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:

BILL CEO René Lacerte discusses key lessons from SVB with CEO Erik Asgeirsson

Trusted Business Partner Role
As their trusted business partner, accounting firms are on the frontlines helping their small business clients during times of financial stress. This critical role was made even more evident during the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) event in early March.

We’re committed to connecting firms with the leaders and information they need most, which is why CEO Erik Asgeirsson recently sat down with BILL CEO René Lacerte to discuss BILL’s response to SVB, as well as key learnings for firms and clients, including:

Client Advisory Services (CAS) Payments: Managing Processing and Systemic Risks
Payment strategies have become an important part of a client advisory services (CAS) firm’s strategy, but it comes with both systematic and processing risks. A systematic risk like a bank failure is why it’s important to have diversification. When SVB collapsed, BILL was able to quickly direct customers’ transactions through its other banks to ensure continuation of business. Having a payment platform that allows the agility to move to another bank is an important capability to have.

Important role of regional banks
Regional banks have deep relationships with firms and small businesses within their communities, which allows them to support their clients in ways larger banks aren’t able to. Additionally, most regional banks don’t have the same risks and imbalances that were very unique to the SVB situation.

Lessons for leading through volatility
Ensuring your values are foundational to your firm and staff today will allow those values to come through and guide you during turbulent times. And when those times do occur, your authenticity, accountability and transparency will help maintain trust amid uncertainty.

You can watch the full conversation between Erik and René here.

And thank you to the firms for all you’re doing to support your small business clients today and every day.

Don’t be restricted by a geographical web address

Why a .cpa domain beats .us, .ca, and others

Today, there are more options than ever for firms looking to distinguish their online presence through a new web domain – a welcome development in light of the dwindling availability of preferred web address names using .com or .net domains.

It's easy to imagine why many firms are considering country-specific domains such as .us, .ca (Canada), and .ie (Ireland) to establish the firm’s legitimacy and commitment to current and prospective clients in these countries. But this may not be the right move.

Mutual recognition agreements in the global accounting industry are making it easier for qualified accountants in these countries (and others) to practice in the U.S. and vice versa. Combined with the continuing rise of remote work, mutual recognition agreements are contributing to a boom in accounting firms expanding into new global markets.

Country-based domains: Unintended consequences and limitations

Ultimately, relying on country codes may backfire, unnecessarily limiting these firms’ potential client and hiring pools. Consider the U.S.-based firm that expands into Canada and relaunches its site with a .ca address. What happens when their existing U.S. clients and prospects encounter their new .ca domain? At minimum, it can lead to confusion. Worse, it can lead to distrust. The new domain can also hamper search engine optimization (SEO) efforts by competing with the firm’s established website.

The .cpa domain: A smarter approach

There’s an easy way to avoid the unintended consequences and limitations of moving to a country-based domain. The .cpa domain, launched in 2020, can serve as an overarching “umbrella” domain for all current and future country expansion strategies. Some of the benefits of using a .cpa domain instead of a country domain include:

  • Better SEO: Keep your current SEO strategy in place with a .cpa domain, rather than starting over with a new country-based domain.
  • Stronger brand attributes: Your .cpa address tells visitors that your firm is distinct, safe, trustworthy and tech-savvy. In contrast, a country address primarily conveys that your firm is based in, or doing business in, a particular country.
  • Multi-domain strategy-ready: If there are strong reasons for your firm to have a country address, it can have both. A .cpa domain can work seamlessly alongside separate country domains. If you already have a strong brand in, for instance, you can add a .cpa domain specific to your industry focus (e.g. and reap the rewards of additional SEO results without feeling like you need to change your identity.

Today, the .cpa domain is available for licensed individual CPAs and CPA firms in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada, with more on the way soon. That means that rather than having to adopt individual country domains, your firm can adopt a single .cpa domain that works easily in each of these countries. In fact, adopting this domain is one of the easiest actions a firm can take to improve its brand while also attaining practical technical benefits in other areas such as security and risk management. It also helps ensure that as the web continues to change, CPA firms will not be left behind on the technology front – regardless of the countries in which they are operating.

For firms looking to make this relatively simple update to their sites, has made it easy to search for available domains and apply. Learn more about the .cpa domain and check your domain’s availability at

Spend Management Can Help Maximize Your Corporate Cards

Businesses have tried to lessen expense reporting headaches by having employees use a mix of personal and corporate cards when making purchases. Even when cards are used, though, expense management can still be a time consuming process with just as many headaches.

A new approach to organizing and reporting expenses, called spend management, can transform traditional expense management from a manual, cumbersome process into a valuable source of real-time information.

Here's a look at several ways that personal and corporate cards can be rolled out in a company and the challenges posed by each scenario.

Scenario #1: Employees Using Personal Cards

Some companies ask employees to front their own money to make business purchases. In this scenario, the employee must keep track of receipts and spend time filling out expense reports. Either a manager or the accounting department then reviews and approves the expense for reimbursement.

Potential Problems

  • No visibility into what is being purchased by the employee until the accounting department sees the expense report
  • Employees may not have the credit available to make purchases, leading to some highly awkward conversations
  • Employees may need to wait up to several weeks before getting reimbursed

What You Can Do

  • Expense reimbursements can be eliminated by issuing one corporate card per employee. Employees will no longer need to wait multiple weeks to get reimbursed, while management and your accounting department no longer need to process expense report-related paperwork since all documents are now digital.

Scenario #2: Employees Using Company Cards for Frequent Travel

Frequent travelers are usually provided with a company card to pay for business-related expenses. The employee makes a purchase, keeps the receipt, then fills out an expense report following the trip.

Potential Problems

  • It's easy to lose receipts while traveling. This could potentially lead to post-spending approval friction between the employee and the manager
  • The credit card may not categorize the charge, adding manual work
  • Management can't immediately address spending problems because expense reports are usually for transactions that are 30 to 60 days old

What You Can Do

  • Creating budgets for all employees who have access to a card can enhance your company's culture by eliminating friction from the post-spending approval process.
  • Eliminate expense reports by snapping a picture of a receipt in the Divvy app, when needed, then throwing it away. The employee assigns the transaction to a budget and a category within the pre-approved budget.

Scenario #3: A Standard Business Card Being Shared by a Department

Designed specifically for companies and offering unique benefits, business cards normally feature higher credit limits, and the opportunity to earn more rewards points. For these reasons, each department within a larger company is provided with its own card to share among employees.

Potential Problems

  • There could be a pre-approved budget for a department, but no enforcement of that budget
  • Setting individual employee budgets would involve more manual work if there’s only one card to be shared within a department
  • Vendors have the ability to automatically charge a payment with no controls on how much can be charged

What You Can Do

  • Help enforce internal controls as part of a revised expense management policy.
  • Implement virtual cards that can be used for security and compliance purposes. Each vendor could have their own card, for example, which can be pre-funded so an authorized employee can make a payment. Virtual cards can be frozen when not in use.
  • The coding of a transaction can be automated; your accounting department no longer has to spend time tracking down an employee to explain how an expense should be classified in the chart of accounts.

With a proper rollout of corporate cards, your business can transform a time-consuming expense tracking policy into a value-added spend management policy.

One option for properly rolling out corporate cards in your business is to partner with Divvy, a free, all-in-one expense management solution that gives small and midsize businesses the credit they need while helping save time and money by automating expense reports, budgets, and reimbursement processing.

Which CAS workshop is right for you?

Demand for Client Advisory Services (CAS) continues to grow, and now is the perfect time to take advantage of the CAS opportunity. Whether you’re in the early stages of evaluating if CAS is right for your firm, or you’re ready to evolve your existing CAS practice and deliver even more value to clients, we have an offering in our CAS workshop series that will help you grow your practice this year.

Which workshop is right for you? We’ve designed each workshop based on where you are in your CAS journey so that you walk away with actionable plans, valuable insights, and meaningful takeaways from your conversations with practicing facilitators and other attendees.

Consider these questions as you determine your point along the CAS journey:

  1. Is your firm currently offering Client Advisory Services? If no, start with the Introduction to CAS Workshop.
  2. Does your CAS practice have dedicated staff that are not impacted by tax season? If not, start with the Introduction to CAS Workshop. If you do have dedicated staff or are prepared to move staff soon, consider the CAS Roadmap Workshop.
  3. How do you price your CAS offerings? If nearly all services are billed hourly and in arrears, consider the Intro to CAS Workshop. If many services are subscription-based, billed at the beginning of the month or weekly, start with the CAS Roadmap Workshop or the CAS FP&A Workshop.
  4. Are you completing robust, chargeable CAS client assessments for all new clients and periodically for existing clients? If not, attend the CAS Client Assessment Workshop to consider ways to add these services to grow your practice.

Introduction to Client Advisory Services (CAS) Workshop
If you are evaluating whether a CAS practice is the right strategy for your firm, or have just joined a CAS practice, you will benefit from this half-day "Introduction to CAS Workshop." During the four CPE credit hours, you will identify the attributes of top performing CAS practices and take steps to apply these ideas to your CAS strategy.
Who should attend? Anyone working at a firm currently offering tax or audit services and wondering if CAS is right for them. Staff starting a new position in a CAS practice would benefit as they orient in their new CAS journey.

Client Advisory Services (CAS) Roadmap Workshop
This workshop provides the content you need to begin building a profitable, high-performance outsourced accounting and advisory practice. Learn the steps needed to build or expand a CAS practice from practicing facilitators who have taken the journey. This proven methodology will help your practice think about defining and pricing the services, staffing and technology, identifying and working with clients, and business planning for success.
Who should attend? If your firm has already committed resources and personnel to its CAS practice and would like to grow and drive new efficiencies, this workshop is right for you.

CAS Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) Workshop
Financial planning, analysis, anticipatory advisory and forecasting services are a high-growth service area offered by top-performing CAS practices. This workshop will teach CAS practitioners the critical components required to extend their service offerings by advising clients and creating various types of forecasting models based on the current client need.
Who should attend? If you have a new or established CAS practice and are looking for ways to add more service options and value for clients, attend this workshop. Many attendees are alumni of the CAS Roadmap Workshop who have recognized virtual CFO services as a client need and growth opportunity for their firm.

CAS Client Assessment Workshop
This two-day workshop will teach firms to perform a high-value assessment that looks for more than basic needs. It allows the CAS team to ascertain the foundational information about a client’s business needed to generate a proposed strategy for onboarding, process improvement, and build a repeatable process of discovery and assessment that produces a “health check” of the client’s current business, and offers analysis of the strategic steps required to move the client to the desired future state.
Who should attend? If your CAS practice is looking for ways to accelerate value for clients and drive more effective relationships, this workshop would be a great fit. Many alumni of the CAS Roadmap Workshop attend this workshop after successfully implementing many of the strategies discussed there.

To learn more about’s upcoming CAS Workshops, or register for an upcoming event, visit our CAS Workshops page.

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.