… Thank you so much for your genuine way of being. You create such an atmosphere of peace, acceptance, and sincere interest in your work and in individuals. It’s just so clear you care. You’re appreciated by me. Please know you make such a difference in my life…
I call this note “serendipitous” because Brooke and I are scheduled to discuss the results of a recent survey published by Glassdoor and popularized by an article in Barron’s. The study reveals that tax managers have the best job in the United States — a claim supported by several measures including median pay, upward mobility and job availability. The study also echoes a popular notion championed by the AICPA — that automation and other technologies are untethering tax professionals from data entry and other repetitive accounting functions, allowing them more time to forge stronger relationships with clients.
And that message from Brooke’s client? The one I call serendipitous? Just more evidence the study got it right.
Now, cut to a day later. It’s an unbearably hot August day in Atlanta, which — as anyone who’s lived in or visited the city knows — is redundant. Brooke and I finally connect by web conference. And the call couldn’t have come at a better time. Brooke’s philosophy, her passion and (as her client states) her way of being are all so very refreshing. They cut through all the humidity.
Brooke recounts her roots in tax and how, for over 20 years, her career has evolved to where it is today. Now, she specializes in collaborative financial planning and investment management with a goal to help clients make better financial decisions in all areas of their lives. Her expertise has regularly landed her in The Washington Post, the LA Times, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and more. In short, she knows a thing or two about tax management and how to expand services into uncharted realms — in her case, personal financial planning.
Brooke admits she loves having mastered the technical stuff, but she also found herself eager for engagement with clients. To her, tax and financial planning services is perfect. It marries the two, the technical with the interpersonal.
And recent AICPA research confirms that’s what clients want: Clients are seeking a primary point of contact for handling all their financial needs.
How to strengthen relationships
If you want to strengthen client relationships, “Schedule more time with [them],” Brooke says. “Maybe during semi-off season or add 10 minutes to client interviews. Even focusing on one tax return item can make a big difference.” You see, to Brooke, a tax return means more than numbers on a page. It’s like financial DNA, a fingerprint that — when studied — can divine so much about clients’ lives. Both where they’ve been and where they’re potentially going. And if you take the time to discover the hidden meanings, you’ll be able to translate line items to valuable financial planning strategies. A talk with clients about their kids, for example, may lead to a discussion of striking a fiscally healthy balance between retirement and education planning.
“Something as simple as asking ‘Is there something you’d like me to know?’” Brooke says, can lead to incredible discoveries. She’s seen so many of her clients open up once she places the papers aside, makes eye contact and simply asks them what’s really on their minds. “I mean, how great is that? When someone cares enough to how you’re doing.” And that’s what technologies such as robotic process automation provide. Latitude and space to take client relationships to the next level.
Don’t know what questions to ask? Capitalize on the AICPA’s checklists and other personal financial planning resources.
Once you have a better understanding of your clients’ challenges, you’ll also be able to give them a little homework, a book or an article to read, something that will reinforce your understanding and connection to them and their respective life events. For example, when a young client is entering into marriage, she strongly urges the couple to read Your Money or Your Life. Simple thoughtful touches such as this go a long way.
And when push comes to shove, Brooke says to just go for it. To trust yourself. To surrender.
“We’re all professionals. We’re really good at what we do. And that means we’re also probably too critical of ourselves. And it’s not much fun to put ourselves out there and not be absolutely great in the beginning. But the clients aren’t nearly as critical of us. They’re simply excited we’re asking them something about themselves — and not just for their paystub.”
She recalls how nervous she was meeting with clients in the beginning — how much energy it took back then — but now, she says it’s her favorite part of the job. And the easiest. She likens it to playing tennis. No one has it all right in the beginning. But keep going. Embrace a growth mindset because there’s absolutely no growth, professional or personal, in staying comfortable.
How to get started
As a mentor with a mentor, Brooke reinforces the importance of knowing you don’t have to ‘go it alone.’ The AICPA created an online mentor program, designed to align you with someone who can support you, your skills and the direction you’re headed. It gives you the opportunity to learn from more experienced practitioners and practice building those relationships not only with clients but with colleagues. Brooke assures that you’ll find the community to be incredibly generous with information and resources.
And for those who think taking on the full Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) Credential exam in one bite may be more than they can chew, Brooke points to the Personal Financial Planning (PFP) Certificate Program. At the risk of exhausting a metaphor, it breaks all the exam knowledge into easy-to-digest chunks. If you want to focus on insurance planning, you can. And then, you can move on to investments, retirement planning and so on. Or you can kickstart your financial planning journey by attending the highly rated PFP workshop at AICPA ENGAGE.
However you choose to tackle it, know with confidence that the PFS curriculum leverages your existing CPA expertise to further bolster your value proposition.
How to expand services if personal financial planning isn’t right for you
Brooke admits personal financial planning may not be for everyone. If you feel it’s the right direction but want a stepping stone between you and the more personal conversations with clients, consider financial planning for clients’ small businesses. The AICPA designed the #CPApowered campaign specifically to educate entrepreneurs on all the value CPAs bring to the table, so take the chance to prove it! If you’re keen on staying more technical, review the AICPA Tax Section’s Tax Technology Resource Center for ideas. And if you’re a wiz at team-building and inspiring your peers, consider going into firm leadership.
No matter the direction you choose, in the 4th Industrial Revolution, regularly assess the skills you have and strengthen them. And then, assess the skills you must develop, and strengthen those, too. As a CPA, you embrace a core knowledge and high level of ethical standards to which others in the accounting and finance field aren’t beholden. And, with financial literacy as low as it is in the United States, you’re an invaluable contributor to those you serve. No matter your clients’ income or education level, they genuinely need you. You’re standing at the junction of personal fulfillment and impact. And when you expand your skillset, you’ll not only make the best job in America even better, but you’ll bring even more value to your clients — and their communities, too.
Brock Faucette, Manager – Branded Content Strategy, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
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Originally published by AICPA.org