Top 10 tips
The combination of technological innovation, growing competition, margin pressures and rising consumer demand has created favourable conditions for advisory practice principals who wish to offer combined financial planning and accounting services.
For those who made the move early, there is already evidence of success.
According to the latest Macquarie Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Report, more than one third (35.5%) of firms who’ve integrated financial planning or accounting services into their practice in the last three years have enjoyed a 20% or more lift in gross revenue. The same number attribute their revenue growth to the addition of new services.
Four in five firms who have integrated financial planning or accounting services into their practice over the same period have seen an increase in net profit from 2013/14 to 2014/15, with three in 10 of those netting an increase of 20% or more. Moreover, the overwhelming majority (94%) of these firms expect revenue from financial planning to increase over the next three years, while 71% expect revenue from accounting to increase over the next three years.
While this is encouraging, it’s not all smooth sailing.
“There are definitely challenges involved in integrating new services and moving towards a multidisciplinary, or converged, advisory model,” says Rob Hayward, Head of Client Solutions for Macquarie Wealth Management.
The 2016 Macquarie Accounting and Financial Services Benchmarking Report found that nearly half of firms with newly integrated financial planning and accounting services have faced challenges bedding down and optimising acquisitions. Just one in eight say they have been successful in this regard.
“It’s not as easy as people think,” Hayward explains. “What many business leaders don’t realise is the extent to which a shift to a multidisciplinary model requires significant cultural change. One of the most common mistakes is one firm acquiring another without any regard to staff education or alignment to existing business values and principles.
“If you’re acquiring, merging or launching a joint venture with another firm, you’re probably looking at the most difficult level of cultural change, because the two practices will keep their existing businesses and procedures – but the client will expect you to behave as one firm. In this example, a well thought-out change plan is the only way to ensure a seamless transition for staff, clients and other stakeholders,” Haywards says.
10 tips to help you integrate your accounting and financial planning offering
1. Decide which convergence model best aligns with your business strategy
Is it a multidisciplinary firm with all services offered in-house, a joint venture where you each keep your existing practices and start a third, new practice together or a formalised referral partnership with an advisory firm that offers complementary services?
2. Ensure every decision begins with the client
In a multidisciplinary model, even seemingly innocuous decisions, like how to invoice clients, has the potential to become a challenge. In every decision you make, ensure you begin with the client front of mind. In the invoicing example, over time clients will begin to expect a single invoice, rather than multiple invoices for different services. Invest in system upgrades early to deal with ‘hygiene’ service issues head on.
3. Develop and promote a strong, united employee value proposition
The team can only pull together if they know where the goal posts are. Use this as an opportunity for cultural realignment and set up regular staff meetings to reinforce the company vision and values and ensure ongoing transparency.
4. Decide who will be the client's primary point of contact
For each client, appoint one person to be the primary point of contact for the client. This person is responsible for ensuring the right people are in the room at every client meeting, that roles and responsibilities are allocated and that client expectations are set and then subsequently met.
5. If appopriate, consider licensing your accountants
If your accountants aren’t licensed, proactively help them to develop strong partnerships with planners (either within your practice or within your referral network) and educate them to understand the benefits of the converged model.
6. Update your fact find
Expand it to encompass detail that will be relevant for combined financial planning and accounting services. The fact find will then become another cross-discipline communication tool and will contribute towards building a single view of customer and identifying all areas of opportunity for both the client and your firm.
7. Boost your employee training
This includes holding regular key account planning sessions and case study workshops where employees can role-play, share information and engage. Consider developing or outsourcing formal training and mentoring programs. Not only will this upskill your team, but it will provide an additional forum for helping strengthen relationships within the firm.
8. Work towards a single view of your clients
Clients will expect a seamless experience. A cross-channel customer relationship management system (CRM) is the best way to move towards having all of a client’s information in one place. Websites like G2crowd.com can help you compare a wide variety of CRM systems. While you work towards implementing a cross-channel CRM, ensure you have tools in place to foster cross-discipline communication and information sharing about each discipline’s top clients. Weekly work-in-progress meetings can be a good way to facilitate strong, consistent communication.
9. Rethink your client meetings
Set up a structure where at least two people must be in key face-to-face client meetings. While at first this seems resource-intensive, it ultimately maximises opportunities for cross-promoting of services and increasing the overall share of wallet and also reduces the firm’s key person risk. The primary contact for the client relationship will generally lead the meeting and draw on the expertise of the team throughout. Depending on the purpose of the meeting, a second chair – another team member in attendance, responsible for driving the product, service or strategy agenda - may support the primary contact. Ensure your team is trained in advance and comfortable with the new way of running meetings.
10. Research your prospects extensively
This will ensure you’re anticipating their needs ahead of the first meeting and that you’ve lined up the most qualified professionals from both the accounting and financial planning areas of your practice to address those needs. This may include preparing a short questionnaire for your support staff to work through when they are booking meetings, as well as researching for your prospect on LinkedIn and Google.
Brisbane-based advisory firm Quill Group has built a successful multidisciplinary practice, a process that has involved significant cultural and practical change. Learn about Quill’s journey in the case study, ‘How integrated accounting and financial planning helps Quill put customers first’.