Nine ways to improve financial planning at your accounting practice

November 5, 2018 by Patrick Meyer

about the author:

Patrick Meyer

Account executive

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Patrick helped individuals with their insurance needs. Now in the FinTech world, Patrick is driven by his desire to help advisors adapt and profit from the ever-changing financial landscape.

At Advicent, we often work with accountants and CPAs that are looking to expand their tax practice to provide more holistic financial advising. Whether you choose to get licensed yourself, hire a financial advisor, merge with another firm, or partner with an advisor to exchange referrals, here are nine ideas to improve the financial planning side of your accounting practice.

It starts with a CRM

It goes without saying, but you should have a client relationship management tool (CRM) that is more than just email. Keeping your clients’ information and your interactions with them organized in a central hub is critical for compliance and continuity in your business. Using a CRM should not be labor-intensive! It should integrate and be a seamless part of your workflow. Look for CRMs that will serve both your accounting and financial service needs.

Getting a CRM means you will likely have to change some old habits, but it is necessary for your business to evolve. A firm with an organized CRM is worth more than one with archived emails, paper copies, and a large physical book of contacts.

Some of the most common CRMs are Ebix, Redtail, and Salesforce. Not only are these designed with a financial advisor in mind, but they also integrate with many other systems, like financial planning, custodian, account aggregation and portfolio accounting tools.

Understand your book

If you already have a book of individual tax clients, you have a significant head start on financial professionals that build their business from scratch. Leverage your existing clients. They trust you for a reason.

Use a CRM and look at each the following:

Clients by life stage (use age as a default)

  • College and early career (usually under 30)
  • Established professional (usually married with kids)
  • Building for retirement (usually age 46 to retirement)
  • Retired (looking to spend down safely)

You should be communicating with these clients differently; each group wants financial planning but has different needs specific to their life stage. More importantly, be ready to treat them differently. For example, if you want to court Millennials as clients, consider hiring one. Your Millennial advisor will already communicate and empathize with your desired clients. You have to jump all the way!

Clients by size of 401k and age relative to 59½

This group should allow you to see what assets could be managed in a given time frame. Clients that are approaching 59½ will have questions and concerns about what that age means to them. Be ready to provide answers and value before they turn 59.

Clients by job type

I have worked with some firms that work only with doctors; others have chosen to focus exclusively on lawyers. While I prefer those firms that diversify and are open to great clients of any profession, segmenting by profession can often help you identify what concerns are keeping individuals up at night. Grouping those clients (and concerns) can help you deliver value to all of your clients. For example, you could serve clients with small businesses by building a marketing/engagement campaign that includes information on securing credit for their business.

Look for DINKWADs and HENRYs

Just because your clients do not have assets now, it does not mean that they will not later. Provide value now to young, high-income, high-debt couples. These are typically young, successful DINKWADs or HENRYs (Double-Income-No-Kids-With-A-Dog or High-Earners-Not-Rich-Yet).

Help DINKWADs now through basic planning like setting up a 529 account or obtaining life insurance before having children, and they will immediately look to you for investment advice. They desperately want financial advice but typically do not trust large institutions. While not exclusively Millennials, these clients are underserved but become fiercely loyal when engaged.

Provide immense value covering the basics

Financial planning software creates urgency for clients to accomplish some simple goals advisors layout. Most accountants use planning software to help clients to maximize their Roth or traditional IRA contribution, max their 401k, use municipal bonds, allocate assets, defer taxes and draw down accounts correctly, so they qualify for tax credits.

Often this has more to do with your clients’ comprehension and urgency to act. Sure, you can do this in a spreadsheet or on a legal pad. But when clients can see why it matters to their retirement number, it means more, and you are perceived to have more value to the client.

Mine and market

You have established trust, credibility, and value with your clients. Do not be afraid of simply sharing with them new services that you are offering. Too often, I hear tepid responses from accountants who are scared of telling good clients about new services. It is a mistake.

Set up automated monthly marketing campaigns based on the following:

  • 18-30-year-olds
  • 31-45-year-olds
  • 46-Retired
  • Retired
  • Small business owners
  • Those with estate planning needs/concerns

This will require some upfront work BUT no ongoing work. Monthly campaigns should be on autopilot and contain different content for each group. Remember this is about providing value specific to the client, which keeps you top of mind.

You should be sitting down and talking with any client in their 40s (and probably 30s) about the importance of tax-efficient investing. You should also be having face-to-face discussions about tax planning in retirement with any clients in their 50s.

How do you want to charge?

Most common is charging a percentage—usually 1 percent of the account value. This is a great method for mature investors and advisors who provide lots of value, but it does not work well with clients who do not have much money or own all their investable assets through a qualified plan.

However, I have seen an increase in the number of advisors using a retainer model for younger clients that I really like. It typically uses an initial financial plan fee with a monthly or quarterly fee after (e.g. charging $1,500 for comprehensive planning with an $85 monthly fee). Some accounting firms will offer services a la carte to clients as well. This is not consumer-centric and will not resonate with Millennials. However, use the following example as a guide to reach the retainer amount that makes sense for your client.

Example of a la carte:

  • Comprehensive (everything below) — $1500
  • Retirement — $750
  • Education — $100
  • Asset allocation — $250
  • Major purchases — $100
  • Emergency fund — $50
  • Survivor income analysis — $150
  • Disability income analysis — $100
  • Long-term care analysis — $100
  • Estate planning — $250
  • Business planning and equity compensation — $250

There are lots of ways for you to be compensated for your work, especially with clients that do not have assets that you can charge for—so be creative if you want to drive growth here. If you need some help, a quick Google search can turn up a ton of information about how to charge for planning services.

Create and automate marketing content

There are tons of great marketing tools out there that allow you easily create content. Check out our 5 simple digital marketing tips for advisors eBook created alongside Twenty Over Ten that offers tips for building a website, creating thought leadership content, and implementing effective email marketing. You should be an expert in accounting and financial advising, but do not have to be marketing professional to find success.

Additionally, social media posting can be automated to reduce time spent on posting content. Twitter has become a very impactful platform to use for both sharing content to clients and engaging with prospects. For best practice tips for Twitter, check out our An advisor's guide to Twitter eBook.

Pick the right integrations

Integrations are common amongst planning software. Integrations can be with your CRM, custodian, account aggregation partner and many more vendors. One is not better than the others, and not all integration partners are the same. Some partners only move demographic information; others will provide deep integration and include account balances, insurance policies, ticker symbols, and more.

To achieve the most accurate results, be sure to pick a calculation engine that uses an approach based on cash flow. These engines are much easier to use than they were in the past and are superior at showcasing tax-efficient retirement distribution strategies. Additionally, the rise of client-centric portals allows clients to do most, if not all, of the data entry. See more information on electronic client onboarding here.

Move your communication online

Most advisors already showcase their services with a website or LinkedIn and use email for daily communication. Here are a few tips to take it to the next level:

Email

Sync with your CRM. I use an automatic “bcc” that sends my emails to my CRM. It took 15 minutes to set up, and all emails are logged. This is great for compliance and increases the value of your practice because anyone could step in and know what a client’s experience has been so far.

Get a vault

Everyone hates faxing, driving to your office and putting an entire year of financial information in the mail. Get an online document vault. As clients, we are happy to upload everything you need from our home and in our pajamas.

Meeting scheduling

An important area that can be made simpler is how you schedule your client meetings. Adopting a meeting scheduling software such as 10to8 allows advisors to automate meeting reminders and easily manage their calendar on any device.

Quarterly newsletter

Do you send quarterly updates via USPS? Move monthly and quarterly newsletters online and use a service that can track engagement rates. If you stop sending one size fits all communication then you will drive your open rates up.

Annual Packet

I am so tired of getting this 50-page document in the mail. No wonder my CPA charges me so much, it is from high postage costs. Move it online. Packets can be sent electronically, either through a system that tracks open rates or directly to a client’s vault.

If you invest in tech, use it.

You do not need more tools. You need to use the tools you have. I am blown away by how many advisors are willing to spend money on tools but do not invest a little time to get the return. My most successful partners look to time to learn the tools they have. The benefit is providing more value to their clients.

Look for companies that pride themselves on training and support. Hold times should be low or non-existent. Support should have chat features.

Spend money and time to be trained on the tools. The best tools are not always simple the first time you use them. If they are, they probably are not sophisticated enough. However, after some training, you should have the knowledge to use the tool with a level of complexity that is not obtained during your trial.

To learn how one of the largest banks in Canada increased advisor efficiency and prospect-to-client conversion rates using NaviPlan, click here.