Today’s businesses are increasingly expecting accounting firms to be more than just number crunchers and report compilers. Research shows that 29% of clients expect to receive advisory and consulting services from their accounting practices. On the other hand, firms already on the advisory services bandwagon have reported profit margins to increase 34% – 47%.
This is superb news for accounting leaders contemplating to evolve from baseline accounting services to client advisory as the potential and results are both clear. Check out the 2019 adoption rates by firms of all sizes below:
But providing these value-added services requires openness to change, readiness to embrace new technology, and enough time to achieve process maturity.
Perhaps the most critical aspect is utilizing modern technology. There are CPM software available today that can perform and manage the everyday manual accounting tasks, such as producing individual reports, compiling data into a single workbook, formatting the file, and emailing it with comments to clients. That’s like handing over half of the work your team does as of now.
All-in-one analytics solutions, like Acterys, offer instant integration with leading accounting & ERP software, quick data consolidation, financial modeling, and a holistic reporting package that caters to all types of FP&A processes. These capabilities allow dedicating more time to deliver robust strategic advisory services rather than being strapped for time doing the routine manual spreadsheet tasks.
In this blog, we’ll take a deep dive into how you can level up your accounting practice to offer CAS, and the key role integrated planning and analytics solutions, like Acterys, play in the entire journey. But before we jump into the steps, let’s take a quick at what Client Advisory Services mean and how it is relevant to your accounting firm.
What are Client Advisory Services (CAS)?
The concept has been around for several years and under the spotlight within CPA and FP&A communities quite a lot recently. It generally refers to a wide range of value-added services on top of the basic outsourced accounting tasks. You might already be providing some of these services to your clientele without putting the CAS tag on it.
Client advisory is not the same for every client and must be tailored to meet specific business needs. But to give you a broad idea, it covers everything from the virtual CFO and controller roles all the way to performing impactful business assessment and budgeting, cash flow forecasting, general ledger and payroll management, and real-time financial reporting, among others.
According to the CAS Benchmark Survey, the top 5 CAS offered are:
In essence, advisory services are all about analytics. Since analytics sits at the center of everything needed for businesses to grow, your firm works on providing insight into why the numbers look like what they are and foresight of what is going to happen based on the insights. It further extends into laying out a strategic plan and providing oversight for when and how it is going to happen.
How to Venture into CAS with an Integrated FP&A Platform
Accounting leaders looking to make the CAS move can choose a phased approach broken into smaller steps. Here we have provided a step-by-step guide as to how your firm can evolve its services and cater to the growing financial planning and analysis needs of its clientele.
1. Automate Accounting Data Import for Faster Reporting
As mentioned earlier, you would need to befriend technology and let it automate a lot of the manual tasks your team has been doing as part of its routine. Because the business landscape is changing so rapidly, performing monthly or even weekly (in some cases) reporting leads to delayed response times, leading to missed opportunities for clients.
Your CAS team needs to focus on unveiling the story your data is telling. So the first step is to consolidate all the financial data residing in different ERP and accounting systems, like SAP, Xero, QuickBooks, Sage, etc., into a single database or data warehouse. Advanced FP&A solutions, like Acterys, provide built-in connectors that help connect and import data from multiple sources with just a few clicks. They allow you to automate and schedule all the import tasks on set intervals, which can be daily, hourly, all the way down to a minute.
In short, the reports that used to take an accounting team days or weeks (if multiple accounting entities) to prepare, compile, format, and deliver to clients now take less than an hour to achieve. If that’s not magic, then what is?
2. Tap into Non-Financial Data Sources for Deeper Analysis
To provide much more holistic, deeper insights on improving business performance, you must also collect data from non-financial areas, such as sales, operations, HR, marketing, and others. This allows you to pair relevant factors together and gauge the consolidated impact of business activities, allowing you to discover hidden patterns to empower your clients to make better, well-informed decisions.
For example, when you combine information from multiple departments, you can answer questions like:
- Which product line is bringing the highest ROI and profits?
- Do you need to allocate more marketing budget to attract a higher number of qualified leads to improve sales?
- Does that product need to be manufactured in larger quantities to cater to the perceived increase in demand based on its performance in the last two quarters?
- Do you need to set up a new distribution center to accommodate that increase, or will the existing centers be able to handle it?
- How is everything going to affect the upstream and downstream processes?
Since FP&A platforms offer the ability to integrate data from virtually any source, importing datasets from non-financial systems into the data warehouse and populating reporting templates is fast and easy. By providing your clients with data-driven answers for a wide range of questions from across the organization, you automatically increase your value proposition and build a better rapport with clients.
3. Add Visual, Interactive Reports and Dashboards to the Mix
To this point, you have automated data consolidation and integrated financial and non-financial datasets for richer, deeper insights. The next step is to make your reports easier to interpret for clients. Sure, your CAS team has put many hours into transforming numbers into insights, but what’s the point of it all if your clients cannot understand the reports?
Business leaders generally don’t speak the accounting language. But they do know about the business drivers and KPIs and the impact each can have on overall performance.
So instead of numbers, you need to provide them with interactive visualizations with the ability to drill down and through those visuals to get both high-level and granular views of KPIs and their impact on business performance. Your best bet here is to work with BI and visualization tools, like Power BI, that helps breathe life into boring numbers and transform them into beautiful visuals, charts, and graphs that are easy to understand and pleasing to the eye.
Fortunately, Acterys is a Power BI-based solution; meaning, it embeds into the BI tool directly allows utilizing its visual reporting capabilities to convert data into easily and quickly consumable insights.
Integrated financial planning and forecasting with Acterys
The platform extends Power BI capabilities by enabling write-back visual planning. Acterys offers 8 custom visuals that support editing financial values right on the dashboard and seeing the impact in real-time. It also provides an extensive set of proven reference models covering several FP&A aspects, including legal consolidation, cost center, HR, CAPEX, cash flow planning and forecasting, among others.
What’s more, Acterys also supports both row and cell level commentary, which means your clients don’t have to switch between the email app and the reporting tool to understand the meaning behind data and its interpretations by the accountants.
Add comments anywhere for better collaboration
All of these features make collaboration between your CAS team and clients more fluid and transparent, allowing them to engage in effective, productive communication for smarter, data-driven decision making.
Is your Accounting Firm Ready for the CAS Transition?
Undeniably, CAS is the next step.
But the answer lies in how you perceive the benefits of automated planning, reporting, and analytics for your firm and clients. Sure it is not a simple undertaking, and it will require a lot of time, effort, and consistency to build the new CAS division. But the good thing is that your clients already trust you enough to let your firm handle their financials and will be open to the idea of getting additional value beyond traditional bookkeeping and tax preparation.
So if you are ready to take the leap, the first step is to find the best-of-breed EPM platform that offers the complete planning and analytics technology stack to cater to all of your clients’ use cases. As indicated, Acterys offers the all-in-one package that provides instant integration with any source, can easily interact with existing accounting technologies, and offers real-time planning and consolidation capabilities to help your firm succeed in the CAS journey.