Ways to Add Value for Clients

By Stanley, Thomas J.; Gifford, Arthur H., Jr. | Journal of Accountancy, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Ways to Add Value for Clients


Stanley, Thomas J., Gifford, Arthur H., Jr., Journal of Accountancy


The top 1% of U.S. households accounts for nearly 40% of the nation's wealth, and this market is growing seven times faster than the population as a whole. This market includes small business owners and corporate executives who require accounting services as well as the wealthy self-employed who require estate and tax planning services. They are a perfect market for even the smallest CPA firm.

The problem lies in attracting and keeping such clients. To add extra value to services, CPAs can take on several new and different roles in working with clients to provide excellent service, build strong relationships and encourage referrals from the industry and community leaders among their clientele.

THE PURCHASING AGENT

Gifford, Hillegass & Ingwersen sought to offer something extra to high-income, influential clients. As part of that effort, CPA and share-holder Art Gifford discovered in discussions with prospective wealthy clients that many of them had problems when buying automobiles, either in negotiating with dealers or in making finacing choices. Often clients called for input on whether they should buy or lease. So Gifford developed a list of auto dealers and leasing agents that sold luxury autos and would give significant discounts to his clients. He gives the list to clients, but they usually prefer that he negotiate a lease himself. This can save clients thousands of dollars as an extra service.

In a discussion with a client who was a neurosurgeon, Gifford learned the physician had little experience in working with builders and was about to be taken advantage of by one. The builder wanted to charge the client cost plus 15% as his own fee, which was a bit stiff for a home costing more than $1 million. In addition, the builder wanted the client to pay a 5% sales commission on the $300,000 lot where the home was to be built. It turned out the builder owned the lot and was acting as the sales agent.

The builder, then, was going to earn a $15,000 sales commission on the lot and $165,000 as his builder fee. Gifford advised the client that there should be no sales commission and that a 10% building fee would be reasonable.

Although the neurosurgeon agreed with the suggestions, he said he hated to haggle over price--a very common feeling--and didn't have the time to negotiate. So Gifford offered to work with the builder on his behalf. He cut a much better deal than the builder proposed.

Gifford began the discussions by telling the builder he had the full authority to negotiate. He also pointed out what his competitors were charging in the current economy, noting that several of his clients were home builders. In the end, the builder dropped the sales fee and charged a 10% builder fee.

Clients are not charged extra for these services; they pay just for the time expended. But they are asked to remember the firm when friends or business associates need accounting services.

THE REVENUE ENHANCER

Another way to serve clients is by networking for them among the firm's other clients. For example, a very successful young sales professional who came in for tax planning recently told Gifford he was worried about keeping up his out-standing sales performance. He sold financing packages for medical equipment. One of the accounting firm's clients was the vice-president of marketing for a national medical equipment manufacturer and he was very happy to hear about a financing source for his customers. Both parties came away satisfied.

Gifford has several good clients who build high-quality luxury homes and often have bargain-priced homes in their inventories. Sometimes, Gifford will alert other clients to the fact that these homes are available, providing an opportunity for both sides. The builders have referred some of their subcontractors to his firm for accounting services.

This extra step is considered part of client service. …

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