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Podcast: Client Accounting Services: Lessons from a 15-year CAS veteran

Client Accounting Services, or CAS, are the services some CPAs provide because clients can’t do them, don’t want to do them, or just aren’t good at doing them. It’s that full-menu offering of taking over many of a client’s routine internal accounting chores.

The popularity of these services is growing, too — to the extent that a lot of people in the accounting and finance profession consider CAS a new line of business, something they need to start exploring to keep up with the competition.

But these services really aren’t new at all. Some firms have been doing this stuff for years, and they bear the battle scars to prove it. In the process, they have also learned a thing or three that the rest of us can benefit from.

I sat down recently with one of the early vanguards of Client Accounting Services, Robin Thieme. Robin is CEO and CAO — that’s chief anticipation officer — of KBS CFO, a company that serves as a CFO, chief information officer, and chief operating officer for its clients. That might sound like a new concept, but Robin and her team have been doing this for the past 15 years. They were the Lewis and Clark of CAS. They were there before anyone else, trying to map this territory — and if we pay attention to what Robin has to say in this episode, we’ll be able to navigate this territory a little more easily.

In this conversation, we cover:

  • Why Robin decided to start offering outsourced CFO services.
  • The biggest challenges firms face when they start offering CAS.
  • The competitive future of CAS.

Listen to our conversation here.

The CAS phenomenon
Accounting Today’s 2020 “Year Ahead” survey found that 29 percent of firms are currently offering Client Accounting Services, and that 22 percent plan to add it within the next year, making CAS the most popular new service to add.

So interest in adding CAS is really high right now — but so is the hype, and some other research by CPA Trendlines has found that CAS might actually be a little over-hyped right now.

CPA Trendlines reports that “the power of Client Accounting Services to strengthen and build firms is clear from those who are jumping into the specialty”:

  • Nine out of 10 firms offering CAS today say it’s “important to the firm’s future.”
  • Eight out of 10 firms report CAS “provides superior revenue growth.”
  • Six out of 10 say CAS delivers above-par profit margins.
  • Five out of 10 report CAS boosts “staff morale.”
  • Nine out of 10 cite improvements in “client satisfaction.”
  • Eight out of 10 are “attracting new clients” with CAS.
  • Eight out of 10 confirm CAS “creates new opportunities” for the firm.

“Yet, despite the potential dividends in providing client accounting services, many firms are struggling to perfect their offering to make it a baked-in part of the firm’s DNA, and ultimately obtain all the hoped-for benefits.

“Only about 15 percent of firms say they are ‘very satisfied’ with the financial and operational performance of their client accounting services, and 40 percent are merely ‘satisfied.’ The rest are ambivalent (30 percent) or dissatisfied (16 percent).”

So the opportunities are huge, but there is still a ton of ground to make up. Making up that ground depends, in large part, on how well we learn the lessons of those who have gone before us.

Which brings us right back to Robin Thieme, who has been out there for 15 years, paving the way for the rest of us. She’s learned what works, and what doesn’t, and she has some lessons that we all can learn from.

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