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Doctors vs. Trainers: The Changing Role of CPA's

According to Jason Blumer the accounting profession as it relates to small business is experiencing a paradigm shift driven by technology. This shift requires CPA's to reevaluate the role they play in client's businesses and strive to redefine what it means to bring value to that relationship. I am thankful for Jason's voice and leadership. I believe he is dead on in his reasoning and vision for what our profession can and should become.

As I work out what this shift means in our business I try to imagine what it is that our clients need us to do. What does this new landscape look like from their point of view and how could their world change for the better because of it. In any field experiencing rapid change it is helpful to contrast the old school of thinking with the new.

In an effort to distinguish old line services from the new CPA paradigm I want to draw an analogy. Traditionally CPA firms have been much like the old school family doctor. You went in when you were sick, often you were told to wait it out and it would take care of itself, and if you ever needed medicine the experience left you wondering if the cure was worse than the illness.

The role of CPA's is changing as the profession and the tools at its disposal evolve. Technology is a huge part of this, but it's not the biggest factor. By far the greatest driving force behind these changes is the new role young CPA firm owners are choosing for themselves. Rather than old school family doctors they fashion themselves as personal trainers, and they do so in three interesting ways.

First, they view business growth and progress as a wholistic undertaking. For example, they understand that accounting is a function that reaches deep into business processes. Tax planning is a component of overhead management. Revenue generation is a result of sound marketing and execution. In the same way that a personal trainer would not presume to increase upper body strength while neglecting the back and legs these CPA's don't mandate accounting changes that hamstring other parts of the business. They're discussions often range from technical accounting matters to customer service, to product mix, to human resources. They understand that the more integrated their solutions are to the entire business the more successful they will be.

Second, this new breed of CPA's understands that the process is iterative. When you visit a trainer you don't begin fixing everything at once. You may be tasked with improving your cardiovascular fitness first so that you can endure more strenuous workouts later. Over time you will work on nutrition, flexibility, endurance, balance, explosive strength, coordination, etc. You tackle one area at a time and build on that success in a process similar to continuous improvement. Similarly, business owners can benefit from a long term approach that doesn't try to address every area at once. Improvements in record keeping efficiency can create more time for strategic planning. More detailed and accurate records can support the creation of more relevant and insightful key performance indicators. The separation of responsibilities can not only improve internal controls but make the expansion of the organization chart less stressful. This iterative approach is much more effective than the old school philosophy of "bring me your problems and I'll fix them."

Third, the relationship itself between a forward thinking CPA and client is constantly evolving. When you begin working with a personal trainer the role is primarily one of teacher and encourager. As you make progress and become more knowledgable the role transitions to one of counselor and coach. As your training and development become more advanced you and your trainer may find that you are both learning from each other and benefiting from one another's experience in different ways. This same dynamic occurs as business owners progress in their knowledge and understanding of the principles that most impact business growth. After a while their experiences and hard won knowledge help the CPA see new options for other clients who might be facing similar challenges.

Ask yourself whether your experience is more like that of visiting an old school family doctor or working with an engaged personal trainer. If you aren't satisfied ask your CPA to trade the black bag and stethoscope for a medicine ball and stopwatch.

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Reader Comments (6)

Joey, as usual, this post nails it!

We've got to become holistic trainers to our clients now. But will our clients trust the CPA brand to touch ALL aspects of our client's businesses?

That answer is an astounding "Yes!". Joey, it's so exciting working in this profession with leaders like you!

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason M Blumer

Hey Joey,

Interesting analogy there. Now I just have to ask my accounting students if they would prefer to be "old school family doctors" or "personal trainers." :) My guess is that this younger generation is going to like being personal trainers.

Nate W.
The ClockWork Accounting School

July 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNate W.

Thanks, Jason. Your encouragement means a great deal to me. And I'm with you. Every time that I demonstrate that our firm is willing and capable to help with an aspect of a client's business that doesn't fit into the "traditional" CPA role they enthusiastically accept our offer. If CPA's will do their homework and step up to the plate clients will oblige by pitching their toughest problems and most pregnant opportunities our way.

July 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterJoey Brannon

Nate, thanks for the comments. I've been browsing your site for the last twenty minutes. Incredible stuff. I particularly like your personal story of how you came appreciate accounting. We share a common view. Accounting is the language of business. You can still appreciate the scenery and hit the well trafficked areas everyone else visits. But if you want to really experience what is going on, if you want the inside story and the really valuable stuff you have to speak the language. I love your site and will refer people to it for a non-intimidating education on an essential piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle. Nice work!

July 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterJoey Brannon

Great job Joey! This is exactly where I hope our profession will go and I think you will be ine of the leaders to get it there.

November 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMagen Smith

Thanks Magen. For the record anyone doing something so unique that it requires a special meeting of their state board of accountancy to figure out qualifies as an innovator in my book. Glad to be on the journey with you.

November 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterJoey Brannon

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