In a recent article with the International Accounting Bulletin, PrimeGlobal member firms shared their thoughts on the need for accountants to develop an advisory mindset. IAB spoke to PrimeGlobal's CEO Steve Heathcote and to North American member firms LutzK·Coe IsomMCM CPAs and Advisors and Hogan Taylor LLP.

Stephen explains the importance of developing an advisory mindset in order to grow and sustain client relationships from the outset, with training delivered through Consultancy Labs, using a blended approach to coaching in cooperation with experienced partners.

As the trusted advisor status is enhanced, with businesses increasingly looking for services beyond accounting, audit, tax and compliance, so is the demand for advisors to help guide businesses’ financial futures and evaluate different types of transaction.

This trend has created opportunities for many firms, but also presented firms with a challenge to shift the mindset, build staff capability in core professional skills, and innovate. For some it is a real paradigm shift. 

Core service lines are automated and delivered through the cloud. With automation, higher-level skills are needed from the start of the client relationship to provide value. Clients need accountants with an advisory mindset who are able to see the business through their eyes, look at their business in a different way, demonstrate innovation, show emotional intelligence, communicate effectively and provide relevant business insights.

Trusted advisors will be needed more than ever as clients transform their businesses post Covid. However, it is no longer possible to learn these skills as an apprentice on the job by completing routine tasks and moving up to manage an audit. With automation, these skills are needed from the get-go.

Accountants may struggle to have the right mindset and be ready to embrace these professional skills. This reminds me of an old joke: what is an extroverted accountant? The one who looks at your shoes when he is talking to you rather than looking at his own. This still has some resonance and needs to change for the profession to stay relevant in the new world. This is a challenge, especially now when the apprenticeship model is no longer relevant.

At PrimeGlobal, firms realise these skills can be taught, but they need to be taught from the moment someone joins the firm.

However, it takes new interventions and a blended approach to develop confidence and help professionals embrace the value the advisory approach creates. 

At the moment, PrimeGlobal’s approach to assisting member firms in developing advisory skills is focused around:

  • Simulating scenarios so professionals can learn from real case studies and problems, guided by experienced advisors;
  • Creating opportunities to develop an advisory mindset with clients;
  • Ensuring professionals have the right knowledge – the toolkit to apply when needed.


SIMULATING SCENARIOS

Many PrimeGlobal firms organise Consultancy Labs where teams are able to practice an advisory mindset using real case studies, with the benefit of guidance offered by experienced partners.

PrimeGlobal US firm Lutz organises consulting consortiums, where young professionals join together to do a mock lunch meeting, where partners coach the team on the questions to ask and how to think like a consultant.

Ron Nebbia, consulting shareholder who leads this programme at Lutz, says consulting consortiums help young professionals better understand clients’ businesses and supply chains. Similarly, US member C&D organises ‘lunch and learn’ meetings with staff to provide additional coaching and learning in this area.


ADVISORY OPPORTUNITIES

Some firms are creating the environment and space to look at a client’s businesses differently. Diverse thinking is important, and firms work with staff to try to encourage looking at an issue in a new way, as this helps create new insights and offer better advice.

At Lutz, the SWAT team meets every month, where 8-10 people from different divisions work on a client together, to review their business from all sides. The partners are present at these meetings, and they encourage staff to think out of the box. Best ideas are then summarised and presented to the client.

MCM CPAs and Advisors is another PrimeGlobal firm that engages in similar work with staff. Firm staff meet with the client in a comfortable environment, to listen, learn and evolve around company’s challenges and goals. This group is made up of diverse staff and put together based on the company’s industry, challenges and goals. They listen and work with the client until solutions are found. 

Steve Kerrick, MCM partner and advisory services team leader’ says: “A trusted business advisor isn’t someone you buy a widget from, it’s someone you can open up to about the best, the worst and most vulnerable aspects of running a business.

Steve Kerrick
“The team at MCM CPAs & Advisors encourages clients and future clients to participate in brainstorming sessions in a comfortable environment with no strings attached. These sessions are an opportunity for the diverse team of experienced and professional advisors at MCM to listen, learn and evolve ideas around the company’s challenges and goals until they become actionable solutions.” Steve Kerrick, Partner, MCM CPAs & Advisors


THE RIGHT TOOLKIT

At PrimeGlobal, we have worked with members and consultants to develop competency models and e-learning modules to equip our firms’ staff with the right skills. We run a 24-hour on-demand learning library where staff can choose from a wide range of courses and materials.

Competency courses include topics such as building relationships, understanding clients, communication, conversational insights, anticipation, innovation, negotiation, change management and the benefits of diversity. These modules are brought together to create a programme called MBAexpress. In addition, our firms ensure professionals have the right toolkit and mix of skills.

US firm Hogan Taylor LLP started a programme called Business Advisory ACT for the whole team. ACT stands for attributes, knowing the attributes of the best advisors and those you already have; conversations, meaning CPAs must learn to have the right conversations with clients to move beyond compliance professionals into the advisor role; and teams, everything we do is in teams of people to serve clients holistically.

Similar programmes are run in other firms. For example, at K·Coe Isom, the firm has devised new training courses and apprenticeships called Business Advisory Mentorship and Value Strategist Apprenticeship to teach these skills.

Through the Business Advisory Mentorship programme, the firm is creating an intensive and direct opportunity for younger professionals to expand their exposure to both leaders and new experiences, while the Value Strategist Apprenticeship offers an accelerated development opportunity, mentorship and formal training to impact staff ability to support firm growth through powerful client relationships.


Future proofing

Helping to future-proof accountants is a bit like driving a car – the insight practice and the use of the toolkit have to combine seamlessly. In order to achieve this, we have developed an advisory training program that brings all the parts together. 

The five-week training will include modules on Intelligence and the Advisory Mindset, Meaningful Relationships, Winning Proposals, Advisory Commitment, and Coaching and Bringing Back to Your Firm. Participants will leave with the tools needed to consistently expand client relationships and develop new ones, supporting the growth engine of the firm. Up to six people from a firm can participate, so they can apply the knowledge and learn from others to create that all-important diversity.

The accountants of the future need different skills than in the past. An advisory mindset and the ability to evaluate and deliver different kinds of transactions is going to be critical. At the same time, learning has become more difficult, as we cannot rely on the old apprenticeship model anymore. However, we can excel at this if we apply a blended approach to develop staff from the moment they join the firm. PrimeGlobal firms are embracing this new model with the support of their association. We are working hard with members to share best practices and learning, which help instil diverse thinking and problem-solving mentality, ensuring professionals have the right competencies and confidence to use them.

The pandemic has presented us with many challenges, but also opportunities – to leave the old model and stereotypes behind and embrace the new elevated status of the trusted business advisor. To do this, we need to be bold to take the right steps, and proactive to introduce structured and blended approaches to shift the mindset and innovate, presenting the profession with a range of new possibilities.


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