It’s May and that means the summer conference season has kicked off! Our first stop: Las Vegas for BDO Evolve.
A few fast facts about BDO Alliance’s 2023 Evolve conference:
- This year’s attendance was the largest ever with more than 2,056 attendees.
- Our team was there en masse as a Gold Sponsor and longtime Business Resource Network member.
- I delivered a CAAS (client accounting and advisory services) session about evolving from compliance to advisory.
Additionally, I chose to follow the CAAS conference track. The sessions proved extremely evident.
Below are some of the golden nuggets I gleaned from the sessions—all of which provide insight into what the top thought leaders are thinking about today.
- Provide a Frictionless Client Experience
“Email is the fax machine of our decade…it’s dead, insecure and wastes time due to most email being spam.” Joe Woodard, BDO Evolve
Joe Woodard’s opening statement pointed out that there are much better and more secure ways to collaborate. In 2023, client and internal personnel communication should be smooth. Frictionless collaboration makes for a better client experience.
How to provide a smoother client experience
To “smooth out” the client experience, Woodard suggests:
- Use apps productively: Look for applications that automatically scrape communication data and incorporate them within Microsoft Office 365. (Outlook, Teams, Yammer, etc.)
- Transition to softphones: Transition from using physical phones to softphones. This way, all communications are integrated. Instead of…conducting a phone call via cell, typing up notes afterward and then uploading them to a client file, use a series of apps: Teams for the phone call, Avoma to transcribe and HubSpot to route the entire phone call’s transcription to the client file.
- Focus on internal workflows: By staying laser-focused on internal workflows, you enable external workflow improvement too. Internal improvements beget happier clients by proxy.
- Select “mobile-first” applications: Being able to connect and collaborate wherever you are is at the very heart of a frictionless client experience. Ensure the apps you choose to collaborate within are just as great whether you’re on a desktop, tablet or phone.
- Avoid one-offs: Offering clients services that are unable to be repeated isn’t recommended. Instead, define and package services using the same processes and apps, then look for opportunities to use them with other clients. (If you can’t sell what you learned to more than a handful of clients, it may not be worth the effort.)
- Use personnel wisely: While much of the monthly, recurring work can be done by traditional bookkeeping staff, having a highly trained onboarding team to link the client’s data together is a critical first step and differentiator in successful CAAS practices.
- Transition clients to a subscription model: Transitioning clients to a subscription model, with specific scopes of service, is critical for success. Tasks outside the scope must be value-billed.
What is the Future of Client Accounting and Advisory Services?
Presented by Joe Woodard, Samantha Mansfield, Matthew West and Amy Vetter, this panel session highlighted the importance of advisory packaging and pricing to ensure future success.
But that’s not all…according to the group:
- Defining packages and pricing of advisory services requires developing a much stronger relationship with clients. This close focus and relationship building is known as the attention economy.
- Accounting is becoming increasingly automated. Firms must constantly “retool” their applications and knowledge to build the most effective tech stack.
- Developing niche expertise is key to success. Standardizing the delivery of service is paramount, particularly that which you can leverage across many clients.
- Firms are struggling to adapt existing tax and assurance workflow processes to the extensive listing of CAAS tasks, which may lead to other tools entering the space for long-term CAAS task management.
- Many traditional assurance partners are afraid of giving up their work to CAAS as it will impact them financially, so it is imperative that this be directly addressed.
- Firms should discuss the long-term value and risk of monthly controllership and accounting work compared to the annual assurance service work, which could also help balance peak workloads.
- Be wary of applying standard tax and audit KPIs (key performance indicators) against CAAS. Many more hours are required for CAAS development initially, so applying the same KPIs is a recipe for failure.
BDO Evolve Keynote, CAAS Implications and KPIs
Advisory services were referenced throughout the conference, as well as during the keynote.
Below are additional considerations from the mainstage address and various sessions:
- The AICPA has released CAS 2.0: Their model of financial knowledge upskilling includes extensive CPE and training. CAS 2.0 helps develop soft skills and technical skills, ultimately creating more well-rounded advisors.
- Outsourced staffing is becoming more common: Outsourcing, both onshore and offshore, is becoming more popular; the number of firms opening offshore operations was of note.
- The CAAS staffing model does not follow the traditional model: While key leaders and rainmakers will still manage the process, there needs to be an onboarding team with extensive application expertise and traditional accounting personnel to deliver.
- CAAS structures differ depending on firm size: Firms with more than 150 members tend to have CAAS set up as a separate department. Smaller firms seem to have advisory services fall within the individual departments in an unstructured format.
- Employee performance KPIs: Developing specific CAAS employee performance KPIs is important. Many feel the focus of performance measurement should be weighted to client and personal success rather than traditional charge hours.
- Applications and certifications: Certifications for applications is an important way for firms to educate staff and tout expertise to clients.
- Expect an evolution: Some expect an evolution of the accounting firm model towards EOS (entrepreneurial operating system). The development would make firms more agile and responsive by putting accountability and responsibility closer to the individuals directly servicing clients.
Closing Out BDO Evolve With CAAS Innovations
At the end of the second day, I presented “The Innovation of Client Accounting and Advisory Services.”
My presentation detailed:
- The process firms go through to understand the CAAS opportunity.
- How to educate personnel about developing a CAAS practice.
- How to build an effective CAAS tech stack.
To view a recording of my session on-demand, click here: Innovation of CAAS: Building and succeeding in your practice.