5 growing pains in client advisory services (CAS) and what to do about them

Does this sound familiar? After years of your firm successfully delivering the same fundamental set of accounting services to clients, their needs evolve. They start to ask for more. At the same time, you’ve started to add new clients with new needs. Your team is now being asked to deliver advisory-level insights—a welcome development given the deeper, more valuable relationships that are generated through advisory services. But they’re operating with tools and processes that weren’t designed to support these deeper, more expansive relationships.

For so many firms of all sizes, this is the origin story of their CAS practices. It’s no wonder that the recent Top 100 Firms Report from Accounting Today shows that CAS is a leading growth area for more firms than ever before, with 84% of Top 100 firms that already have a CAS practice reporting growth in this service line.

But maturity tends to come with growing pains. For many firms, growth happens organically in the early phases. But sustaining that growth after notching early wins can be difficult. In fact, it can be tough just to deliver on existing client needs over the long term, without even factoring growth into the equation.

Here are five growing pains we hear most frequently:

  1. We don’t have a clear strategy for what’s next.    
    If your firm never took the time to set out a strategic plan for its CAS practice, you’re not alone. Being opportunistic rather than purely strategic is a successful early path to growth for many practices in their first years. But as they mature, practices have to make choices—which types of clients to pursue, what talent to hire, which technology investments to make, and more. These are bigger decisions with bigger implications over the long term, and simply aligning with the broader firm strategy doesn’t work for the unique needs and goals of CAS practices. That’s when a clear, multiyear CAS strategy and strategic plan become invaluable, serving as the north star for every significant decision.
  2. We can’t find the talent we need.    
    Finding and keeping good talent is a serious challenge throughout the accounting profession. But it’s an even steeper challenge for CAS practices. These practices need very specific, hard-to-find skills to grow and expand through advisory services—they need people who can analyze data, provide higher-level business advice based on those insights, and gain the trust of clients in long-term, ongoing, high-touch relationships. It may require tapping into nontraditional sources of talent, such as those with private accounting experience, or even former C-suite leaders, directors or managers from a select industry niche. This requires firms to evolve to optimize their resources and client experience.
  3. Our existing processes aren’t working for a mature CAS practice.    
    CAS practices thrive when they can achieve scale. And one of the most important factors in scaling successfully is the practice’s ability to streamline and standardize processes. However, for the many CAS practices that have grown opportunistically by taking on new clients and adopting disparate processes based on their individual needs, this can be a daunting challenge. Improving CAS processes is often about identifying what already works well, documenting it, formalizing it, and executing. An objective, outside perspective can be instrumental here, helping introduce leading best practices, doing the hard work of documenting and formalizing processes, providing a practical road map for execution, and helping you overcome obstacles to achieving key milestones.
  4. We grew without a growth plan—now we need one.    
    Many CAS leaders report that growth can come quickly in the early stages. But after achieving the initial quick wins, a more comprehensive strategy may be needed to sustain growth over the long haul. A more formal planning process can make a big difference, helping practice leaders more clearly identify exactly which industries they should be pursuing (and which they shouldn’t), how to market to them, and how to execute internal sales and marketing efforts to achieve results.
  5. Our needs have outgrown our technology.    
    Leading CAS practices tend to verticalize by industry—a positive development that bodes well for their ability to continue adding clients and growing revenue. But as they take on a niche approach, they often pivot to new, more specialized tech-stack designs that meet the needs of their focus industries. How can CAS practices accomplish this without losing the standardization that enabled their growth in the first place? It helps to distinguish between the foundation of transactional-focused technology that lays the groundwork for the entire practice and the more specialized, sophisticated tools that can enable advisory-level engagements by industry.

A CAS coach can get your practice operating at its peak.    
If your CAS practice is experiencing any of these growing pains, you’re not alone. But you can use best practices and insights into what other firms have done to overcome these obstacles to shift the dynamic in your own practice.

An authoritative, objective outside voice can help focus and accelerate your firm’s CAS journey. Having access to an experienced CAS expert who can assess what is and isn’t working in your unique practice, and share tried-and-true best practices and approaches, can help you clear the obstacles to sustained growth and client success. Additionally, connecting with other firms that are on the same journey and working through similar growing pains can lead to new insights and useful relationships that can pay dividends long after any coaching partnership.

You can learn more CAS best practices by reading our white paper, “The Future of Client Advisory Services: Understanding CPA.com’s CAS 2.0® framework”. You can also visit cpa.com/cas2 or listen to our recent podcast to find out more about how CPA.com can help accelerate your firm’s own CAS transformation journey.

About the author: Kimberly K. Blascoe, CPA, leads CPA.com’s CAS 2.0 practice transformation programs, focusing on helping firms establish and grow optimized CAS practices through consulting, practice development and training offerings. Prior to joining CPA.com, Kim spent more than 30 years in public accounting, which included leading the CAS practice for a Top 20 firm.

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