9 ideas to improve the financial planning side of your accounting practice

September 24, 2015 by Patrick Hannon

A man sitting in a coffee shop working on improving his account practice

About the author:

Patrick Hannon

Enterprise account executive

Patrick focuses on bringing configurable enterprise solutions to North American financial organizations. Patrick began his career at Advicent as an Inside Sales representative. Patrick's passion is learning about workflows and challenges at financial advising firms, and providing perspective that drives revenue, culture and modernization. Connect with Patrick on Twitter - @Hannon_Advicent

At Advicent, we often work with accountants and CPAs that are looking to expand their tax practice to provide more holistic financial advising. Whether you choose to get licensed yourself, hire a financial advisor, merge with another firm or partner with an advisor to exchange referrals, here are nine ideas to improve the financial planning side of your accounting practice.

1. It starts with a CRM.

It goes without saying, but you should have a CRM that is neither Microsoft Outlook nor Microsoft Excel. Keeping your clients’ information and your interactions with them organized in a central hub is critical for compliance and continuity in your business. Using a CRM should not be labor intensive! It should integrate and be a seamless part of your workflow. Look for CRMs that will serve both your accounting and financial service needs.

Getting a CRM means you will likely have to change some old habits, but it’s necessary for your business to evolve. A firm with an organized CRM is worth more than one with archived emails, paper copie and a rolodex of contacts.

Some of the most common CRMs are Ebix, Redtail and AppCrown (an overlay of Salesforce.com for advisors). Not only are these designed with a financial advisor in mind, they integrate with many other systems, like financial planning, custodian, account aggregation and portfolio accounting tools.

2. Understand your book.

If you already have a book of individual tax clients you have a HUGE head start on financial professionals that build their business from scratch. Leverage your existing clients. They trust you for a reason.

Use a CRM and look at each the following:

Clients by life stage (use age as a default)

a. College and early career (usually under 30)
b. Established professional (usually married with kids)
c. Building for retirement (usually age 46- to retirement)
d. Retired (looking to spend down safely)

You should be communicating to these clients differently; each group wants financial planning but has different needs specific to their life stage.

Clients by size of 401k and age relative to 59½

This should allow you to see what assets can be potentially managed in a given time frame. Clients that are approaching 59½ will have questions and concerns about what that age means to them. Be ready to provide answers and value before their 59th birthday.

Clients by job type

I have worked with a number of firms that work only with doctors; others have chosen to focus exclusively on lawyers. While I prefer those firms that diversify and are open to great clients of any profession, segmenting by profession can often help you identify what concerns are keeping individuals up at night. Grouping those clients (and concerns) can help you deliver value to ALL of your clients. For example, you could serve clients with small businesses by building a marketing/engagement campaign that includes information on securing credit for their business.

Look for DINKWADs

Just because your clients don’t have assets now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t later. Provide value now to young, high-income, high-debt couples. These are typically young, successful DINKWADS (Double-Income-No-Kids-With-A-Dog). Help DINKWADs now through basic planning like setting up a 529 or obtaining life insurance before having children, and they will immediately look to you for investment advice. They desperately want financial advice but typically don’t trust large institutions. While not exclusively Millennials, these clients are underserved but become fiercely loyal when engaged.

3. Provide tremendous value covering the basics.

Financial planning software creates urgency for clients to accomplish some simple goals advisors lay out. Most accountants use planning software to help clients to maximize their Roth or Traditional IRA contribution, max their 401k, use muni-bonds, allocate assets, defer taxes and draw down accounts correctly so they qualify for tax credits.
Often this has more to do with your clients’ comprehension and urgency to act. Sure, you can do this in Excel or on a legal pad. But when clients can see why it matters to their retirement number, it means more and you are perceived to have more value to the client.

Often this has more to do with your clients’ comprehension and urgency to act. Sure, you can do this in Excel or on a legal pad. But when clients can see why it matters to their retirement number, it means more and you are perceived to have more value to the client.

4. Mine and market

You have established trust, credibility and value with your clients. Don’t be afraid of simply sharing with them new services that you are offering. Too often, I hear tepid responses from accountants who are scared of telling good clients about new services. It is a mistake.

Set up automated monthly marketing campaigns based on the following:

• 18-30 year olds
• 31-45 year olds
• 46-Retired
• Retired
• Small business owners
• Those with estate planning needs/concerns

Monthly campaigns should be on autopilot and contain different content for each group.

You should be sitting down and talking with any client in their 40s (and probably 30s) about the importance of tax-efficient investing. You should also be having face-to-face discussions about tax planning in retirement with any clients in their 50s.

5. How do you want to charge?

Most common is charging a percentage—usually 1 percent of the account value. This is a great method for mature investors and advisors who provide lots of value, but it doesn’t work well with clients who don’t have much money or own all their investable assets through a qualified plan.

However, I have seen an increase in the number of advisors using a retainer model for younger clients that I really like. It typically uses an initial financial plan fee with a monthly or quarterly fee after (e.g. charging $1500 for comprehensive planning with an $85 monthly fee). Very recently Michael Kitces published a blog post on Retainer Fees vs the AUM model that is definitely worth a read.

Some accounting firms will offer services a la carte to clients as well. This isn’t my favorite, as I don’t like to be nickel and dimed, but it is easy to implement.

Example of a la carte:

• Comprehensive (everything below) -- $1500
• Retirement -- $750
• Education -- $100
• Asset allocation -- $250
• Major purchases -- $100
• Emergency fund -- $50
• Survivor income analysis -- $150
• Disability income analysis -- $100
• Long-term care analysis -- $100
• Estate planning -- $250
• Business planning and equity compensation -- $250

There are lots of ways for you to be compensated for your work, especially with clients that don’t have assets that you can charge for—so be creative if you want to drive growth here. If you need some help, a quick Google search can turn up a ton of information about how to charge for planning services.

6. Automate and integrate.

Marketing:

There are tons of great marketing tools out there. I have extensive knowledge using a tool that my company provides, but the ideas are universal. You need to automate. Automate the production of content. Automate the delivery. You should be an expert in accounting and financial advising. You are not a professional marketer and your clients don’t want you to be one. Content should be set up on schedules, segmented to subsets of clients and delivered on a consistent scheduled with little to no work by you.

Financial Advising:

Integrations are common amongst planning software. Integrations can be with your CRM, Custodian, Account Aggregation Partner, and many more vendors. One is not better than the others, and not all integration partners are the same. Some partners only move demographic information; others will provide a deep integration and include account balances, insurance policies, ticker symbols, etc.

I am most excited for the rise of PFM and budgeting tools. This will allow advisors and tax professionals to have incredible accuracy by pulling usable data from a client’s spending history for budgets and retirement planning. We just launched a partnership with Quovo for this very reason. If PFM and budgeting tools excite you, check out more information here and here.

Lastly, pick a calculation engine that uses a cash flow-based approach. These engines are much easier to use than they were even a few years ago. They are superior at showcasing tax-efficient retirement distribution strategies. Additionally, the rise of PFM tools with client-centric portals will allow clients to do most, if not all, of the data entry.

7. Move your communication online.

Most advisors already showcase their services with a website or LinkedIn and use email for daily communication. Here are a few tips to take it to the next level:

Email – Sync with your CRM. I personally use an automatic “bcc” that attaches an email to the appropriate CRM account according to the email address it was sent to. It took 15 minutes to set up, and all emails are logged. This is great for compliance and increases the value of your practice because anyone could step in and know what a client’s experience has been so far.

Get a vault – Everyone hates faxing, driving to your office and putting an entire year of financial information in the mail. Get an online document vault. As clients, we are happy to upload everything you need from our home and in our pajamas.

Quarterly newsletter – Do you really know who reads your quarterly? If only there was a way to track it… Guess what, there is! Move monthly and quarterly newsletters online and use a service that can track engagement rates. Stop sending one size fits all communication and drive your open rates up.

Annual Packet – I am so tired of getting this 50-page document in the mail. No wonder my CPA charges me so much, it’s from high postage costs. Move it online. Packets can be sent electronically, either through a system that tracks open rates or directly to a client’s vault.

8. Have your clients utilize PFM and budgeting tools.

I mentioned this earlier, but it warrants its own section. PFM and budgeting tools are the future of planning. Clients want to see their net worth displayed on one page. Provide this and you are giving them access to one of the stickiest services you can offer. In the process, you can obtain valuable information about held away accounts, evaluate asset allocation across their entire net worth and have “real talk” about their spending habits.

9. If you invest in tech, use it.

You don’t need more tools. You need to use the tools you have. I am blown away by how many advisors are willing to spend money on tools but don’t invest a little time to get the return. My most successful partners look to invest a few thousand dollars in training to return time back to their day and provide their clients with tremendous value.

Look for companies that pride themselves on training and support. Hold times should be low/non-existent. Support should have chat features.

Spend money and time to be trained on the tools. The best tools are simple the first time you use them. If they are, they probably aren’t sophisticated enough. However, after some training, you should have the knowledge to use the tool with a level of complexity that is not obtained during your trial.