Keeping your private group clients for the life of your firm:
In public practice we have a wide variety of clients.
There are those who simply want you to do their tax work and send you their information once a year for us to prepare the returns and any financials they require. We complete the work, invoice them and hope to hear from them next year when the next year’s tax work is due. They may not be the biggest fee generators for our firms and typically the work is low value and completed by our lower level staff. These clients are high risk to lose due to automation and improved self-lodgement systems being released by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
We also have those clients who need our services on a regular basis. They get us to lodge their BAS’s and undertake all their dealings with the ATO, Office of State Revenue and other government bodies. They expect that we are on top of all their Tax Affairs and solve any issues which we (or they) may encounter. These clients can range in size with the largest few typically accounting for a large proportion of a firm’s revenue. These few are usually our “A class” clients and if we service them well, are a very loyal client base.
These A Class clients are however, going to expect us to deliver more to them as technology evolves. If we continue to simply just do their compliance work they may expect us to reduce our fees or they may simply go elsewhere to an adviser that gives them more. These clients want a “Trusted Adviser” who they can rely on for their Tax and Financial management. This means that as an accountant you will need knowledge in more than just one area and will need to partner with other professionals to provide services to your client in areas that you are either not skilled or qualified to provide advice in.
Your position as the “Trusted Adviser” is not to do everything for them but rather manage their affairs and ensure they get the appropriate advice so all of their affairs are in order. This will still require at least an intermediate knowledge of a range of topics from Estate Planning to Family Law so you are least able to identify potential issues where clients may need additional advice and assistance. These clients will expect you to be able to do this in addition to simply preparing and lodging their Tax Compliance documents. You need to be forever looking forward whilst still ensuring the past (compliance) is done correctly.
In our experience some of the most important services you should be providing to the Private Group clients are:
- Tax Planning: An effective tax plan is one of the most overlooked opportunities for accountants to really add value to their client. This is your opportunity to really utilise your knowledge and present a clear plan as to how Tax for the year will be managed effectively. This will include preparing a Tax Estimate for the year so your clients can clearly see how your thought process and have a clear expectation as to what tax position they will face over the coming 12 months.
- Ensure flows of monies to family members are managed and understood: Many accountants recommend distributions to client’s children to utilise lower marginal tax rates without considering the legal effects of doing so. Making a distribution to a child gives them a legal entitlement to those funds and it is important your clients understand this and that these entitlements are managed on an annual basis.
- Ensure assets are held in the correct structures: Ensuring clients not only set up the right structure prior to engaging in a transaction but also that that structure remains the correct one is a key task for any Trusted Adviser. As you client’s Trusted Adviser you may recommend restructures in how assets are held to meet changing circumstances, ensuring you maximise the benefits and minimise the costs of the restructure to make sure they are always held in the best place to serve your client’s needs.
- Ensure your clients have an estate plan that is current: Your clients will need assistance to effectively transfer the control and wealth of their Family Group to the next generation. To do so tax effectively requires pre planning and as their Trusted Adviser, you are best placed to facilitate that process. Your client will need you to champion the process and you should work with an experienced estate planning lawyer, the client’s financial advisor, the client’s tax advisor (if required) and the client’s commercial lawyer (assuming they do not have the necessary estate planning experience) to prepare an efficient Estate Plan.
The only way for you as the client’s adviser to stay on top of all of these issues is to spend time with your clients. This will be difficult unless you structure how and when you meet with your client. We have found that the most efficient way of doing this is locking in two to three meetings a year with clients, each with their own agenda and matters that are to be resolved. Having these set meetings locks in deadlines for you complete certain tasks which sees you bring forward the receipt of compliance work many months from the lodgement deadline.
You then get to complete the work earlier which gives more time to plan for the year ahead and what is currently happening in the lives of the client rather than present their last years returns 2 weeks prior to the lodgement deadline in May.
Private Group clients can be a very loyal and high reward segment for an accounting practice, but to ensure that we remain competitive in a world where technology is seeing many of the compliance tasks automated we need to ensure we provide more than just a compliance service.
We need to ensure that we become their Trusted Adviser, the key person to contact prior to making all of their financial decisions. This will see you not only retain a client for life but also have a client who is a loyal advocate of your firm, potentially referring you similar clients due to your superior service.
In future QTB’s we will look a little closer at the client engagement process we use in servicing our Private Group clients.
If you would like to discuss ways that you might better service your Private Group clients please contact Chris Schoeman, MKT’s Private Group Manager.