Seizing the data analytics and advisory opportunity – now is the time

It’s no secret that client expectations for real, decision-shaping insights into their businesses are on the rise. For firms, delivering on these expectations isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Most were built to provide reliable, accurate, timely accounting — not detailed insights across clients, day after day. Shifts in people, processes and technology are all required to deliver business insights at scale across a firm’s client portfolio — with data analytics capabilities serving as the engine propelling the strategy forward.

Beyond ad hoc analysis
In this context of a true advisory practice, “data analytics” doesn’t mean simply having a CPA spend a little more time with a client’s spreadsheets to extract insights on a given issue. It’s the discipline of gathering data from the client’s accounting systems and others they use to run their business — using both templated and custom analysis tools to identify patterns in the data — and routinely distributing those insights in ways that clients can easily understand and act on.

Transforming the value equation for firms
Firms that have already begun delivering analytics-driven insights to clients have seen the transformative potential for their practices. In the client’s eyes, they move from being an important vendor providing commoditized services to a critical business partner capable of supporting the client’s core strategies. Firm professionals are invited into more conversations about more sensitive aspects of the client’s business more frequently. Clients ultimately see the value and are willing to pay more for receiving it, quarter after quarter.

From “what just happened?” to “what’s next?”
One of the most widely touted benefits of analytics lies in its ability to help clients anticipate and prepare for what’s next in their business, not just look backward. For legal and accounting purposes, it’s important to know what happened last quarter. But for business purposes, it’s more valuable to use that data in tandem with other data sources to determine what’s likely to happen in the upcoming quarter. That’s where the latest analytics capabilities, in the hands of experienced accounting professionals, can make all the difference.

Beyond one-on-one service … to your entire client base
As valuable as today’s analytics tools are for clients, they’re just as valuable for the firms that help put them to work. Scale is one big reason why — reports, visualizations and automation tools that work for one client can often be easily templated and applied in similar situations for other clients, with minimal rework. As a result, when firms notch analytics successes with one client, they can extend the same capabilities to other clients quickly — and reach new heights in terms of revenue, relationships and reputation.

Analytics tools: What to look for
The amount of data generated and gathered is surging across industries, and demand for data analytics technologies to squeeze the full value of all that data has never been higher. As a result, new analytics tools and packages are being launched every day. Whether as add-ons to existing software packages or as standalone tools, there are more data analytics capabilities for the accounting profession available today than ever before. That makes choosing the right tools for your firm and clients even more important. While there are entire webinars, conference sessions and full-length articles available on this topic, a few top-level considerations are worth mentioning here:

  • Low degree of technical or programming skills required
  • Capabilities that are easy to maintain over time
  • Smooth integration with existing firm/client solutions
  • Intuitive reporting and other outputs

These are only a few of the attributes firms should account for when evaluating data analytics solutions — each firm should develop its own checklist based on conversations with a range of internal stakeholders.

For more on this topic, join us virtually or in-person at the upcoming AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE23 for ‘The Data Driven Finance Leader’ featuring Nicole Ksiazek, Director, SIAP Strategy and Sales, Sage, and Elinor Litwack, Partner, Outsourced Accounting and Advisory Services, GRF CPAs & Advisors.

In addition, here are a few more resources to help you learn how you can take your firm's data analytics capabilities to the next level and drive higher value CAS engagements:

Spend management: A growing advisory opportunity for accounting firms

Your clients are desperate to get a better handle on their spending.

In’s recent survey of more than 1,100 small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and accounting firms, more than half (53%) of SMBs said their company is reducing costs and 69% said they want new options to help control costs.

Additionally, nearly three out four (72%) of businesses said they’re interested in a more proactive approach to managing their spend, including matching anticipated expenses to budgets before the money is actually spent.

This is where your firm has an opportunity to deepen your trusted advisor role. How? By providing advisory around an emerging service offering called spend management.

What is spend management?

Spend management is the ability to view, control and manage a business’s cash flow (including expenses) in real-time within a single, centralized location. It is typically driven by technology to capture the expense at the time of transaction. With spend management, budgets are preset and controls are in place so every dollar is accounted for prior to being spent. No surprises at month end. Since both historical and future spend is accounted for, advisors such as yourself are able to deliver more accurate forecast reports as well as key insights on spend to help your client make more proactive business decisions.

Traditional expense management, on the other hand, focuses on analyzing spend AFTER it has occurred. Since there are no controls on budgets, advisors don’t know the business’s total spend until expense reports or vendor invoices come in weeks or even months later. Many businesses that have evolved to modern expense and spend management have relied on Divvy, from BILL, to help bring all company spending into one place for smarter decision making.

The spend management opportunity for your firm and your clients

Many accounting firms are realizing the benefits of adding spend management to their client advisory services (CAS) offerings and adoption of the service area is rapidly growing. According to’s spend and expense management survey report, there are many benefits to offering spend management:

  • Higher profits. 63% of firms said card-based spend management technology makes them more efficient and profitable.
  • More fees per client. 40% of firms that offer spend management services earn up to $3,000 per month per client.
  • Higher client retention. 74% of accounting firms say spend management services help them attract and retain clients.
  • More cross selling and referrals. 72% of SMBs who outsource spend management say they are interested in exploring additional services with their accounting firm. Additionally, 71% of this same group are actively referring their accounting firm to other colleagues.

And here are some of the benefits your clients will experience by utilizing outsourced spend management advisory services:

  • More adherence to budgets. 97% of SMBs that use card-based spend management technology say their new spend management policies have helped to control spend and keep the company within budget.
  • Decrease in administrative tasks. 64% of businesses reported a decrease in hours spent managing in-house expense management tasks.
  • Better internal controls. 47% of businesses say that new spend management policies and internal controls have reduced expense abuses and fraud.

Begin your firm’s spend management journey

The Divvy Accountant Advisor Program allows firms to stop chasing clients for receipts, to step out of tactical expense-management operations and to introduce proactive advisory services. The program is free and benefits include a dedicated partner manager, CAS 2.0 training from, co-marketing opportunities and enhanced client rewards.

Learn more about how Divvy’s card-based technology platform can help grow your firm’s spend management and CAS practice.

Top Drivers of Transformative Organizations

"Transformation" has been the talk of the accounting profession for a while now – becoming a bit of a buzzword that leaves many feeling overwhelmed.

There’s a good reason for that. While the profession has continued to adapt to change for more than a century, the breadth and pace of technological innovation and adoption is unlike anything firms have ever faced. Cloud computing, data analytics, and artificial intelligence have already changed what’s possible in firms, and there’s a lot more change on the way – fast.

It's an incredibly exciting time for the profession, but it can also be incredibly daunting for many organizations. It’s not that leaders don’t recognize the opportunity before them – they want to evolve, innovate and grow. But it requires a full-scale transformation that begins with a shift in mindset and a dedication to becoming a highly-aligned organization.

Our goal at is to empower firms with the knowledge, insights and solutions to take the first step and support them along their journeys. Each year, we bring together leaders and technology innovators from across the accounting and finance ecosystem to find out what’s working when it comes to emerging technologies, and what’s on the way. Here are some of the top transformation insights and best practices from our latest executive roundtable:

Automate, Automate, Automate
Automation and other tools can drive efficiency and free people from mundane, repetitive work. "If you aren’t spending time migrating data from one form to another, you are able to be more analytical," said Zac Charnecki, CPA, Director, Innovation and Transformation at Wipfli, a top firm providing assurance, tax and consulting services to more than 100,000 clients. "If a task makes you feel like a robot, let a robot do it," he said. Having delegated lower-level work to technology tools, the firm has shifted its recruiting emphasis to focus on people with a more entrepreneurial outlook.

Encourage deep expertise in staff
In hiring for CAS, firm leaders talk about seeking the "unicorn" – a professional with what may seem like an impossible blend of technical acumen and technology-based skills, plus the ability to think strategically and build close and lasting client relationships. Given the talent gap, firms should focus on building a multifaceted team with deep expertise in core areas, then upskilling them to enable them to deliver higher-value knowledge and insights.

Nurture innovation
With new technologies upending established practices and processes on a regular basis, organizations can benefit from seeking people with digital ambition, those who are excited to understand and apply new tools to simplify and automate. Because of their agility and passion, they will find it easier to continuously adapt to and make the best use of new resources. "We acknowledge, recognize and reward digital ambition," said Shifra Kolsky, Senior Vice President and Chief Accounting Officer, Discover Financial Services.

Change internal perceptions and mindsets
Will automation and other new technologies cause people to lose their jobs? If the people on your team don’t know the answer to that question, they may be reluctant to embrace new tools or ways of working. Or they may simply feel more comfortable with the old procedures and (at least initially) question the point of new practices. There are two ways to overcome this obstacle:

  • First, focus on upskilling your teams. When staff see that the organization is investing in their development, they tend to have greater confidence in the security of their jobs.
  • Second, communicate frequently and directly. Address your people’s concerns about job security – as well as new career and training opportunities – and you can make them more confident and excited about the direction ahead.

You can find a more detailed examination of these findings – including a closer look at the services that are likely to be affected most by transformation – in the AICPA and Executive Roundtable special report, Tech-Driven Transformation. This is the moment to stay a step ahead of disruption rather than chasing behind it – make sure you take advantage of it!

Family office services: Rising demand brings new opportunities

Many firms today are taking a closer look at family office-focused financial planning and management opportunities as demand for these services grows. According to Accounting Today’s 2023 Top 100 firms survey, 60% of respondents reported increased demand for “succession planning/family office.”

Family office services can cover a spectrum of financial planning and management needs starting with accounting, financial and tax services, and extending to areas such as estate planning, cash management, risk management and asset oversight or management. For client advisory services (CAS) practices seeking to evolve and expand through a verticalized approach, family office services present an excellent opportunity.

During’s recent webinar on this topic, leaders from top firms and technology providers identified three primary trends contributing to this growing demand:

  • Generational shifts: As baby boomers age and transfer more of their wealth to younger generations, demand for succession planning and family-oriented advisory services will continue to rise.
  • Increasing financial complexity: The high-net-worth families that typically require family services are often engaging in more complex financial arrangements than they have in the past. From private equity and venture capital to real estate, cryptocurrencies and beyond, the diversity of investment vehicles expands the need for professional guidance.
  • Talent crunch: Just like businesses across so many industries, including the accounting profession, families that have relied on their own trusted advisors for years are experiencing a shortage in qualified talent.

These trends show no signs of relenting any time soon – if anything, they are likely to grow stronger. That’s why now is a good time for firms to assess the family office opportunity.

CAS at the controls
Many firms are gearing up their CAS practices to deliver specialized services to more clients. In response to these trends, CAS practices are well positioned to pull together a wide range of firm capabilities, as well as coordinating with external providers, to support an equally wide range of client needs. For Irfan Dossani, CAAS Partner in Charge at Whitley Penn, that means “our family offices are driven more on the CAS side – we look at it as a kind of partnership between CAS and the client’s wealth managers, estate planning attorneys, banks, our own tax professionals and others.”

Although some of these professionals may come from outside the firm, all are focused on collaborating in support of the family’s overarching strategy, accounting for issues such as their investment values, legacy considerations and more. Meanwhile, the CAS practice provides supporting back-office capabilities and manages the data, working with other parties to use the data to inform strategy and planning. CAS provides the connective tissue – processes and technology in particular – to bring these parties together in an efficient and effective manner.

Creating new opportunities with technology advances
Even among family offices long accustomed to one-on-one, white glove service from a dedicated controller, there is a growing openness to a heavier reliance on technology. After all, as consumers, these clients experience the benefits of technology every day, in large and small ways. And as younger generations take the reins from older family members, they expect to see technology in every aspect of their financial lives. For them, it’s expected of a modern, sophisticated family office.

How automation and integration capabilities help family offices
Automation and integration (connecting disparate systems used by clients, firms and third parties) are some of the most compelling aspects of the latest accounting and finance technology used to support family offices, creating advantages not only for clients, but also for firms looking to do more with less.

  • Centralized client communications and deliverables: One place for family offices to access all the information they need, when they need it.
  • Uncover insights: Greater access to more data, combined with intentional and focused integration among systems, opens the door to advanced insights.
  • Alleviate staffing challenges: Create more capacity for existing staff and gain a competitive advantage in recruiting new staff who are seeking a forward-thinking, technology-enabled practice.
  • Eliminate manual data entry: When staff can automate routine tasks such as data entry, they can spend more time on higher value, advisory-level activities that clients increasingly expect.
  • Expand client relationships and revenue potential: As firms apply new technologies in innovative ways, many will uncover ways to expand client relationships and revenue streams with their family office clients.

What does it look like to implement this type of technology in practice? Firms using Sage Intacct, for example, are able to integrate financial and non-financial data from many different sources to create insight-rich reporting dashboards for clients. And automation capabilities from BILL dramatically reduce the amount of manual work required in client bill pay services, while also increasing accuracy.

Take a deeper dive into this topic
For a deeper dive in how your CAS practice can add value to family office clients, watch the recent webinar: “Delivering more impact and value for family office clients through an integrated tech stack.”

Why specialization is the key to firm growth

Personalization is no longer a 'nicety' for today's sophisticated customers – it's a requirement.

Leading-edge firms recognize this evolution and are creating tailored service offerings for clients. These firms are moving away from “generalist” services. According to the 2022 CAS Benchmark Survey, 77% of the practices surveyed choose to specialize in one or more industries, rather than not specializing at all. We find that CAS practices are empowered to deliver deeper expertise and strategic guidance when they center key elements of their strategy around a particular industry vertical or micro-vertical. Incorporating specialization throughout the strategy including the tech stack, staffing strategy, client expansion strategy and more has enabled firms and CAS practices to grow at a rapid pace.

Types of Specialties

Building and growing a CAS practice with specialized services offers many benefits, but first, let me explain the two primary areas of specialization— practice area and industry vertical.

Firms that specialize in practice areas have expertise in how to offer and implement a particular service offering such as Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A), Client Advisory Services (CAS), Sales & Use Tax, Cybersecurity services, HR consulting, and technology consulting.

Firms that specialize in industry verticals have deep knowledge of advising businesses in a particular market segment. Examples include restaurant/hospitality, agricultural, financial institutions, real estate, healthcare or professional services, among others.

Some firms have gone so far as to specialize in both a practice area and industry vertical, positioning themselves as leading subject matter experts in particular industries for specific services. For instance, a firm might specialize in outsourced accounting & CFO services for microbreweries, or SOC examinations for SaaS technology companies.

Increased efficiencies
Regardless of whether your firm decides to specialize in a practice area or a vertical or both, a key benefit is the opportunity to realize numerous operational efficiencies.

As staff is focused on just one industry or practice area, you'll have more capacity to truly understand your client's business – the important trends and sector disruptors, as well as their customers and competitors. You'll also be better positioned to invest in new technologies and systems that create and enhance efficiencies. And since multiple clients will benefit, you can justify the time and expense associated with implementing new technologies.

Firm specialization also makes marketing your practice easier and more effective. You'll know the right vernacular to target prospective clients and can achieve a higher return on investment on marketing spends because you're focusing on the right messaging, channels, and keywords.

Improved quality
It's no secret that specialists create higher quality output. By focusing on a specific service line or industry, you naturally establish a body of knowledge and deep expertise from your experience and repetition. It also results in a more consistent and quality work product and the ability to spot errors when they arise.

Technology also helps drive quality. Whether you automate work deploying robotic process automation (RPA) or other capabilities such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to process industry specific data, you remove the human (mistake-prone) element from the process, thereby increasing quality.

Greater Value
The ability to deliver clients insights on how their KPIs compare against industry benchmarks is a key value of specialization. Restaurant clients, for example, might be interested to know their competitors' average check amount, tables turned per hour, peak traffic by meal and the takeout versus dine-in variation by day or time. Likewise, subscription or SaaS-based companies would be interested to see how they stack up against their industry's customer acquisition cost, lifetime value of customers, customer churn, and more. As a subject matter expert in your client's industry, you'll be well-versed in benchmarks, putting your services in high demand and positioning you well to charge a premium fee.

Find Your Firms Specialization
If your firm is offering general accounting services to a broad array of clients across a variety of industries, now is the time to assess how to focus on a few key specializations. Consider these steps to find your firm's specialization

  1. Assess your resources. Ensure your firm has the presence and reputation to specialize without overextending you or your staff. Also explore opportunities to partner with other firms to build a niche.
  2. Be strategic in selecting your niche. Analyze your revenue to see if a particular type of client or industry is making up a significant portion of your revenue – then spend more time developing business in this area. Consider also building a niche based on you or your firm's interests or hobbies – passionate employees deliver the best work.
  3. Establish yourself as a subject matter expert within your niche. Learn the issues impacting your niche clients – then create a solution. Seek out opportunities to be a guest speaker or author for industry events or publications.
  4. Ensure firm alignment. While your firm may have several focus areas, it's important that partners and staff understand the strategic vision and goals for the niche practice. To identify staff, it's not necessary to recruit those with your niche industry knowledge. Hire smart people and then teach them the industry.
  5. Promote your specialization. Don't just rely on your reputation – branding and marketing should be critical components of your outreach strategy. Many specialized practices have also secured their preferred .cpa web domains, including, and, to promote their firm's services to target clients.

For more tips and strategies on how to accelerate your firm's journey towards a thriving CAS practice, leverage the following resources:

A Closer Look at Our Startup Accelerator Companies

The of International Certified Professional Accountants Startup Accelerator is an annual program that finds, invests in, and guides early-stage tech companies with solutions that support accounting and finance professionals. This blog series provides a deeper look at the five companies in the 2021 cohort.