How to Become the Trusted Expert for Several CPAs

By Duncan MacPherson
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Horsesmouth Essential: Acting as a sounding board helps clients and their CPAs better understand the advantages of working with an advisor—and that you’re looking out for their best interests.

Are you one of the many financial advisors who have referred clients to accountants over the years but have gotten virtually nothing in return? Based on the law of reciprocity, you would think that giving would initiate the receiving process. But with CPAs, that is often not the case. Often it’s a one-way street.

But a select group of FAs have figured out what is undermining their referability with accountants. As a result, they are receiving a steady stream of endorsements from these very persuasive sources at this critical time in the financial services market. Never has money been so topical, and never before have so many high-net-worth investors been disillusioned with their advisors.

Recent studies have indicated that as many as seven out of 10 HNW clients are unhappy with their current financial advisors. In many cases, trust has been shattered, and these high-value people are cautiously considering other options. Now if HNW clients have lost faith in their advisors and they are also feeling anxious about their personal financial direction, whom do they call? More often than not, they call their accountants.

The problem is most accountants are more technicians than visionaries. They often leave their clients wanting more when it comes to the big picture, market forecasts, and personal investment strategy. Yet when clients press accountants to suggest a financial advisor, many are reluctant to make an endorsement. Why do you think that is? What is holding them back?

It could be because they are concerned about liability issues. Or perhaps they view advisors as a threat because they themselves aspire to add financial planning to their offerings sooner or later. Perhaps there is an issue of trust regarding a particular advisor’s abilities, or an advisor isn’t worthy in their eyes.

There are several possible reasons, but most importantly, accountants are wary about how the endorsement will reflect back on them. If they are even remotely uncertain about how you will conduct yourself, or if there is a fear that the endorsement might harm their client relationship, they won’t introduce a client to you. As easy as it may be for an accountant to wave your flag, ultimately it’s just safer not to. In their minds, it isn’t worth the risk.

Part of this stems from the fact that many accountants perceive financial advisors as salespeople rather than consultants providing advice. In fact, that is why many accountants actually think they are doing you a favor by taking your referrals without any sense that it should be a two-way street.

How to get started

To begin positioning yourself as a trustworthy alternative with CPAs in your area, ask your clients this question in your next wave of client calls:

“If you don’t mind me asking, when you talk about me with your accountant, what do you say? How do you describe me?”

After listening to the client’s response, follow up with a personalized variation of this statement:

“The reason I ask is because I am reaching out to the accountants of my clients to arrange a time to discuss my financial strategy and outlook to ensure that we are all on the same wave length. This is a value-added service, and I’m convinced that staying in closer communication with your accountant is important. I’m wondering if you’d like me to contact your accountant so that we can touch base.”

You may already know the names of many of your clients’ accountants. The question is whether you have been able to connect with them in a way that doesn’t arouse any suspicions that you have a hidden agenda. They may suspect you of getting in touch merely as a tactic to make more sales. Your approach has to be professional, forthright, transparent—and most of all, rooted in value and service.

Once you’ve gathered the names and numbers of your clients’ accountants, look for commonalties and cross reference with your existing relationships, and then begin the process of reaching out to them.

When you make contact, explain the reason you are calling. It will generally come down to one of two motivations:

  1. If you have never met but you have a mutual client, you’d like to discuss your financial strategy and financial outlook to be sure that you are both in sync with each other.
  2. If you have an existing one-way-street type relationship with accountant, you are calling to discuss ways that you can strengthen your relationship.

Again keep in mind, the unspoken concerns and resistance revolve around these questions they will ask themselves: “What’s in it for me?” and “What is the risk?”

In response to your offer to meet with them, CPAs will either accept your invite, decline, or ask you to elaborate on the phone. While it’s tempting to do an abbreviated meeting over the phone, I would suggest you resist the urge and insist that you meet. A breakfast or lunch meeting or simply a sit-down in their boardroom—all are ideal.

In face-to-face meetings, I would encourage you to follow this checklist:

  • Step 1: Start with a printed agenda. A printed agenda allows you to outline your key points and gives you a track to follow. It also demonstrates that you follow a methodical process at every meeting you conduct.

  • Step 2: Connect on a professional level with the accountant. Build rapport and discuss your investment philosophy and financial strategy as it relates to the client. Probe for insight and feedback throughout.

  • Step 3: Offer to provide a second opinion. You could say something like, “Recently, in light of all the apprehension and uncertainty caused by this market turbulence, I’ve been making myself available to act as a sounding board for friends and family members of my clients as well as clients of like-minded accountants with whom I have a relationship.”

    This may well set you apart in the accountants’ minds as they contrast your approach to the current advisor that they use.

  • Step 4: Further explain your second opinion approach. Assure the CPA that the people you meet do not need to become your clients to take advantage of this service; you do it because of the fulfillment that comes from helping people make informed decisions. Stress how you realize that this has to be a good use of the client’s time. Be sure to use the words “process” and “service” in your description.

    Explain what happens during the sounding-board session by saying something like this:

    “I don’t want to claim that miracles will occur, but one of two things will happen when I meet with one of your clients. Either I will validate that their current approach is fundamentally solid, or I will reveal a few minor flaws that they may want to consider adjusting. And after all, minor adjustments can often lead to major improvements down the road.”
  • Step 5: Project exclusivity. Explain that your meeting with potential clients involves attempting to see if there’s a mutual fit. Say that while some advisors will work with anyone and try to see how big they can build their businesses, you prefer to focus on how small you can stay to ensure consistent service.

  • Step 6: Explain how to get the wheels in motion. Give the accountant a brief suggestion for how to make an introduction to you should the opportunity present itself.

  • Step 7: Reemphasize your professionalism. Reassure the accountant that their client will view meeting with you as a great investment of their time. Let the accountant know he can hold you accountable to providing the same degree of professionalism and confidentiality that you give your own clients.

  • Step 8: Give them the same opportunity. Tell your new strategic ally that you’d like to be able to follow the same process when it comes to introducing your clients to him or her should the situation arise.

  • Step 9: Be patient. Many accountants are hyper-cautious and you will need to nurture the relationship methodically to move from intent to actual consent. Many advisors get frustrated because accountants say all the right things in the beginning, but then their intent diminishes, and their fears creep back in over time. Stay in touch to keep the flame of trust alive.

This is a guideline you may tailor to suit your own approach and personality. The key is to get busy and start engaging in the process now, refining it as you go. As I often say: Done is better than perfect. Just get it done and communicate this message to as many accountants as you can.

Duncan MacPherson is Co-CEO and co-founder of Pareto Systems and Pareto Platform.


Great article, very appropriate for all FA's who need to build their referral network with their clients' CPA's. Jim "Da Coach" Rohrbach

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