Becoming a Digital CPA Firm – Challenges to Clients

This blog was originally published on the AICPA’s subsidiary, CPA.com website. Maribel is a member of the Advisory Board for CPA.com and the AICPA Digital CPA Conference. As an advisory board member, Maribel helps empower CPAs and businesses for the digital age.


 Becoming a digital CPA firm is an immediate benefit to clients; that’s a no-brainer.  Clients’ systems become more secure and efficient with fewer touch points.  Clients will have real-time access to their data and remote access to data from most digital devices.  In addition, they get to see their financials in a dashboard format that is easy to understand.  You would think that there would be few if any challenges, right?

Clients enjoy predictability from their service providers.  Predictability is a crucial ingredient to the trust equation.  Attempting to change the processes and the way they must now think about the information brings instability, even if the client understands the benefits.  A usual question is, “Why change a system that is working well at this time?”  Timing can be an issue since we usually try to make these changes to coincide with the client’s fiscal year end, but it may not be the most convenient time for the client if they have an important event or vacation planned.

It’s helped that we have gained our clients’ trust and respect from years of working with them.  Nevertheless, clients were either willing and excited, willing and hesitant or not willing at all to change their system.  Working with those willing and excited clients first gave us the opportunity to test out the systems and to benefit from their patience to work through the inevitable problems.  We then moved on to the willing and hesitant clients being a bit more confident of our capacity and knowledge.  We are still working on the resistant crowd and remain hopeful they will come to appreciate the benefits for them and become willing to make the investment.  Resistance comes from fear that change will be unsettling and may cause new problems they have never had to deal with.  We are continuing the conversation with them and continue to address these fears.  Setting up demos and training is crucial for clients’ peace of mind.  Re-training, setting up YouTube videos and answering questions over and over again, mustering all the patience we have, is also of essence.
An interesting trend has emerged with the clients who have agreed to go digital; clients no longer have our accounting staff’s presence on a regular basis and yet request “someone’s” presence at their office.  This has made it easier for us to introduce the advisory services, which requires a different type of conversation with clients and utilizing higher level staff.   The firm’s services are moving in the direction that we intended when we started this process.

We learned a new term from Tom Hood, CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs.  “Paving the cow paths” is the phrase he offered after I described our struggle to have clients (and staff) change the processes previously used with the old systems.  These old processes are no longer efficient and it is necessary to spend the time creating new processes that capitalize on the efficiency of the new systems.  Clients and staff both need to commit the time upfront to creating the new paths.

It’s been slightly over 18 months since I made the decision to become a digital CPA firm.  We have taken a big leap into our future.  Despite the challenges, it’s the best decision I’ve made for the firm. Ultimately, the key to making sure that clients appreciate the transition to a digital platform is patience and a commitment to cultivating the client relationship based on their trust and respect.


 

Maribel Torres, CPA, CEO & Director of Client Accounting Services at Lumix CPAs and Advisors. Maribel is member of the Advisory Board for the CPA.com and AICPA Digital CPA Conference.