we can answer that question it's important to set a context. The context is that we are already operating at Business 2.0, and the recent recession/depression has served to accelerate business owner needs from expectations to demands. What used to be considered discretionary service offerings that only Maverick CPAs pursued are no longer optional.

As is the case with many 1.0 versions of anything, adoption rates are often slow and weak. Accountants, by nature are risk averse so when something is brand new, they have a tendency to hold back and wait until others have proven the model. The iPad is a great example of this. The accounting profession has always been a "PC" platform so that when iPad

I first came on the scene only a small percentage of the "techies" jumped out there. When iPad II arrived a few more jumped on board. However, the minute iPad III showed up on shelves a month ago, I've seen a flood of articles and blog posts on the value of this new technology for accounting professionals. I recently bought a slightly used iPad II from a colleague. Frankly, although it is really cool and fun, I am still working out how it is going to improve my business. The truth is, I didn't want to be left behind.

T.A. 2.0 is sneaking up on the profession much the same as the iPad, mobile, and cloud technology. We are reaching a flash point of adoption that will not be very forgiving to those who are lagging behind. As mentioned earlier, clients have made a shift from expecting to demanding that their CPA be more responsive to their needs. T.A. 1.0 was about building stronger relationships with a lot of emphasis on developing "people skills." T.A. 2.0 assumes the "people skills" are already in place and that the relationship addresses a much broader spectrum of needs. For firms to deliver on T.A. 2.0, they have got some catching up to do.

If I were a Managing Partner today my to-do list would look something like this:

1) Assess the Emotional Intelligence of every team member. Provide ongoing coaching to help individuals identify and address weaknesses in their empathy, communication, and behavioral styles.

2) Market Intelligence. Look at the firm's ideal client demographic and gain a greater understanding of what their client's day-to-day issues are.

3) Develop services (or partner with others) that address the greater needs of clients. For example, if you have a manufacturing niche, you'll need supply chain expertise. If you have a medical practice niche, your clients will need help with cost containment strategies. If you have a large contingent of family owned businesses, you'll want to partner with organizations that specialize in this area. Likewise most small business clients face business acumen and financial fluency deficiencies.

4) Create standardized delivery systems for new services and productize the deliverables. Most firms fail to systematize non-traditional services. As a result, they are left with random acts of consulting that are difficult to leverage beyond the level of specialist. For firms to make the leap to T.A. 2.0 everyone needs to be a specialist and non-traditional services need to be treated as a core competency just like tax, audit, and accounting work.

5) Raise the collective Strategic I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient) of the firm by bringing everyone into the bigger picture. When you help your team make connections between their individual actions and firm goals you see a much greater adoption of new behaviors. You'll also stem the tide of talent attrition by helping young people envision their future success tied to the success of the firm.

6) Be virtual. Adopt cloud computing and mobile technology ASAP. The technology alone will not be enough to win the race but it is a critical enabler of a T.A. 2.0 relationship.

The list could go on, but this is a good start. Firms that made moves in the direction of T.A. 1.0 have a small head start on those that didn't but the rate of adoption going forward will be the defining factor when it comes to firm success. It's no longer an issue of "if" firms should offer new services. The question is "how and what." And while you are answering that question, you'll need to build continually on the people skills in your organization as they are the foundational underpinnings of T.A. 2.0. There are a lot of firms are still trying to figure out the "business case" for making investments in becoming T.A 2.0. It's easy to ignore the need for change when you barely have capacity enough to deliver on current demands.

However, as "Moore's law" tells us, the rate of change is only accelerating. The trusted advisor train has left the station. It is traveling faster than before, and firms that are not already on board with keeping up with client demands and market forces are going to be left behind.

Recommended reading with this article: 10 Big Mistakes People Make in Thinking About the Future.

Edi Osborne, CEO of Mentor Plus, has been a leader in training and consulting to the accounting profession for nearly 20 years. Recently named as one of the TOP 25 Thought Leaders in Public Accounting, Ms. Osborne is dedicated to helping firms make the transition from a "service centric" traditional accounting focus to a "client centric" advisory services culture. For more info go to: http://www.mentorplus.com/.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 June 2013
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