Reflections on HABU: Using Advisory Services to Help Clients Prepare For – or React to – the Inevitable

Although offering a wider array of advisory services is an undeniable trend among CPA firms, change is difficult, non-linear and almost certainly slower than partners, and clients, might like.

But competitors are not moving at a leisurely pace, and clients are eager for CPA firm leadership, expertise and specific guidance. One way to push the gas pedal on the advisory 

transformation is for CPA firms to make industry connections in specialty areas to help clients now, particularly when needs are urgent.

Knowing that no single CPA firm ­– outside the Big 4 and big regionals, perhaps – can offer every service in-house, Engineered Advisory brought CPA firm leaders together with industry experts in Plano, Texas, at its first Highest and Best Use (HABU) conference Aug. 1-3. The conference, featuring two dozen speakers making brief presentations on their services, was a one-stop shop of sorts for CPA firms seeking partners, strictly vetted by Engineered Advisory, to expand their offerings. 

Preparing clients for the inevitable was one of many themes that emerged from three days of insightful presentations. Here are a few examples of ways CPA firms can help clients.

Disaster Recovery

Benny Wright of Victory Claims Consulting told attendees that his firm works with insured property owners following floods, fires or other disasters that cause extensive property damage. Commercial business owners are ideal prospects for this kind of help, as about 70% of businesses hit with a catastrophe don’t survive another five years. Yet even as most business owners want to restart operations immediately, they’re often leaving money on the table in their rush to do so, Wright said. 

CPA firms can refer clients in these situations to an independent firm that’s separate from the insurance company to get them what they deserve. In one case, he said, the owner of apartment buildings that flooded after the 2021 “big freeze” in north Texas received $1.05 million versus $625,000 estimated by the insurance carrier.

Cybersecurity

It’s not overstating things to say that bad actors are out to plunder your firm and your client’s businesses. “If you get compromised, the majority of small businesses are out of business,” said Fabio Falanga of Miller Jones, a 20-year-old cybersecurity solutions company. “Some say, ‘It won’t be me,’ but it’s just a question of when – not if – but when.”

The company helps businesses minimize risk, prevent financial losses and act within minutes of a breach. “Anything past that and you’re looking at real long-term damage,” said Miller Jones’ John Pardue. That’s why he recommends viewing cybersecurity as a revenue-generator rather than a cost center, because if your systems are down, you’re losing money. One way to prevent that, Pardue says, is to undergo a stress-test of your systems twice a year. “You want someone to come in and beat the ever-loving snot out of your system.” 

Data Analytics ­

Collecting data can be a challenge, but presenting it to clients in an understandable way is another issue altogether. The demand for turning raw numbers into insightful advice is growing, and sitting still will only give competitors the chance to beat you to it. 

“Our clients glaze over when we hand them a spreadsheet and they don’t understand the numbers at all,” said Glenn Dunlap of Peerview Data, who reminded attendees that capturing, aggregating and analyzing data can not only give clients a better foundation for business decisions but also provide an opportunity for firms to offer more in-depth services. 

“If they’ve got tax-only clients, this is a way to load their financial data and say, ‘Hey, here’s your tax return, but we’ve also got three or four other things we’d like to talk to you about that we can really help you improve.’ ”

Peerview Data gathers information from the client’s own financials, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the SEC, the U.S. Census Bureau and other industry-specific sources to provide benchmarking information clients can use to compare their performance with their peers.

“We help them take the data they already have on their clients and convert it into insights they can share with them to drive those advisory conversations.” 

Metaverse  

David Schieffelin, president of Skylab, urged HABU attendees to take advantage of the decentralization of social media and the Metaverse, an immersive, graphic-rich version of the internet where businesses are setting up shop with virtual buildings and online events for prospects to explore. 

Skylab created the Engineered Tax Services’ presence in the Metaverse, and aims to help businesses quickly build their own decentralized, secure social networks or apps. He said the environment is evolving from “arrogant” legacy media and big tech to the creator economy. “Arrogance creates opportunity.”

CPA firms center their businesses on trust, a word that was mentioned in every presentation at the conference, he said. “Your clients are coming to you for information because they trust you.” In addition to creating a private app that is controlled by the firm to drive business, firms can also use the Metaverse to bring people together, he said. The COVID pandemic forced businesses to learn how to operate outside the office, but the Metaverse can help people learn how to reconnect. “This is a way to combine the two,” he said. 

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