In August 2016, the Hinge Research Institute published an article on their research of professional service firms. After surveying over 500 firms, they identified five top business challenges currently facing Accounting and Financial Services firms. In order these were:
- Attracting and developing new business
- Finding / keeping good people
- Leadership and internal change issues
- Technology issues
- Dealing with client demands / expectations
A key component in each of these must be proper training. Now let me pause there a moment and define what I mean by training. I spent several years working in the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) industry for accountants and understand it better than most. I’m talking about real training here, where the learners are engaged, supported, and finish with some form of transformation in their skill sets. This training can take any form – online webinars, self-study, live, or a combination. But the learners need to be engaged and focused on learning, not simply checking the CPE box to satisfy their State Board of Accountancy. And training leaders need to ensure the training taken is supported after the fact so it takes hold and creates transformation.
With that definition in mind, let’s take a look at each challenge and examine some examples of how training can support them:
Attracting and Developing New Business
Over 70% of the respondents to the survey cited this as a major business issue. There are a lot of things that play into each half of that statement.
Attracting is about more than just the services your firm offers. Many different factors play into attracting business, from marketing to great customer service to pricing structures. But one commonality between all of them is the people involved. Everyone, from the receptionist to the Senior Partner, needs to be trained in the key messages, initiatives, and foci of the company. The power of a consistent message across all employees shows potential clients that your firm is organized and dedicated. Also consider training in how to attract new business, based on the uniqueness of your firm. This eliminates the Just Do It mentality, and instead creates an environment where the firm controls how to do it. This will also help eliminate chasing after business that isn’t in the firm’s target area.
Developing business strikes me as more heavily related to existing clients. Selling additional services is often easier than onboarding a brand new client. But how well trained are your people at what is essentially the firm equivalent of retail’s add-on sales? Are they consistent in recognizing opportunities as they arise? Do they present a clear picture of additional services in a way that is proven from experience to move clients to a positive decision? Do they do this process efficiently and in a timely manner? All of these questions can be resolved with effective training.
Finding and Keeping Good People
The baby boomers are retiring, and the country has pretty low unemployment. No shockers there. Good employees are scarce and keeping trained employees isn’t easy with so many great jobs available. Experticity did a study that identified almost a quarter of all employees that leave retail are doing so because they weren’t trained or developed. Based on my professional experience, I feel safe assuming this number is even higher in professional organizations. Keeping employees requires the provision of effective training and development at all levels of the organization.
Leadership and Internal Change Issues
Many people leave their jobs because of their boss. Conversely, they also stay because of their boss. What are you doing to develop middle and upper management to ensure they are properly growing and developing their people? A gap analysis between how a partner or supervisor should be developing their teams and how the actually are developing their teams can show holes that require training. Start by brainstorming and refining the ideal state of leadership in your organization at each level. Next, do a per-person analysis of how it’s being done, and then develop training to individually fix the identified shortcoming. Don’t forget to re-analyze after the training to ensure it was effective.
Technology issues can take many forms. A few of the more common ones are:
- onboarding new employees to the organization’s software
- training all employees on a new platform
- working with client systems that are unfamiliar
- dealing with failing infrastructure due to lack of maintenance or needed upgrades
- moving to cloud-based solutions
- filling knowledge gaps in new employees that weren’t properly trained in college
- moving into a tech-heavy position
All of these have heavy training components for their proper resolution. They especially require support after the training to ensure new skills are properly used and continuing to develop.
Dealing with Client Demands / Expectations
At a basic level, this is really just targeted customer service training. However, deeper levels should be developed as you move up the organizational chart. An entry-level auditor doesn’t need the kind of in-depth training on client demands that a senior partner does, but both need training that supports the specific issues they’ll most likely face beyond basic customer service and interaction.
There is more money wasted on training in the financial services industry than any other in the world. Effective, transformational training can directly address the major issues CPA firms face today, but only if executed in a way that actually causes transformation. This can reduce turnover, improve morale, attract top talent, improve client retention, and provide long-term stability and profitability. If your firm is struggling with creating an established plan for training, seek out a good consultant to get you on the right track.