WHY TAX RETURNS ARE NOT ENOUGH
When most people think of CPAs, they probably picture a technician who is very good with numbers. CPAs are often thought of as being left-brained dominant. They are analytical, good with numbers and “just-the-hard-facts” kind of people. Right-brained people are thought of as creative. They are good at language, art, abstract ideas – you know – the softer mushier stuff of life.
But what happens when a client’s needs go well beyond the facts and the data? What happens when a client’s primary need is to trust someone with the most intimate details of their life? This raises a key question. What else, besides analytical abilities and solid tax knowledge, should you expect from your CPA? My answer? A whole lot more. Let me explain.
5 Things You Should Expect
At Casey Neilon, we serve primarily entrepreneurs. These business owners care about their tax liability and tax-related issues a great deal. But their needs go well beyond just tax concerns.
This became apparent to me recently. I had agreed to serve as a fiduciary to a client to help manage the details of their estate plan. This meant that I had to ramp up on the value of firearms even though I know very little about them. But they were an important part of the client’s estate and were valuable. Because it mattered to the client, it had to matter to me too.
This experience got me thinking. What in the world do firearms have to do with taxes? The answer, of course, is nothing. But this is a common occurrence for me and my colleagues. To serve our clients well, we have to care about the things that matter to them. We have to make their problems our problems.
After pondering many of my interactions with clients, I’ve come up with a list of 5 things I believe you should expect from your CPA:
- A relationship of trust
- Straight-forward counsel
- Proactive advice
- Comprehensive services
- Someone who relieves your worries.
Let me explain why I believe these are important.
Trust Is At The Heart Of Everything We Do For Our Clients.
A Relationship Of Trust
Trust is at the heart of everything I do for my clients. If a client doesn’t trust me or my colleagues enough to tell us why they’ve made certain decisions, it’s very difficult to serve those clients effectively. Why?
Tax codes are often thought of as black and white, as rules with clear lines between the left and right. Oftentimes, that is not the case. Believe it or not, we get to be quite creative in developing solutions for our clients, in many situations. There are so many different strategies and techniques to accomplish a client’s goals. Some of these solutions are tax-related. Other solutions require us to partner with our client’s other trusted advisors, like estate attorneys, insurance specialists and financial advisors.
But to know which strategy is most effective for a client, we have to understand what outcome they are trying to achieve. This usually means we have to spend quite a bit of time getting to know them.
At Casey Neilon, we’ve made it our stated goal to know our clients better than anyone else in their life except a spouse. We know things about our clients that they don’t even tell their children or parents. What sorts of things? We often know:
- Who is important to our clients (both human and animal)
- What they fear the most (not always the IRS)
- Their actual net worth (not always easy with fluid business valuations)
- Their hopes for the future
- Why they started their business in the first place and what they want to see happen with that business in the future
- When they plan to retire (some never do)
- Which family relationships are vital and which are troubled
- Who they trust (and who they don’t trust)
- Why they work so hard and take so many risks
We’ve designed our interactions with clients to get to know them deeply. This means we spend a lot of time listening. We ask a lot of questions. We are intentional in trying to see the world as our clients see it.
Much of this time we spend getting to know clients has absolutely nothing to do with numbers, with data or with taxes. But when the time comes for us to use our analytical skills, we already know what a client wants. This means we not only help them faster, we also do better work for them. Our deep knowledge of our clients helps us serve them more effectively. They get better outcomes because we’re good listeners.
Do you have that kind of relationship with your CPA?
Here is the straight scoop. Sometimes I have to disagree with my clients and tell them that I don’t support what they want to do. In some instances, they want to do things that the tax code or regulations explicitly do not allow.
In other instances, especially with business owners, my role is to provide a reality check. This is important in instances such as when a merger or acquisition is being entertained and my client has to negotiate a value related to their business. Succession plans, liquidity events and business transfers are far more complex than many business owners understand.
The challenge is that company owners oftentimes are not objective about the value of their businesses, usually because of how much sweat equity they have put into these enterprises. My job is to ensure that the expectation of value is realistic so we can proceed based in hard numbers, not hopes.
It’s not just a business exit strategy that requires a realistic expectation of value. Access to financing, interest rates and terms with suppliers all depend on the financial health and history of a business. My clients benefit from objective advice that is straight-forward, even when they do not want to hear it.
Do you have a relationship with your CPA that is based on straight-forward counsel?
The big complaint against the accounting industry is that CPAs are not proactive. This is especially true if a CPA firm is driven by the tax calendar. I’ve written another article about this topic and about how difficult it is for CPA firms to be available during the tax season.
But I don’t want to avoid the issue. I’ll face it head on. The complaint about proactive advice is legitimate and well-earned by our industry. I think there are three root causes for this issue:
- The tax-driven approach to client contact
- The tax-only or tax-primary service model
- Expectations from clients that CPAs should know things they don’t know because information has not been shared with them
I believe you should expect proactive advice from your CPA. But for that to happen, you probably need a CPA who offers year-round services, who has services offerings beyond just taxes and who has a formal process for getting to know you.
Do you get proactive advice from your CPA?
Do your needs for advice and support end on April 15, after tax returns have been filed? Probably not. A tax-only or tax-primary service model is not enough for our clients. Why?
Most of our clients are entrepreneurs, which usually means that they have complex financial and personal lives. The complexities call for service levels well-beyond tax returns.
A successful entrepreneur who has a valuable business or businesses has a great deal on their plate to think about. We often find that their concerns include:
- Taxes – personal and business tax planning and returns
- Financial statements – sometimes they need audited financial statements
- Investments – retirement plans, real estate and investments in other businesses
- Estate plans – to ensure their wealth is protected and properly passed on to their beneficiaries
- Succession – for business exit, lifetime income and legacy impact
- Insurance – for everything they own and for life
- Employees – retention, benefits, attraction of new talent
- Profits – figuring out how to make their businesses more profitable
- Giving – being charitable in a tax-advantaged way
- Time – just not enough of it
If you are expecting services from your CPA that go beyond tax returns, but the CPA does not have a model to address these additional areas, you have a built-in mismatch.
Do you get comprehensive services from your CPA?
Someone Who Relieves Your Worries
One of the biggest disadvantages of being an entrepreneur is what this does to your personal life. Most of our clients work too many hours, take on huge risks and sweat the details of their businesses. Stress management and finding ways to be healthy are crucial for entrepreneurs.
I want you to picture in your mind, for just a moment, an ideal weekend. Does this include you poring over financial statements, responding to IRS demands, filling out forms or building financial models? I’ll bet it doesn’t.
Most of our clients want to spend their non-working hours with loved ones, enjoying the fruits of their labors. They also want to spend their working hours focused on driving their businesses to the next level, whatever that might mean for them.
I believe a relationship with your CPA should relieve your worries of dealing with taxes, the IRS, many financial concerns and unhappy surprises. A great relationship with a CPA frees up your mind and energy to focus on work and family and to be totally present in the moment.
Does your CPA relieve your worries?
What Are You Looking For In A CPA?
I don’t know what you are looking for in a relationship with a CPA firm. But I can say with certainty that our clients expect a great deal more than just technical skills and accurate tax returns.
We are committed to delivering services that address a wide range of concerns. We are also committed to delivering a client experience that relieves worries and produces delight. If you are looking for more than just tax services, let’s have a conversation.
Darsi Casey – Managing Partner
With over 25 years of public accounting experience, I have the pleasure of working with a wide range of people, including our clients that range from individuals to large multimillion dollar companies, to our employees that make up our exceptional team, to all the business associates we have the good fortune to do business with.