Client Advisory Services (CAS) practices have been leading the way in growth for CPA firms for several years now. Initial data from CPA.com’s 2020 Client Advisory Services (CAS) Benchmark Survey (launching later this fall) further underscores this point: CAS practices reported a median growth rate of 20% last year and are showing significantly stronger performance than other practice areas.
With growth like that, it’s no wonder CAS is getting a lot of attention. Within CAS practices, one of the fastest growing areas is Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A). New, all-in-one software tools such as Jirav are helping CAS practitioners take forecasting, budgeting, and other planning and analysis activities out of Excel, enabling them to seamlessly integrate and extract data from the general ledger and other systems such as payroll and customer relationship management.
Your firm may already be employing such tools and processes, or you may still be using Excel for advanced and complex forecasting and budgeting and are struggling with its limitations.
Regardless of where your firm is in your CAS journey, there’s an opportunity to deliver greater value to clients through agile forecasting and budgeting — the pandemic has made this need obvious. As firms move to meet this new demand, a key challenge will be recruiting and training talent. For CAS and FP&A, appropriately skilled talent is critical to long term success.
We spoke recently with Dan Gertrudes, CEO of GrowthLab Financial, a Finance-as-a-Service firm with an established FP&A practice, about how to identity and develop top talent. While GrowthLab is not a traditional CPA firm, the strategies he shared can help CAS practices build solid teams and talent pipelines:
Dedicate Staff to FP&A. A key takeaway from the 2020 CAS Benchmark Survey was that top performing firms have staff exclusively focused on CAS. That bears repeating. CAS team members work solely on CAS. Extending that further, again depending on your practice, you may want to consider positions that are entirely FP&A. In GrowthLab’s case, they have a dedicated FP&A group that works with clients on their long range and annual operating plans as well as monthly deliverables.
Understand the skills required for the role. Gertrudes recommends developing the profiles and skills needed for each role and then seeking the right talent. “We hire based on fit,” he says. His firm often recruits from non-traditional backgrounds such as econometrics or marketing. “Our hires are entry-level for the role, then receive the mentorship and training from our more experienced team members.”
Invest in staff. Your talent development program starts as soon as a new hire walks in the door. The onboarding process is your opportunity to set the tone and make the right impression. “Our values of transparency, mentorship, balance and risk-taking are intentionally aligned with developing strong team members,” Gertrudes says.
Additionally, CAS Benchmark Survey data shows top performing firms investing over 40 hours annually in each staff member in areas such as vendor training and certification programs, CPA.com conferences and workshops, vendor conferences, and internal training programs.
Rethink how you look for talent. In the wake of the pandemic, the question of remote work is front and center for the profession. Many firms have implemented technologies to make work-from-home or work-from-anywhere a long-term viable option. Hiring remotely can also give firms struggling to recruit in their local geographic market a broader candidate pool.
Gertrudes admits, however, there is downside to remote work: mentoring can be challenging. “Remote isn’t a great option for our entry-level folks. We place a huge emphasis on mentoring and in a remote environment they miss out on a lot.”
As for sourcing talent at the entry level, he suggests recruiting at the second and third tier schools that aren’t on the larger firms’ radars. “We end up being the big player at some of our target schools and have made some great hires,” he says. “While we don’t avoid tier one schools, it goes back to hiring based on fit, not academics.”
FP&A services offer a tremendous growth opportunity for CAS practices. Put in the work now and develop a talent strategy that will help keep your CAS practice on its upward trajectory. Watch our free webcast “How to Recruit and Upskill Staff to Grow a Successful FP&A Practice” to learn strategies to identify and cultivate a high-potential team for FP&A services.