Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Board of Education: CPA Firms, Businesses Can Profit from Clients' Advice

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Board of Education: CPA Firms, Businesses Can Profit from Clients' Advice

Article excerpt

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

* Client advisory boards (CABs) give CPA firms and other businesses the opportunity to receive feedback from key clients on topics such as services offered, quality of work performed and relationships between key parties.

* A CAB should have between eight and 12 members. The first one or two boards should comprise current clients from a good mix of industries. Future boards should diversify and add members such as referral sources-lawyers and bankers, for example-and hot client prospects.

* Board members should be the top executives or decision makers at their organizations.

* CABs often lead to new business generated from current clients learning about services they were not aware of and client prospects signing on after learning more about the firm or business holding the board.

* CABs should meet between two and four times over a six-month period. Meetings should be held in the late afternoon and last no longer than two hours. There should be a networking opportunity provided--either a light reception before the meeting or cocktails or dinner after.

* Firms or businesses holding CABs should compile a list of action items based on board feedback and make sure to implement as many suggestions as possible to ensure that board members feel their time and advice were valued.

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It's no secret that CPAs take pride in their standing as trusted advisers to their clients. What's not so well known is that CPAs can gain--and in many cases, literally profit--from the advice of those same clients.

Client advisory boards offer CPA firms and other businesses the opportunity to deepen their relationships with top clients, gather valuable feedback on service and generate new business that far exceeds the cost of having the board.

Dopkins & Co. LLP, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based firm with 140 employees, has had client advisory boards for the past 21 years. The firm's managing partner, Thomas Emmerling, CPA, said the boards have produced feedback that has sharpened the firm's practices.

"In my view.., the real value to this is doing it year in and year out," said Emmerling, who is also a JofA editorial adviser. "If you continually do it, it becomes habit and you get to realize the benefits of getting feedback like this from businesspeople. And it begins very slowly, but without question, it changes the way you interact with clients in a way that the clients want to be treated."

Those interactions can lead to more revenue, with existing clients purchasing services that they didn't previously know were offered, prospects becoming clients after being exposed to the firm through board service, and referrals from board members leading to work with other organizations. In Dopkins' case, Emmerling estimates that the firm's client advisory board produces hundreds of thousands of dollars in new business each year.

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Not every business that runs a client advisory board can expect to reap a six-figure annual return, but firms interviewed for this article agreed that the benefits of a board easily outweigh the cost. Boards can cost less than $4,000 for location, food and drink, plus another several thousand dollars if an outside facilitator is used, according to Mark Koziel, CPA, AICPA vice president-Firm Services & Global Alliances and a former director at Dopkins & Co.

Bollam, Sheedy, Torani & Co. (BST), a 110-employee firm based in Albany, N.Y., has held several client advisory boards at a hotel across the street from the firm's offices and also paid for an outside facilitator. Managing Partner Joe Torani, CPA, described the cost of those meetings as "a very inexpensive investment."

This article explores reasons for launching a client advisory board and touches on the challenges of doing so. The story also lays out the steps needed to form, run and get the most out of a board. …

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